This one tip could help mums of young kids to improve their body confidence and mental health
Updated: Sep 16
One in five women with a child under 2 have ever been diagnosed with depression, according to the most recent national Australian study (conducted in 2010). Although the majority of women were diagnosed prior to their pregnancy, 3.7% were diagnosed while they were pregnant, 18.8% in the first year after the child’s birth, and 4.1% after the child’s first birthday. Data from all births in Sydney (including over 17,000 women) found that development of post-natal depression [PND] was associated with lack of partner support, history of intimate partner violence, being from the CALD population and low socioeconomic status. The national study found that women who were younger (<25), smokers, at a higher weight, and had an emergency caesarean were more at risk of developing depression in the first year after birth.
Researchers have also agreed that body dissatisfaction and post-natal depression are related across pregnancy and the postpartum period. Some have found that higher levels of depression predicted higher levels of body dissatisfaction, others found that body dissatisfaction during pregnancy predicted depressive symptoms.
When I tell people about this (mostly men) they are usually surprised. They think that postnatal depression is a serious thing, and that body image is silly and frivolous. But pregnancy, birth, and the post-partum period are times of significant body, and identity changes for women. For most women, pregnancy results in an improved body image- potentially because we are temporarily excused from societal expectations of thinness. However, the post-birth period brings unexpected changes to body size, shape, and functionality that can take time to adjust to. Longitudinal studies have shown that body dissatisfaction is at its worst 6-9 months after birth. By that time women experience both personal and societal expectations to get your 'pre-baby body back’. An analysis of women’s magazines in Australia found that “The social messages inherent in the magazine stories were that women need to strive towards regaining a pre-pregnant body shape with the same effort one would employ when recovering from an illness.” Women expect to be able to return to their pre-baby body weight, or lighter. This is pretty insanely difficult to achieve, and the cycle of dieting and weight gain with ever-increasing dissatisfaction is related to depression experienced in the postpartum period.
Here at Body Confident Mums, we want to change the conversation about mothers- to value what they do rather than how they look. We also want to support women with resources that can improve their mental health and their body image, and be integrated into busy mum-life. There is very strong evidence that shows that physical activity is able to improve mood and reduce or prevent depression in non-clinical adult populations. Exercise has also been shown to improve body image- not because of any physical body changes, but because of an enhanced appreciation for the functionality of the body, greater body awareness and connection, and perceived increases in physical skills and capabilities. In short- moving is highly recommended!
In our focus groups, women have told us how difficult it is to find the time and energy to get active (and we know this all too well ourselves!!). They also tell us that it's hard to get your new body dressed in the morning. So here's the tip. We have a solution. Leggings. Activewear. Always! Put them straight on in the morning, and your joggers, and you will find that you will move more, and be more motivated to be physically active than if you had to go to the effort of getting changed to do so.
We’ve been following Active Truth for a while*, and we love them. Not only do they make high quality activewear in a wide range of sizes (with pockets!), but they are using diverse-sized models in their imagery, and positive messaging in their social content. Basically, it’s marketing just as we would like it to be!
Look after yourself this PANDA awareness week mammas.
*Not affiliated, not a sponsored post, we just wanted to high five them for this...
Zali Yager is the Co-Founder of Body Confident Mums, a research collaboration that aims to explore body image during motherhood, to empower mums to improve their own mental health, and to make system-wide changes to media, marketing and maternal care. Zali is also the Director of Well Researched, a startup that empowers researchers to enhance their engagement and impact.