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.
Sunday 18th of November 2018
I'm a size 24 and my husband and I have been planning on getting pregnant. I have tried to do my research and I have definitely felt ashamed for even THINKING of getting pregnant at this weight from all of the things I have read out there. It's articles and websites like this that help me realize that I can do this if I remain mindful and treat my body with love and respect before during and after pregnancy. Thank you for being a light in the dark!
Sunday 18th of November 2018
You're so welcome and I'm glad you feel less alone! Be sure to connect with our communities online like @plusmommy via Instagram. Wish you and your husband all the best on your TTC journey.
Wednesday 20th of June 2018
THANK YOU FOR THIS! I've been ttc for a little over a year after healing from my miscarriage from 2013 (mostly emotional and mental healing, I did beat myself up pretty badly over losing my first child). For someone who's been plus sized their whole life, I've gotten, sadly, used to being "called out" for my weight. I feel like someone's weight isn't the main reason for illnesses and diseases but a byproduct of something greater (and sometimes worse), but because you can see someone's weight, it's usually the easiest thing to pick up on and to be told that if we "only lose 10% of [our] body weight" everything will be better. But it's not always that black and white and it frustrates me to no end. I'd love to find a provider that will see ME and not my fat. Like, dude, I know I'm fat, you can clearly see I'm fat, let's move on from that and see what we can do to make sure that I can have a healthy life and pregnancy if and when I become pregnant.
Thanks again for writing this, I was nodding while reading this! :)
Friday 22nd of June 2018
Oh, I'm so glad you got so much out of this article and it helped you! Your body is amazing! :)
Wednesday 19th of July 2017
I am a size 22/24 and 37. All my blood work came back perfectly & tho I already went into my pregnancy with *some* hypertension, it was well controlled with medication. I had a stillbirth at 24 weeks. There is no explanation. Having now lived it, I don't think telling women that you WILL BE SAFER if you lose some weight is irresponsible-- in fact, it's the very opposite. I wish I had heeded the warnings more carefully and taken at least some of the weight off before getting pregnant. I don't really follow all the reasons why this babygaga article pissed people off so much. Not everyone has a healthy plus size pregnant - and if you don't - your life is at risk. (I did also have blood clots found post partem). People with half a brain should know to do their own research, consider the source, and make their own judgments with most "weight" being given to their medical professional.
Monday 29th of May 2017
Thank you for this. I recently joined the obese category of the BMI scale for reasons unknown to me or my doctor. Im very active and always on top of nutrition, so when the weight gain happened part of me felt like I would have to give up having babies until I could lose the weight. Even though my husband and I were originally planning to start trying this year. Ive been so terrified that Id be irresponsible to get pregnant just because of my size, even though ny lifestyle and all of my labs and vitals say Im perfectly healthy. I needed this :)
Tuesday 13th of June 2017
I'm so glad you found our website and hope you'll join our community on Facebook! Tons of support for those who are TTC.
Thursday 30th of March 2017
I am 8 weeks pregnant, and have been horrified cause of all the negative things I've read online about being plus size and pregnant. I am 5'4" 212 and have been constantly worried If my baby is at harm because of my weight. I haven't even been able to enjoy being pregnant. After reading this article I feel so much better and finally happy that I am pregnant! I am no longer going to look at my body in disgust wondering how my body can create a healthy human. I know I can! And I am beautiful! Cause all these beautiful strong women on here are so empowering! Thank you so so so much, this article made me cry. You are a wonderful person for being an advocate for plus size women all over the world. You are very much a blessing! Im ready for this now, bring it on!
Friday 31st of March 2017
It an honor to support you and others by having this blog and resources Ashley! Be sure to tap into our online communities and newsletter - https://plussizebirth.com/subscribe/