A Biopsychosocial Model of Body Image in New Mothers

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The vast majority of eating disorders literature to date focuses on adolescent and college aged women. However, recent research suggests that eating disorders and struggles with body image are not limited to younger women, but instead occur in women of all ages (e.g. Hay, 1998). One group of women that might be particularly at risk for decreases in body image are first time mothers, as their bodies go through immense changes during pregnancy and the postpartum period. Thus far, the literature has shown a relationship between biological changes, such as weight retention, and low body image in postpartum women (e.g. Walker, 1998). However, little research has explored the role of psychosocial factors in postpartum body image. The current study explored a biopsychosocial model of postpartum image, drawing on psychosocial variables that had been shown to relate to body image in adolescent and college aged women. This study found that psychosocial factors (internalization of the thin ideal, pressure for thinness, and negative affect) accounted for variance in body satisfaction and disordered eating, above and beyond that of biomedical factors (weight change, postpartum BMI, and shape change). Additionally, psychosocial factors partially mediated the effect of weight change and shape change on body satisfaction and disordered eating. These findings have important implications for psychologists and health care professionals who work with new mothers.