When a plus size woman Googles “plus size and pregnant”, within a few minutes she’s flooded with articles that often convince her that she’ll develop all kinds of complications and will definitely have a cesarean birth. Are there increased risks of being plus size and pregnant? Yes, and I believe it’s important we’re aware of these risks so we can learn how to reduce them. It’s also important women know that just because there are increased risks, doesn’t mean they will automatically fall victim to them because of their size. It’s also important to note that even if women do develop complications, they shouldn’t be made to feel ashamed. Sadly, articles like the New York Times piece Pregnant, Obese, and in Danger only perpetuate plus size pregnancy misconceptions and the notion that women’s bodies are incapable of having healthy outcomes. This is harmful and untrue.
When the pregnancy website, BabyGaga, shared their article 20 Problems of a Plus-Sized Pregnant Women I was curious to read it. Yet, within the first few paragraphs it was apparent this would be yet another article full of fear mongering (and that’s why you won’t find it linked here but you can easily find it via Google – just consider this your trigger warning even though what you'll find is a revised version of the original).
These articles are harmful not just because they mislead women with plus size pregnancy misconceptions but because of the emotional toll experienced by women reading such negative and unsupportive information.
Tess Holliday is a plus size model who has graced the cover of People Magazine. She is currently pregnant with her second child and helping to give a voice to so many plus size women who are shamed during pregnancy. She had this to say about the BabyGaga article,
There are not that many resources for plus size women who are pregnant. As a former follower of BabyGaga, I enjoyed their content until they posted such a fat phobic article. It reeks of shaming plus women and telling US what our bodies are ‘capable’ & not capable of.
What upset me most about the article is the fact that not every plus size woman knows that the things they were saying aren't entirely true, but exaggerated. I was infuriated to read that women were saying how they were thinking twice about having children. That's wrong!
The BabyGaga article addressed 20 risks that women might (but it reads more like will) incur during a plus size pregnancy. For example, “#19 Fatal Pregnancy Complications – Pregnancy comes with its set of risks, but unfortunately, the life-threatening medical issues that are a risk to the mother are the reality for some women. These complications include pre-eclampsia and blood clots.” It is inflammatory and downright irresponsible to make plus size women feel as if they have a high risk of dying during pregnancy. PLEASE SHOW US STUDIES TO BACK YOUR CLAIM! And in fact, that’s the problem with this article and so many others like this one. They use scare tactics but don’t offer science to back their fear mongering.
Even on the rare occurrence that statistics are used, they are nearly always presented in a negative context. For example, BabyGaga shared this on diabetes (though I assume they were talking about gestational diabetes), “The risk of testing positive for diabetes in pregnant women stands at 5%, in some women who are overweight the risk is 15%. Diabetic pregnant women have an increased risk of delivering large babies which can lead to injuries during delivery.” We can easily flip the script and say that 85% of plus size women WON’T develop gestational diabetes. Then we can take things a step further and talk about the importance of good nutrition during pregnancy to help women reduce their risk of developing gestational diabetes. Encouraging women to connect with a size friendly nutritionist and have fun creating healthy recipe boards on Pinterest would be helpful tips. Stopping at telling women they are at an increased risk of gestational diabetes isn’t helpful.
Websites like BabyGaga also scare women into believing they have a high risk of still birth when studies actually show only a slight increase of an already very low risk. This isn’t to say a risk doesn’t exist, because it does for all pregnant women, but it’s important information like this is presented in a delicate manner and not used to scare women out of having children at all.
Plus size pregnancy misconceptions aren’t limited to articles elaborating and exaggerating plus size pregnancy risks, but also include the idea that women should be entirely dependent upon their care providers and follow their instructions regardless. Or, as BabyGaga’s article said, “take the necessary precautions your doctor prescribes”. The reality is that this advice is extremely limited and some women are left feeling rather hopeless, especially those who don’t have a size friendly healthcare provider. Truthfully, blindly following any medical practitioner can be dangerous, especially if they’re just as ill-informed about the reality of plus size pregnancy as BabyGaga.
There’s so much more we can do to support and empower plus size women to have a healthy pregnancy! We need to address the increased risks in a compassionate manner so we can work to reduce them. It's critical we talk about care provider bias against women of size and discuss the midwifery model of care (and doula support). We need to encourage women to make healthy nutritional choices and remain physically active throughout pregnancy. Let's change the narrative of plus size pregnancy by calling out articles that are borderline fat shaming and completely unhelpful. Use their comment section and social media channels to say that shame is not an effective tool!
The reality is that many plus size women have completely healthy pregnancies and beautiful births. I’m one of them because I didn’t allow articles like BabyGaga’s to lead me to believe that my body was broken. I worked hard to be proactive with my nutrition and developed a love for water aerobics. My “morbidly obese” body never experienced any risks and I gave birth on my knees in a hospital supported by my midwife, doula, and family. I’ve made it my life’s mission to advocate for plus size women during pregnancy and have become a childbirth educator because I know what it’s like to have a care provider touch my body with compassion. My story isn’t unique but by a simple Google search you’d be led you to believe that I’m an anomaly. BabyGaga’s article does nothing but perpetuate the plus size pregnancy misconceptions that lead to emotional strife, stress during pregnancy, and increased risks due to unnecessary medical interventions.
Let’s change that! Will you help me to stand up against these plus size pregnancy misconceptions on the Internet?
It should be noted that BabyGaga went onto my website, plussizebirth.com, and stole a photo for their article. It was used as “#17 Frightening Stories” and the mother whose image was taken without permission was extremely upset. She shared her birth story, Not All Care Providers are Fat Shamers: A Birth Story, to talk about having a healthy pregnancy and being treated with compassion by her care provider. To have her face used as a tool to make women feel ashamed of their bodies during pregnancy was truly devastating. BabyGaga removed the photo and apologized for their unethical behavior once a lot of people demanded they do so via Twitter.
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