eating disorders during pregnancy

Disordered Eating During Pregnancy Can Have Devastating Consequences

Posted on March 11th, 2016
Posted in Eating Disorders

Eating disorders are serious illnesses that endanger the long-term health of the people suffering with them. Pregnancy can add an additional layer of concern to disordered eating, because the eating habits of pregnant women affect not only their own health, but also the health of their developing babies. Furthermore, weight gain is critical for most healthy pregnancies, which can cause women with a history of anorexia, bulimia and even binge eating disorder to suffer serious fear and anxiety.

Weight gain is both natural and healthy during pregnancy. Women typically gain between 25 and 35 pounds during pregnancy, and those who do not gain enough weight during the course of nine months run the risk of having babies with very low birth weight and various associated health problems, including trouble feeding and respiratory difficulties.

Undereating and Overeating Both Carry Risks

It is not only women dealing with anorexia or bulimia who face potential risks during pregnancy. Pregnant women with a history of binge eating disorder may also run into problems connected to weight gain, because they may feel that pregnancy makes their disordered eating habits acceptable. However, while moderate weight gain during pregnancy is healthy, excessive weight gain puts women at risk for gestational diabetes and high blood pressure. As a result, pregnant women cannot binge eat without consequences, despite the fact that they will typically need to consume quite a few more calories than they used to.

Pregnancy Can Bring Motivation, But Also Anxiety

For many women with a history of disordered eating, pregnancy provides not only motivation, but also relief. The knowledge that what they eat—or do not eat—affects not only them but also their developing children helps many women to hold on to their motivation to consume all of the calories that they need. Pregnancy can also help some women to feel that they are at least temporarily released from internal and societal pressure to be thin. For the first time, they are truly able to feel that gaining weight is healthy and acceptable.

However, other women who struggle with disordered eating find the prospect of such significant weight gain and associated changes to their body to be extremely disturbing. Serious depression is not uncommon in pregnant women with disordered eating as they find themselves torn between their own body image issues and the need to gain weight in order to have a healthy pregnancy.

Support Is Available for Pregnant Women With Eating Disorders

Experts generally recommend that women begin the process of eating disorder recovery before they attempt to become pregnant so that they do not put their own mental and physical health at greater risk. However, there is support available for women with a history of disordered eating in order to ensure that they have a healthy pregnancy.

It is extremely important that pregnant patients inform their healthcare providers about past or present disordered eating. These patients may receive counseling, nutritional advice and extra appointments with their prenatal care provider to make sure that both mother and fetus are in good health.

Regular weigh-ins are an important part of prenatal checkups, and this can be a serious stumbling block for many women recovering from eating disorders. Many women in recovery choose to avoid scales entirely to keep them from fixating on numbers. However, if necessary, women can stand backward on the scale and ask that their doctors not share the number but simply advise about food and exercise needs going forward.

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