The role of antenatal and postnatal social support for pregnant women with a body mass index ≥ 30 kg/m2
Pregnancy can be both a time of change and increased stress for women. Through taking part in a research study and attending an antenatal lifestyle programme for women with a body mass index (BMI) ≥30kg/m2, a group of eight women formed a reference group and became a strong and effective source of social support for each other. This article discusses the role of social support from reference groups in engaging in postnatal healthy behaviours, such as physical activity (social learning theory) and protection against stressful situations (social support as a buffer for psychosocial stress), by presenting some observations and data from a number of women taking part in a larger research study and the literature base. Two conclusions are made in this discussion article and require further research attention in the opinion of the research team. First, health professionals should educate women about the different sources of social support that they may need during and after pregnancy; and second, they should provide antenatal opportunities for women to meet others with whom they can form a social support group (e.g. BMI can be the basis for a reference group).
Pregnancy is a key time point in a woman's life where behavioural changes can be made (Phelan, 2010). As a result, researchers have started to explore the best way for health professionals to provide advice and support to women during pregnancy to help them make lifestyle changes that will have an impact on them and their families. Maternal obesity (i.e. body mass index (BMI) ≥ 30 kg/m2 during pregnancy) is one such example in which researchers and practitioners have begun designing and testing interventions for gestational and postnatal weight management with the long-term aim of improving lifestyle behaviours for women and their families (Centre for Maternal and Child Enquiries (CMACE) and Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (RCOG), 2010; National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE), 2010).
Over the last few years, a group of researchers from a university in the North West of England have been conducting a programme of research including a feasibility and pilot study of a community-based antenatal lifestyle intervention (for more details see Smith et al, 2010; Smith and Lavender, 2011; Smith et al, 2012). The programme of research was predominantly interested in exploring the suitability and acceptability of an antenatal lifestyle intervention for women who started their pregnancy with a BMI ≥30 kg/m2 and those health professionals providing care for them. This approach was deemed suitable due to the lack of consistent and robust findings regarding an evidence-based intervention for this target group (Campbell et al, 2009). This article discusses the important role of social support in pregnancy for women who start their pregnancy with a BMI ≥30 kg/m2 and the role of health professionals in providing women with the opportunity to build relationships with other pregnant women. Central to this discussion, is the presentation of observations of the health professionals involved in the study and data regarding one group of women who met through their involvement in the feasibility study.
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