Association of stress on eating competence in mothers during pregnancy and six months postpartum

Document Type

Journal Article

Publication Date



BMC pregnancy and childbirth








BMI; Eating competence; Postpartum; Pregnancy; Stress


BACKGROUND: Perceived stress is related to poor diet quality and unhealthy dietary patterns in women of reproductive age. Eating competence represents a variety of contextual skills reflecting a comfortable and flexible approach to eating and is associated with diet quality and health related behavior. In non-pregnant samples, perceived stress is negatively associated with eating competence. Given that pregnancy and the postpartum period can be periods of high stress, we hypothesized that higher stress in pregnancy would result in lower pregnancy eating competence. METHODS: Women (n = 296, mean BMI = 26.3 ± SD 6.0) in the Pregnancy Eating Attributes Study (PEAS) were recruited from the Chapel Hill, North Carolina area. Perceived stress was assessed using the Perceived Stress Scale and eating competence using the ecSatter Inventory at their first trimester and 6-month postpartum visits. We used a mixed effect model to assess the effect of stress by time on eating competence, controlling for baseline pregnancy BMI, race and ethnicity, poverty to income ratio, and WIC status. RESULTS: Perceived stress was negatively associated with eating competence (b= -0.23, SE = 0.06, p < 0.001). The interaction of stress by time was negatively associated with eating competence (b = -0.15, SE = 0.08, p = 0.03), indicating that the association of stress with eating competence was stronger in postpartum than in pregnancy. CONCLUSIONS: Perceived stress may adversely impact eating competence during both pregnancy and postpartum. Future studies intervening upon stress or eating competence during pregnancy and postpartum may inform potential causal relations.


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