Media Representation of Pregnancy

From UBC Wiki

In today's world, we are surrounded by all types of media, consisting of magazines, books, newspapers, movies, television shows, the internet and advertisements. The media has had an increasing influence on women’s knowledge, beliefs and expectations about pregnancy and birth over the years. These influences can be both guiding and misguiding[1].It was found that the media can alter viewers perception and behavior thus when the media can promote misconceptions about pregnancy and the birth, this becomes a problem. The media plays an important role in shaping both the biological and cultural expectations of pregnancy, birth and motherhood.

Obsession with Celebrities Pregnancy

Celebrity experiences with pregnancy and motherhood is a popular topic within the media. With entertainment magazine websites alone amassing over 13 million views each month. Researchers find it concerning that such websites give society an unrealistic expectation about both pregnancy and postpartum conditions[2]. There are multiple media outlets just about celebrities pregnancies. These outlets focus on the celebrities baby bump and allow for readers to scrutinize their appearances[3]. Magazines, movies, television shows, websites and social media can all affect the way pregnant women view their own bodies.

Pregnancy and Weight Gain

News outlets publicly body shaming Kim Kardashian. Where the size of a woman's stomach and thighs are subject to media scrutiny.

Celebrity pregnancy generates a lot of interest in the public because it shows the physical appearance and lifestyle changes of the celebrity when becoming a parent. The portrayal of pregnant celebrities and their post-baby bodies are often unrealistic and unattainable for average people. Everybody's body is different and every woman has a different experience with pregnancy and childbirth. Weight gain during a pregnancy is normal, but many media articles focusing on the weight and post-baby bodies of celebrities can become damaging to other women's self esteem. This is concerning as articles suggest weight gain in something negative and getting their bodies back after childbirth is celebrated[2]. Women tend to compare their bodies to those in the media and aspire to look like them [4]. A study has found that after half of the women they have interviewed, media often makes them feel worse about themselves during their pregnancy. It was found that media puts a large emphasis on both the pregnant and postpartum bodies. Most entertainment news outlets show the ideal pregnancy body in bikinis while childbirth in movies show an unrealistic scenario where the celebrities return to their pre-baby weight after birth. This leaves women to feel depressed and unhappy with their own body. It was found that women with body concerns during their pregnancy reported to have more symptoms of depression, increase likeliness of dieting and smoking which all suggest that a risk towards their physical and mental health during their pregnancy. Many different media outlets often show how celebrities look several days after their childbirth. Some are praised for their fast weight loss while the small portion of celebrities who don’t are shamed for pictures that show they still have a protruding stomachs. What isn’t discussed in the media is how celebrities lose weight so fast [5]. Expecting women who are following the life of a pregnant celebrities through the media are found to have an increase worry of weight gain. Popular media outlets that talk about celebrity pregnancy often post misinformation about pregnancies which is a huge problem as these articles are taken in by the public and inspire unhealthy, untrue or unachievable expectations to mothers [3].

Media's Effect on Birth

It has become very common for people, especially women, to learn about pregnancy and birth through the media. Studies have shown that the media tends to portray childbirth as risky[6]. As movies and television shows often tend to dramatize the birth and over represent complications that occur during the birth process[7]. This creates a fear of birth for many women; as reported in a study that one-third of women who are pregnant for the very first time report they feel more scared about giving birth after watching a television show about pregnancy and birth [8].

Medicalization of childbirth

Women can be influenced and get ideas on what they should and should not do during childbirth through reality television. Using what they seen on TV or in media as a guide to their own birth is not the best or healthiest way to proceed. The media has a large influence on how women engage with childbirth in today’s society. Reality television shows more often than not show childbirth involving medical intervention, making it the new norm in childbirth. In the US, it was found that nearly half of all births were started artificially, four-fifths of women received intravenous fluids, one-third of the babies are born by caesarean section and three-quarters chose to have an epidural [7]. An analysis showed that many practices seen in television shows are not consistent with evidence-based practices. For example, what was portrayed as a natural way to start labor is the use of Pitocin for the induction of labor. Reality television shows often portray doctors as being in control of a birth instead of the woman [1]. The medicalization of childbirth made the process of childbirth as something that was performed on the female's body instead of something the female body does [7]. Doctors are portrayed as the one in control during a birth in television shows and technology used are what makes everything go smoothly [1].

Teenage Pregnancy and Happy Endings

Films like Juno about a girl who has become pregnant have come under fire for sending an anti-abortion message. Also providing the misconception to viewers that everything will work out in the end.

Over the years, teenage pregnancy has become more socially acceptable compared to the past but pregnant teenagers continue to be stigmatized [9]. Magazines and television programs that show famous pregnant teens can influence a teens sexual behavior. Resulting in the teen becoming pregnant themselves [10]. One way of promoting misconceptions about pregnancy is by making a scenario where the pregnancy is predictable and enjoyable.

In reality television shows, the pregnant females often have some type of complication that arises during their pregnancy but it is resolved by doctors and resulting in a happy ending. Television shows and movies feature complications to create suspense and drama. It is common to over represent women who are having unusual births or complications. When mothers have premature babies and are taken into the intensive care unit, they eventually go home healthy with no defects. Adding complications into the plot allows for television show or movie to have an ultimate happy ending [8].

Media plays a large role in shaping culture, thus images from different media outlets of teenage pregnancy have great effects on the lives of teenage mothers and their families. Works like Juno challenge the negative stereotypes of pregnant teenagers but has problems where it presents very few options for the teenager [9]. In reality, most unwanted pregnancies occur for young women of color who live in poverty, not white women like Juno. Unwanted or unplanned pregnancies often result in tragedy and pain for the female. However, works like Juno show how an unplanned pregnancy bringing maturity and love. Although a main difference would be Juno having resources and the support of others, which is misleading. Not all pregnancies result in a happy ending and works like Juno gloss over that fact [11].

Diversity and Sexual Orientation

From an analysis of 85 reality television shows on pregnancy, it was found that Asians, Hispanics and White women were underrepresented and Black women were overrepresented compared to the US demographic of women who gave birth. When documenting the pregnancy of a Asian or White women, more than 90 percent of the time they were married compared to Blacks and Hispanics who were single 26 percent of the births. In reality this underrepresented the number of births to single women in all races. A study of television shows in the US about teen pregnancy features no openly lesbian women [8]. But, teen lesbians and bisexual females were found to have higher odds of being pregnant than heterosexual females[12].


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 "Media as a Source of Information on Pregnancy and Childbirth". Retrieved November 10, 2019.
  2. 2.0 2.1 "Representations of Celebrities' Weight and Shape during Pregnancy and Postpartum: A Content Analysis of Three Entertainment Magazine Websites". Retrieved November 10, 2019.
  3. 3.0 3.1 "The Perfect Little Bump: Does the Media Portrayal of Pregnant Celebrities Influence Prenatal Attachment?". Retrieved November 10, 2019.
  4. "Media portrayals of pregnant women, new moms unrealistic". Retrieved November 10, 2019.
  5. "Media Portrayal of Pregnancy and Postpartum Body Image". Retrieved November 10, 2019.
  6. "Portrayals Of Childbirth: An Examination Of Internet Based Media". Retrieved November 10, 2019.
  7. 7.0 7.1 7.2 ""Is it realistic?" the portrayal of pregnancy and childbirth in the media". Retrieved November 10, 2019.
  8. 8.0 8.1 8.2 "Media Representations of Pregnancy and Childbirth: An Analysis of Reality Television Programs in the United States". Retrieved November 10, 2019.
  9. 9.0 9.1 "Media representations of adolescent pregnancy: The problem with choice". Retrieved November 10, 2019.
  10. "Teen pregnancy, International Journal of Adolescence and Youth". Retrieved November 10, 2019.
  11. "Popular culture and reproductive politics: Juno, Knocked Up and the enduring legacy of The Handmaid's Tale". Retrieved November 10, 2019.
  12. "The Health of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender People: Building a Foundation for Better Understanding". Retrieved November 10, 2019.