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“If she wants to eat…and eat and eat…fine! It's gonna feed the baby”: Pregnant women and partners' perceptions and experiences of pregnancy with a BMI >40kg/m2

Keely, Alice; Cunningham-Burley, Sarah; Elliott, Lawrie; Sandall, Jane; Whittaker, Anne


Alice Keely

Sarah Cunningham-Burley

Lawrie Elliott

Jane Sandall

Anne Whittaker


Introduction: women with a raised BMI are more likely to gain excessive weight in pregnancy compared to
women with a BMI in the normal range. Recent behaviour change interventions have had moderate to no
influence on GWG, and no effect on other perinatal outcomes. Evidence is required regarding the social and
cultural contexts of weight and pregnancy. No studies to date have included the views of partners.
Aims: to explore the experiences, attitudes and health-related behaviours of pregnant women with a BMI >
40 kg/m2; and to identify the factors and considerations which shape their beliefs, experiences and behaviours,
and how these may change during and after pregnancy. 2. To determine the impact, if any, of the beliefs and
attitudes of significant members of the women's families and social networks upon the women's experiences,
attitudes and health-related behaviours in relation to weight and pregnancy
Methods: this was a prospective serial interview study. Semi-structured interviews were conducted with 11
pregnant women with a BMI > 40 kg/m2, during pregnancy and after birth, and once with 7 partners (all male)
of women. Interview questions were designed to be appropriately but flexibly framed, in order to explore and
gather data on participants' everyday life, lifestyles, views, experiences, relationships and behaviours, focussing
more specifically on beliefs about health, pregnancy, weight and diet. Thematic content analysis was used to
formally analyse and unearth patterns in the data.
Findings: the findings can be grouped into six interrelated themes: the complexities of weight histories and
relationships with food; resisting risk together; resisting stigma together; pregnancy as a 'pause';receiving
dietary advice; postnatal intentions. These themes are interrelated due to the 'spoiled identity' (Goffman, 1963)
that the large body represents in western culture and related stigma.
Conclusion and implications: this study provides evidence that there exist deeply ingrained social and cultural
beliefs among women and in particular their partners, regarding pregnancy diet and weight gain. Further, this
study provides evidence that male partners may resist stigmatised risk on behalf of a pregnant partner. All
women (and several men) expressed an intention to adopt healthy behaviours and lose weight once their baby
was born. Further evidence is required regarding the means by which women who experience stigmatised risk
during pregnancy, and their partners, might be engaged and receptive to health advice. Models which draw on
ideals of relationship-centred care, and selfefficacy via open discussion with women and families, engaging
women and partners by providing them with an opportunity to talk about their beliefs and concerns, could be
explored to inform future research and practice.


Keely, A., Cunningham-Burley, S., Elliott, L., Sandall, J., & Whittaker, A. (2016). “If she wants to eat…and eat and eat…fine! It's gonna feed the baby”: Pregnant women and partners' perceptions and experiences of pregnancy with a BMI >40kg/m2. Midwifery, 49, 87-94.

Journal Article Type Article
Acceptance Date Sep 26, 2016
Online Publication Date Sep 28, 2016
Publication Date 2016-09
Deposit Date Nov 22, 2016
Publicly Available Date Sep 29, 2017
Journal Midwifery
Print ISSN 0266-6138
Publisher Elsevier
Peer Reviewed Peer Reviewed
Volume 49
Pages 87-94
Keywords Pregnancy, obesity, BMI, stigma, risk, partners, couples,
Public URL


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