Skip to main content

Verified by Psychology Today


4 Types of Weight Stigma That Pregnant Women Experience

A survey of pregnant women and four types of weight stigma.

Key points

  • Pregnancy is a challenging time when women must cope with rapid changes to their bodies.
  • Yet, most pregnant women experience weight stigma, typically from close others.
  • Researchers surveyed pregnant women and found four types of weight stigma from loved ones.
  • Given its negative consequences, future research should find ways to combat weight stigma during pregnancy.

Pregnancy is a challenging time when women must cope with rapid changes to their bodies. Yet, most pregnant women experience weight stigma, or shaming from others regarding their weight. Aside from causing mental distress, these criticisms may negatively affect women’s physical health, for instance, by causing disordered eating or avoidance of healthcare settings.

Unfortunately, pregnant women most often experience weight stigma from close others, which may be especially harmful. A recent review found that weight stigma from romantic partners predicts poor relationship quality, body dissatisfaction, and disordered eating.

Given the important role of close others in pregnancy, researchers conducted a mixed methods (quantitative and qualitative) study examining the experiences of weight stigma among pregnant and postpartum women. They hypothesized that women who were obese before pregnancy would be more likely to report weight stigma from loved ones.

The researchers recruited 501 pregnant or postpartum women for their research through flyers posted on social media and in Los Angeles. About one-third (157) of the women reported weight stigma from close others (friends, family, partner) and were thus included in the analysis. Of these, the most common sources of weight stigma were immediate family (66 percent), friends (44 percent), extended family (39 percent), and romantic partners (30 percent). These women were similar in demographics to those who did not report weight stigma from close others. Most participants were White (78 percent) and of higher socioeconomic status.

Participants indicated sources of weight stigma and gave examples of the comments they received through an online survey. The researchers then used thematic analysis to code the comments. They found four main types of weight stigma experienced by pregnant or post-partum women:

1. Comparison to pregnancy beauty ideals

Women were compared to ideal pregnant or postpartum bodies by their close others. Some women were made to feel that they were too large (p. 300): “My MIL [mother-in-law] said something to the effect of, ‘Since you were so tiny and petite I didn’t expect you to carry so wide. I thought you’d carry more in front and not so wide.’ I am sure she didn’t mean anything, but it made me feel self-conscious anyway.” Other women were criticized for being too small (p. 300): “They have told me ‘shouldn’t you be bigger than you are? You are not showing enough.’” In addition, 15 percent of women reported being encouraged to lose weight quickly post-pregnancy.

2. Lifestyle-related criticisms

Women were criticized for their lifestyles, including weight gain (26 percent), eating behaviors (19 percent), or exercise behaviors. A participant provided the following example (p.300): “Dad always calling me fat and lazy while I breastfeed.”

3. Health-related criticisms

Women reported criticisms regarding their health (15 percent) or less often, the health of their unborn baby (5 percent). For instance, one woman wrote (p.300): “Mother-in-law implied I would be putting my baby at risk by being overweight.”

4. Comments causing insecurity

Women also reported comments that caused various forms of insecurities (13 percent). One woman stated (p. 300): “Mom always commenting on how much I’ve gained or how big I am. Makes me feel bad.” Another woman wrote (p. 301): “My grandmother would tell me I am too thin for how far along I was every chance she got. She made me feel as though I wasn’t providing enough nutrition to my child.”

In contrast to their expectations, the researchers found that weight stigma from close others did not vary based on women’s pre-pregnancy BMI. Therefore, women of all body types are susceptible to pregnancy weight stigma from loved ones. Given the negative effects of such stigma, the researchers suggest that techniques should be developed and administered to minimize weight stigma from close others during pregnancy. In addition, future research might investigate sources of social support that may help pregnant women cope with weight stigma.


Nagpal, T. S., Nippert, K. E., Velletri, M., Tomiyama, A. J., & Incollingo Rodriguez, A. C. (2023). Close relationships as sources of pregnancy-related weight stigma for expecting and new mothers. International Journal of Behavioral Medicine, 30(2), 297-303.

More from Karen Wu Ph.D.
More from Psychology Today