Embodied motherhood: Exploring body image in pregnant and parenting youth


Study Objective

There is a paucity of research on body image in pregnant and parenting youth (PPY). Study objectives were to examine: (1) profiles of PPY regarding body image, depression, and eating behaviors and any effects of age and pregnancy status on results; and (2) PPY perceptions of body image.

Design, Setting, Participants, Interventions, and Main Outcome Measures

Demographic data and scores from measures related to self-esteem, body esteem, eating behaviors, and depression were collected from 101 PPY from 2 urban centers. Two focus group sessions were held to further explore survey findings. Sessions were audio-recorded and transcribed verbatim for analysis.


Participants (mean age, 19.8 years) reported a history of depression (79/101; 78.2%), anxiety (75/101; 74.3%), drug/alcohol abuse (45/101; 44.6%), and eating disorder (32/101; 31.7%). Parenting (nonpregnant; n = 64) participants had lower body esteem (P = .041) and more eating disorder behaviors (P = .026) compared with pregnant (n = 37) participants. A history of depression or eating disorder both independently increased risk for lower body esteem and self-esteem and higher depressive symptoms in pregnant youth. Four dominant themes emerged from qualitative data: (1) adapting to rapidly changing bodies; (2) inter-relationship between body image and mood; (3) added attention and perceptions of pressure to return to prepregnancy body size; and (4) reconciling change and striving to find a new normal.


This study highlights the importance of exploring past and current body image, mood, and eating disorder behavior in PPY for risk of current mental health issues. Future research exploring prepregnancy depression, eating disorder, body esteem, and depression in pregnant youth are needed.

Lead Researchers

Link to Publication


  1. Megan Harrison

    Investigator, CHEO Research Institute

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  2. Nicole Obeid

    Scientist, CHEO Research Institute

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