Researchers working for body positive maternity care

28 October 2022

Developing a new body positive model of maternity care for larger bodied women is a passion for researchers, Associate Professor Lauren Kearney, and Dr Bec Jenkinson.

With an interdisciplinary team of clinicians and maternity consumers, Associate Professor Kearney and Dr Jenkinson have applied for a Medical Research Future Fund Consumer-led Research Grant to co-design and pilot a model of care to optimise wellbeing and health outcomes for pregnant women with larger bodies.

Dr Jenkinson said through the Body Positivity Birth project they hoped to deliver consumer-led educational resources and guidelines for doctors, midwives, and allied health professionals to provide higher-quality care for pregnant women with larger bodies, as well as define how to provide respectful care to larger-bodied women.

The Body Positivity Birth project was informed by a consumer focus group which was funded through a Health Translation Queensland Consumer and Community Involvement (CCI) microgrant. The program supports the funding of consumer involvement in research project design, usually providing grants of around $1000.

Associate Professor Kearney and Dr Jenkinson said the microgrant had been “transformative”, as it had allowed them to organise a consumer focus group of nine women from around Australia to discuss their lived experiences of perinatal care.

“It was not a huge amount of money, but when we were writing a grant application, we could genuinely say that we had consulted with consumers,” said Associate Professor Kearney, a registered midwife and nurse. “The microgrant was a big deal for us.”

Associate Professor Kearney said the idea for the study was sparked by consumer feedback to obstetric medical teams in the Metro North Hospital and Health Service district.

“We had some consumer feedback from women feeling fat shamed during perinatal episodes including pregnancy, labour, birth, and post-birth,” she said.

“We thought about this contemporary issue around larger bodied women accessing pregnancy and birth services and voicing their concerns, and how we might work together to improve some of these experiences that women were going through.”

For Melbourne focus group participant Renee Tome, her Body Mass Index (BMI) influenced the type of care she received from the public health system during her second pregnancy.

“I was shocked how quickly I was put into a box due to my BMI, even though my first pregnancy had no complications,” she said.

“Straight away, they instantly excluded me from things like the midwifery led model of care (Midwifery Group Practice). They also sent me a list of additional tests and interventions that I would need to have because of my BMI, as well as a recommendation for early induction. It was like being put onto a conveyor belt, which ultimately restricted my options and wishes during labour. It wasn’t the nicest way to go into it.”

Ms Tome said her participation in the focus group had been “cathartic”.

“Being able to talk about my experience and have that justified by so many women who had gone through the same thing was wonderful. It felt like a little family; we were so supportive of each other. There was such compassion.”

Focus group participant, Brisbane resident and mother-of-two Ahlia Griffiths, said she had been body shamed by a GP during her second pregnancy.

“I had a water birth with my first son Tarson (in NSW), and I wanted a water birth again, as my recovery period had been fine,” she said.

“The doctor told me I wouldn’t get anything like that here (in Queensland) because of my weight.”

Ms Griffiths ended up finding a supportive midwife through the Aboriginal health clinic, Ngarrama; however, her midwife was sick when she went into labour. She said the head midwife at the hospital was dismissive of her birthing plan, even though it had assessed the risks of a water birth and provided management strategies.

“My experience as a birth parent wasn’t being listened to,” she said.

Dr Jenkinson, a Research Translation and Impact Officer at the University of Queensland, said the focus group had highlighted an important issue.

“The focus group put a human element around weight stigma, and how it impacted these women. They were emotionally intense conversations; it was brave of them and inspiring for us.”

The Body Positivity Birth project is headed by Professor Leonie Callaway, the Executive Director Women and Children’s Stream, Metro North Hospital and Health Service, and Co-Chair, Qld Maternal and Perinatal Quality Council.

For more information about the HTQ Microgrant program email

Receive our eNews

Connect with us


Health Translation Queensland acknowledges the Traditional Owners and their custodianship of the lands on which we live, work, and play. We pay our respects to their Ancestors and their Descendants, who continue cultural and spiritual connections to Country. We recognise their valuable contributions to Australian and global society.

© 2024 Health Translation Queensland

Site by NWO