Ambivalence and moral dilemmas in women’s lived experiences of obesity and pregnancy: Qualitative insights for maternal lifestyle interventions

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Background: Maternal obesity is a global health concern that is associated with significant effects on both short- and long-term health of both mother and child. However, maternal lifestyle interventions tend to focus solely on diet and physical activity in ways that disembody and disengage the social context in which women live their lives. Aims: The aim of this study was to explore the lived experiences of maternal obesity and delve into how experiences of the body and motherhood affect women's motivation for participating in a postpartum lifestyle intervention. Method: A qualitative study using in-depth semi-structured interviews based on participant-generated photographs was used to allow the women to openly express their lived experiences of maternal obesity. The study emanated from a gynaecological department of a major Danish hospital, and five pregnant or postpartum women living with obesity participated. Interviews were audio recorded, transcribed and analysed using an Interpretive Phenomenological Approach. Results: The analysis identified an overall theme of ambivalence and four subthemes among the participating women. The themes reflected contrasting feelings where the obese body was simultaneously an arena for aesthetic failure, functional success and moral dilemmas. Experiences of weight stigma and moral accusations in healthcare settings further increased the women's sense of ambivalence and challenged their strong desire to lose weight. Conclusion: This study highlights an ambivalent and vulnerable situation of maternal obesity which makes moral sensitivity towards weight and body concerns crucial to consider in future maternal health interventions. Our data suggest that an emphasis on functionality and capability rather than aesthetics and measured ideals would be useful in providing care and support in postpartum lifestyle interventions for women living with obesity.

Original languageEnglish
JournalScandinavian Journal of Caring Sciences
Pages (from-to)416-425
Number of pages10
Publication statusPublished - Jun 2022

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2021 Nordic College of Caring Science.

    Research areas

  • ethics, lifestyle intervention, maternal obesity, moral dilemmas, phenomenology, qualitative research, stigma, visual methods

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