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The Role of Body Image in Prenatal and Postpartum Depression: A Critical Review of the Literature


Silveira, Marushka L.; Ertel, Karen A.; Dole, Nancy; & Chasan-Taber, Lisa (2015). The Role of Body Image in Prenatal and Postpartum Depression: A Critical Review of the Literature. Archives of Women's Mental Health, 18(3), 409-421. PMCID: PMC4810003


Maternal depression increases risk of adverse perinatal outcomes, and recent evidence suggests that body image may play an important role in depression. This systematic review identifies studies of body image and perinatal depression with the goal of elucidating the complex role that body image plays in prenatal and postpartum depression, improving measurement, and informing next steps in research. We conducted a literature search of the PubMed database (1996–2014) for English language studies of (1) depression, (2) body image, and (3) pregnancy or postpartum. In total, 19 studies matched these criteria. Cross-sectional studies consistently found a positive association between body image dissatisfaction and perinatal depression. Prospective cohort studies found that body image dissatisfaction predicted incident prenatal and postpartum depression; findings were consistent across different aspects of body image and various pregnancy and postpartum time periods. Prospective studies that examined the reverse association found that depression influenced the onset of some aspects of body image dissatisfaction during pregnancy, but few evaluated the postpartum onset of body image dissatisfaction. The majority of studies found that body image dissatisfaction is consistently but weakly associated with the onset of prenatal and postpartum depression. Findings were less consistent for the association between perinatal depression and subsequent body image dissatisfaction. While published studies provide a foundation for understanding these issues, methodologically rigorous studies that capture the perinatal variation in depression and body image via instruments validated in pregnant women, consistently adjust for important confounders, and include ethnically diverse populations will further elucidate this association.


Reference Type

Journal Article

Year Published


Journal Title

Archives of Women's Mental Health


Silveira, Marushka L.
Ertel, Karen A.
Dole, Nancy
Chasan-Taber, Lisa