Fat and Scared to Give Birth: How Weight Stigma Can Be More Dangerous Than Being Fat

By Reketta Peterson | Jul 14, 2021

Do you know that feeling of sitting on the exam table after just having your weight and blood pressure checked by the nurse?

Have you gnawed on the inside of your jaw thinking about what your medical provider would say either verbally or through body language when they enter the room?

As you sit on the table and feel the soft kick of your baby in utero, are you reminded from various scholarly and not so scholarly articles of the potential harm your baby is facing because you were labeled “overweight” or “obese”?

I remember peering at my medical chart records and seeing the words “obese” written on my file. I also remember various medical providers telling me I should gain no more than 10-12 pounds throughout my gestational period. I also remember the fear of not wanting to gain because it meant I was actively engaging in harming my baby by simply being. Because I live in a larger body, I was made to think I was setting my baby on the fast track to health issues. At least that is what my immediate medical providers and some research were saying. Take Leddy, Power, and Schulkin for example, state maternal obesity is associated with abnormal growth of the fetus (2008). But through my journey of reset and rest, I found a lot of “research” is rooted in weight stigma or what is known as weight bias or weight discrimination. It is when a normal size person looks at a person in a larger size body and makes assumptions such as, “this person has low self-esteem” or is “sloppy”. Now I would say there could be evidence of low self-esteem because we as a society are surrounded by diet culture and are often faced with the stigma of being above “normal size”. By the way, what is “normal size”? Whose normal are we comparing ourselves?

According to the research from Incollingo Rodriguez, Tomiyama, Guardino, and Dunkel Schetter (2019), weight discrimination was found to influence symptoms of postpartum depression and weight retention for participants one year postpartum. Postpartum depression carries adverse effects on the fetus as well as future effects in infant/child development. Mothers with postpartum depression are less attentive, have poorer mood regulation and poorer problem-solving skills (Maternal Depression and Child Development, 2004).

Imagine if a provider whom an overweight mother interacted with was well versed in Health At Every Size (HAES) or was simply able to see their patient as a human-focused on carrying to term and experiencing a positive birthing experience. How supported this person would feel. It could reduce the chances of the birthing person experiencing postpartum mental health concerns and lead to healthy childhood development. It is dangerous to solely focus on weight where there is empirical evidence that refutes the research rooted in weight discrimination. What has not been seen is evidence to refute maternal depression and its effects on infant/child development. At the very least, a medical professional in the healthcare world should take into account the variables they can control which would be providing unbiased and compassionate care. I believe had I not felt shamed for my weight I would have enjoyed being pregnant more than I did.

I am writing this out in the blogosphere so that birthing persons in larger bodies can see weight stigma is not a shortcoming of their own doing, but of a society that is rooted in anti-blackness and discriminatory practices. I hope that we are educated on all research and are armed with the knowledge to counterweight discrimination on the exam table.

In solidarity,

About the Author
Reketta Peterson is a Licensed Professional Counselor and sex therapist in the great state of Alaska. She helps clients cultivate true intimacy in their relationships. She also helps new parents define their new roles inside and outside of the family unit. She is the owner of Arise Counseling, LLC. She is also the owner of RSP Consulting, LLC, a firm that works with healthcare organizations to address stigmas that affect Black women and LGBTQIA+ folks of color. Follow her @ Arisecounseling on Instagram or visit her website at www.arisecounselingllc.com.

Incollingo Rodriguez, A. C., Tomiyama, A. J., Guardino, C. M., & Dunkel Schetter, C. (2019). Association of weight discrimination during pregnancy and postpartum with maternal postpartum health. Health psychology : official journal of the Division of Health Psychology, American Psychological Association, 38(3), 226–237. https://doi.org/10.1037/hea0000711

Leddy, M. A., Power, M. L., & Schulkin, J. (2008). The impact of maternal obesity on maternal and fetal health. Reviews in obstetrics & gynecology, 1(4), 170–178.

Maternal depression and child development. (2004). Paediatrics & child health, 9(8), 575–598. https://doi.org/10.1093/pch/9.8.575


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