Background: Pregnancy-related physical changes can have a significant impact on a woman's body image. There is no synthesis of existing literature to describe the intricacies of women's experiences of their body, and relevant clinical implications.
Methods: Four electronic databases were searched in February 2014 using predefined search terms. English-language, qualitative studies published between January 1992 and December 2013 exploring pregnancy and postpartum body image were included. Following quality appraisal, 17 papers were synthesised using the interpretive thematic synthesis approach within a social constructionist framework.
Results: Three themes were highlighted: "Public Event: 'Fatness' vs. Pregnancy", "Control: Nature vs. Self", and "Role: Woman vs. Mother". Women perceived the pregnant body to be out of their control and as transgressing the socially constructed ideal, against which they tried to protect their body image satisfaction. Women perceived the physical manifestation of the mothering role as incongruent to their other roles as a wife or partner, or working woman. Body dissatisfaction dominated the postpartum period.
Conclusions: Women's perception of their pregnancy body image is varied and depends on the strategies they use to protect against social constructions of female beauty. Women have unrealistic expectations for their postpartum body, highlighting this as an area where women need better support. Attending to women's narratives about their pregnant body may identify at-risk women and provide an opportunity for health professionals to provide support to either address or accept body image dissatisfaction. Clinical communication training may enable health professionals to explore body image concerns with women and guide them in identifying ways of accepting or reducing any dissatisfaction.