Mind Over Matter: Exploring the relationship between mindfulness and body Image in first-time parents

By Sophia Marchetti & Inês Tavares

This blog is a summary of our published article: Tavares, I. M., Rosen, N. O., Heiman, J. R., & Nobre, P. J. (2023). Longitudinal associations between mindfulness and changes to body image in first-time parent couples. Body Image, 44, 187-196. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.bodyim.2023.01.002

Both positive body image and mindfulness contribute to better sexual wellbeing. [1,2] Body image is dynamic and varies as changes in our bodies occur throughout the lifespan. Across the perinatal period—the time during pregnancy up until one year postpartum—pregnant partners’ body image typically declines. [3] Poorer own body image during this period has been linked to lower psychological, relational, and sexual functioning and, importantly, expectant individuals who experience body dissatisfaction during pregnancy are three to four times more likely to develop perinatal depression as compared to those who are not dissatisfied. [4]

Mindfulness, a measurable trait characterized by a purposeful, nonjudgmental awareness of present-moment internal experiences (such as our thoughts and emotions), is helpful to maintain psychological wellbeing. [5] It includes five facets: observing (noticing internal experiences), describing (putting feelings into words), acting with awareness (noticing current experiences without acting impulsively), non-judgement (observing personal experiences without judgment), and non-reactivity to inner experience (noticing inner experiences without necessarily reacting to them). [6] 


What did we want to know?

In this study, we wanted to understand whether:

  • Both partners’ perceptions of the expectant individual’s body declined throughout the perinatal period?
  • Could mindfulness help couples deal with these changes by, for example, permitting greater acceptance and lower judgement of their current experiences?

What did we expect?

Based on previous research, we had 4 hypotheses:

  1. Mothers’ positive body image reports would be positively associated with partners’ perceptions of mothers’ bodies from pregnancy to postpartum.
  2. Mothers’ positive body image ratings would decline from pregnancy to 6 months postpartum; we explored whether partners’ perceptions of mothers’ bodies would also decline.
  3. Mothers and partners who had higher scores for non-judgment would have more positive perceptions of the mother’s body image (in the 2nd trimester).
  4. If both partners reported higher non-judgement ratings at pregnancy, this would predict better body image trajectories in both partners over time.

What did we do?

We recruited 257 new parent couples (all mixed sex/gender) and collected data from mid-pregnancy until 6 months postpartum. During the 2nd trimester, we collected data on the five mindfulness facets from both members of the couple. Then, at four subsequent points (2nd and 3rd trimester, and 3 and 6 months postpartum), we examined ratings of mothers’ own body image and partner’s perceptions of mother’s bodies. We then analyzed this data according to our hypotheses.


What did we find?

We found that both partners’ perceptions of mothers’ body were positively associated; however, mothers’ positive body image worsened over time, whereas partners’ perception of mothers’ body remained stable

As well, we found that specific mindfulness facets were associated with mothers’ more positive perceptions of their own body as well as fathers’ more positive perceptions of mothers’ body in pregnancy (specifically, mothers’ observance, description, and non-judging and partners’ non-judging).

 Finally, we found that mothers’ mindfulness facets (specifically high ratings in acting with awareness and non-judging) were associated with how their perceptions of their own body image evolved over time, but these effects were of smaller magnitude.

What does this mean?

This study found novel evidence that, while expectant partners’ body image might decline across pregnancy and postpartum, partners’ perception of a mother’s body remains stable. It might be valuable for partners to share their perceptions with mothers by expressing gratitude for their bodies and for the changes that are occurring. We also found that both partners’ mindfulness facets positively impact mothers’ body image and fathers’ perceptions of body image in pregnancy. This means that it’s important to consider not only mother’s perspectives but also their partner’s due to their critical influence on how birthing mothers feel about their bodies during this challenging period. For mothers, greater capacity for awareness of body changes without necessarily reacting to them impulsively was associated with a lessened decline in body image during the perinatal period, indicating that awareness skills can be promoted to reduce the negative impact of this challenging period on expectant individuals’ body image.


While these results are important for mental health maintenance and communication between couples during their first pregnancy, these results might also be helpful for couples to maintain their sexual wellbeing during this important transition. It is important to feel valued by your partner, and having a positive body image can enhance sexual wellbeing by increasing self-confidence, comfort with physical intimacy, and sexual satisfaction



[1] Ashkinazi, M., Wagner, S. A., Cunningham, K., & Mattson, R. E. (2022). Body image satisfaction and body-related partner commentary link to marital quality through sexual frequency and satisfaction: A path model. Couple and Family Psychology: Research and Practice. https://doi.org/10.1037/cfp0000216

[2] Jaderek, I., & Lew-Starowicz, M. (2019). A Systematic Review on Mindfulness Meditation-Based Interventions for Sexual Dysfunctions. The Journal of Sexual Medicine16(10), 1581–1596. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jsxm.2019.07.019

[3] Fuller-Tyszkiewicz, M., Skouteris, H., Watson, B. E., & Hill, B. (2013). Body dissatisfaction during pregnancy: A systematic review of cross-sectional and prospective correlates. Journal of Health Psychology, 18(11), 1411–1421. https://doi.org/10.1177/1359105312462437

[4] Silveira, M. L., Ertel, K. A., Dole, N., & Chasan-Taber, L. (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. https://doi.org/10.1007/s00737-015-0525-0

[5] Kabat-Zinn, J. (2003). Mindfulness-based interventions in context: Past, present, and future. Clinical Psychology: Science and Practice, 10(2), 144–156. https://doi.org/10.1093/clipsy/bpg016

[6] Baer, R. A., Smith, G. T., Lykins, E., Button, D., Krietemeyer, J., Sauer, S., Walsh, E., Duggan, D., & Williams, J. M. G. (2008). Construct validity of the five facet mindfulness questionnaire in meditating and nonmeditating samples. Assessment, 15(3), 329–342. https://doi.org/10.1177/1073191107313003