Maternal Well-Being During Gestation: Examining the Role of Pregnant Embodiment
The transitional state of gestation is marked by rapid physiological shifts, at the intersection of sense of self and dominant societal discourses about pregnancy and motherhood. As a result, the experience of the body during pregnancy (i.e., pregnant embodiment) is reflective of varied experiences, including disconnection and objectification (i.e., body estrangement) as well as connection and attunement (i.e., body agency), with important implications for maternal well-being. Extant research has focused largely on external body evaluations (i.e., body dissatisfaction) and indicators of psychosocial distress, highlighting gaps in knowledge regarding positive affective components of well-being as well as variability in pregnant embodiment. The Attunement Model of Wellness and Embodied Self-Regulation (AMWESR) posits that attunement to bodily needs supports balance between internal and external demands, which may be particularly important during pregnancy. Emerging work on mindfulness indicates that awareness and acceptance in response to pregnancy-related change may contribute to increases in positive outcomes and reductions in negative outcomes. However, research has yet to examine the relationships between practices associated with mindfulness (e.g., mindful self-care; MSC) and pregnant embodiment. We examined cross-sectional relationships between pregnant embodiment, MSC, maternal well-being and maternal distress in a nationally-inclusive sample of US women (N = 165; M(age) = 31.4, aged 21-43; 85.6% White, 4.9% Hispanic/Latinx). Two multi-stage hierarchical linear regression models using mean-centered focal predictors examined associations of MSC, body estrangement, and body agency with well-being and distress, respectively. Main effect models revealed positive associations of MSC and body agency with well-being, a negative association between MSC and distress, and a positive association between body estrangement and distress, controlling for maternal age, parity, and level of education. Additionally, the potential for mindful self-care as a moderator of relationships between embodiment and well-being or distress was assessed. Exploration of interaction terms and their relative contribution to the model indicated that at higher levels of MSC, the association between body estrangement and distress was weaker. Overall, findings suggest that disconnection with the body, intentional self-care, and distress are tightly intertwined. As a partial replication and exploration of the interplay among appraisals, behavior, and affective gestational experiences, the present work promotes inclusion of unique potential protective and risk factors for pregnancy well-being, toward innovation in health promotion.