My Mother, myself

Mother pushing child around a supermarket

Principal Investigator:

Paula Nicolson ( Health and Social Care (Royal Holloway, University of London); Donna Luff (ScHARR); Kristin Heffernan (Health and Social Care, Royal Holloway, University of London)


Rebekah Fox

Aims and objectives:

To identify women´s perceptions of food, eating and body size in the context of their knowledge and beliefs about a) their own family history, particularly in relation to their mothers, and b) their perceptions of `new genetics´.

The transition to motherhood is a pivotal time in the woman´s life course (each time it happens) with implications for her identity, quality of life and mental well-being as well the interconnection between these issues and the structure and dynamics of family relationships. The factors that influence the individual woman´s experiences are therefore both numerous and varied and have been reasonably well documented. The specific concern here is the relationship between body size during pregnancy and the early months of motherhood and women´s ideas, beliefs and perceptions relating to their own family histories in the context of the `new´ genetics.

The background to this study is based on evidence from two previous investigations by Paula Nicolson. The first on the transition to motherhood during which respondents interviewed during pregnancy and on three separate occasions after the birth of the baby, were concerned about the impact of weight gain due to changes in eating habits and diet during pregnancy, and the subsequent `imperative´ to eat fatty, high energy producing foods in the postnatal months during which time they experienced food and feeding (the baby and the other members of their family) as a major part of their lives. One issue that emerged here was whether they had any `choice´ or `control´ over their eventual body size and shape. Several stated that they did not want to `end up´ permanently overweight like their own mothers although there was also a sense of `fatalism´ and inevitability in some cases. The second was a smaller study which interviewed lay members of the public and health care professionals about their understanding of genetics and its impact on medicine. The outcome of this suggested that while people held strong beliefs, their basis for these beliefs was unrelated to scientific evidence.

It is hypothesized therefore that recent findings related to perceptions of family history in the context of lay understandings of `new´ genetics will lend important insight into the way women manage their eating and identities in relation to body size in particular over the transition to motherhood but particularly in the postnatal period. Previous research suggests that beliefs about health and illness may be subject to a `fatalism´ based on a (mis)understanding of genetic science.

Research questions:

Research design:

The research will involve in-depth semi-structured interviews with women in the early months following childbirth about their family history, knowledge and beliefs.