2021 Undergraduate Research Showcase


Marks of Motherhood: Body Image in the Postpartum Period

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Student Presentation


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Mary Pritchard


Stretch marks are a frequently occurring, yet under examined, physical component of pregnancy and new motherhood. The purpose of the present study is to examine the influence of women’s perceptions of their stretch marks on body image in the postpartum period. This was a two-part exploratory study that employed a mixed-methods approach. First, an initial survey was used to identify and recruit mothers who developed stretch marks during pregnancy. From the survey response pool (n = 530), seven women were selected to participate in an asynchronous online focus group. Participants responded to eight discussion prompts over a one-month period. Data were analyzed using Consensual Qualitative Research (CQR). We identified five emergent themes including internal expectations, external expectations, mourning of pre-baby body, duality of pride/dissatisfaction, and stretch marks as symbols. The focus group participants experienced mixed feelings about their bodies and the majority of women perceived their stretch marks with indifference. This perception of stretch marks, however, did not appear to influence most women’s feelings of body dissatisfaction. This study offers new insight that may assist medical and mental health providers in better preparing women for the physical changes following childbirth.

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