The Association Between Body Image and Breastfeeding
by Anne Eglash MD, IBCLC, FABM
According to the study for this week’s CQW, previous research on body image during lactation has focused on the association between negative experiences of body image and breastfeeding. Studies have shown that a negative body image or weight concerns has been associated with not breastfeeding or shorter breastfeeding duration. Conjectures on the association of negative body image and little/no breastfeeding include concerns regarding breastfeeding in public, not feeling the control to diet restrictively, and/or concerns about breasts sagging.
The authors of this study sought to investigate how breastfeeding may be associated with many positive aspects of body image. They recruited 597 women with infants ages 0-12 months thru electronic means to participate in a survey. Most (86%) were breastfeeding, and 97.3% reported that they ever breastfed. The vast majority were White, married, and heterosexual, and all were described as women. The researchers found that those who were still breastfeeding at the time of the survey had higher appreciation of their bodily function and higher appearance evaluation. Their tendency to engage in maladaptive weight control behaviors were also significantly lower.
What else? Check out the question!
- Women who were still breastfeeding at the time of the survey rated themselves as more satisfied with their appearance.
- Women who were still breastfeeding at the time of the survey were less likely to judge themselves negatively on their bodily aesthetics.
- Women who were still breastfeeding at the time of the survey placed less value on their appearance.
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The goal of this study was to examine breastfeeding behavior and attitudes as predictors of women’s body image and weight control behavior. This study extends past research by focusing on positive body image variables including body appreciation and perceived body functionality. Women (N = 597) from the United States who had recently birthed biological babies ages 0–12 months participated in an online study. Current breastfeeding rates were high (86 %), and average breastfeeding duration was approximately 3 months. Women who were currently breastfeeding indicated more positive body images and less likelihood of engaging in maladaptive weight control behaviors than women who were no longer breastfeeding or had never breastfed their baby. Women’s positive attitudes toward breastfeeding were associated with awareness and appreciation of body functionality and fewer maladaptive weight control behaviors. These findings extend research on the health benefits of positive body image and suggest that breastfeeding may occur within a constellation of beliefs and behaviors indicative of positive body image.
This study took an opposite approach to many breastfeeding studies that found concern for body image and obesity were associated with decreased breastfeeding. However, the findings were similar, in that the breastfeeding individuals in this study had a more positive body image, less concern about weight loss and their appearance, and an overall higher satisfaction with bodily function than those who were not breastfeeding at the time of the study.
This study lends support to the notion that the decision to breastfeeding may be influenced by one’s body image, which in turn is related to comfort of breastfeeding in public, not worrying about changes in the breasts over time, etc.
Because the subjects in this study were fairly homogenous, given that they were White and married, these findings cannot be applied to people from other races/ethnicities, or all socioeconomic groups.
Of note, a systematic review of eating disorders in pregnancy and breastfeeding women published in 2020 did not find a clear relationship between eating disorders and early cessation of breastfeeding. Therefore, much more research on this topic is needed.