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Women's experiences of body image and baby feeding choices: Dealing with the pressure to be slender

02 November 2014
13 min read
Volume 22 · Issue 11

Abstract

This qualitative study was designed to assess postpartum women's body image in relation to feeding choices. Forty women aged 20–42 years, up to 3 years postpartum were interviewed through email. Participants were allocated to three groups; currently breastfeeding, former breastfeeding, or bottle-feeding. Data were analysed using thematic analysis, which revealed three key themes: attitude transition, celebrity comparisons, and emotional reactions to celebrity mothers. Analysis suggested that women with experience of breastfeeding viewed their body more functionally, which created feelings of appreciation and acceptance towards their bodies. The findings suggest that although breastfeeding does not necessarily protect women from body concerns and pressure for thinness, it allows women to see their body as an ‘instrument’ rather than an aesthetic ‘object’. Further research is required to confirm or challenge the current findings.

Women's bodies undergo many physical changes during pregnancy that may take them further away from their ideal body shape (Grogan, 2008), and some of these changes will carry over into the postpartum period. Most women adapt positively to the changes that occur during pregnancy, and some authors have suggested that pregnancy protects women from body concerns (Rocco et al, 2005; Skouteris et al, 2005; Clark et al, 2009). However, the postpartum period has been identified by many researchers as a time of augmented body dissatisfaction (Stein and Fairburn, 1996; Rallis et al, 2007; Clark et al, 2009).

One group of postpartum women who have been identified as having higher levels of body satisfaction are those who are currently breastfeeding (Welsh and Hoffman, 2009). It has been suggested that breastfeeding may provide a defence against the negative impact of pressure for slenderness. One study that looked for a relationship between body image, feeding decisions and attachment, found that women who breastfed had a more positive pre-pregnancy body image than those who were bottle-feeding (Huang et al, 2004).

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