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eating disorders in pregnancy

Anorexia and Bullimia

Pregnancy and Eating Disorders

Eating disorders and pregnancy go hand-in-hand. For many women, pregnancy causes the most significant changes in their bodies since puberty; as a result, it can cause severe body image and mental health issues.

Many eating disorders—such as anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, and other specified feeding or eating disorders (OSFED)—occur during young adulthood or adolescence. However, these illnesses often linger well into your adult years. 

For example, seven out of 1000 women of reproductive age in the United Kingdom have an eating disorder. A questionnaire of 454 pregnant women reported an 11.5% prevalence of some eating disorders. Furthermore, research suggests that 1.25 million people in the United Kingdom have an eating disorder—with 75% being female.  

If you believe you have an eating disorder before or during pregnancy, it’s important to tell your GP or midwife. 

Eating Disorders - Effect on Fertility

Many women worry about infertility; it’s a nightmare for millions of families worldwide. That said, infertility issues are a common side-effect of an eating disorder, such as anorexia, binge eating, bulimia, etc.

In some cases, infertility affects a woman's endocrine system, which is responsible for creating reproductive and growth hormones. In turn, this may disrupt ovulation, cause an irregular menstrual cycle, and disrupt eggs. Furthermore, it may lead to ovarian failure; this condition mimics the female menopause in women under 40. 

These factors may increase your chance of a miscarriage and decrease your chances of contraception. So it’s critical to overcome your eating disorder as soon as possible. 

Pregnancy - Effect on Eating Disorders

If you’re suffering from an eating disorder before pregnancy, your symptoms may increase once you become pregnant. On the contrary, you may experience an eating disorder for the first time because of the unprecedented body changes—such as weight gain and body shape changes—during your first pregnancy. 

If you have an eating disorder, you’re more likely to suffer from postnatal depression—an illness that affects millions of women. However, research suggests women with a history of eating disorders, even if it was many years ago, may relapse during the first 6 months postpartum

Remember, you’re not alone; millions of mothers suffer from an eating disorder during pregnancy. Although pregnancy may complicate your eating disorder, reach out to a GP before your pregnancy increases your eating disorder—especially if you’ve always struggled with eating disorders. 

Anorexia in Pregnancy

In the past 20 years, the media has coined anorexia during pregnancy as pregorexia; it’s a prevalent condition affecting millions of women. Symptoms of pregorexia include:

  • Chronic fatigue 
  • Gaining little to no weight 
  • Constantly worrying about your weight 
  • Eating alone
  • Making yourself sick 
  • Exercising too much 

Understandably, gaining weight during pregnancy can feel terrifying. However, weight gain is an essential part of a healthy pregnancy.

According to the ACOG, the average recommended weight gain during pregnancy is between 11 and 40 pounds. Anything less may signal an eating disorder. 

Signs and Symptoms

If you’re worried you may have an eating disorder during pregnancy, there are various signs and symptoms:

  • You're eating little food. 
  • Spending a considerable period worrying about your body shape and weight. 
  • Not socialising because you believe your friends will involve food. 
  • Working out too much. 
  • Taxing laxatives after you eat and deliberately making yourself sick. 
  • Experiencing rapid changes in your mood, including anxious and depressed feelings.

You may also experience physical signs:

  • Feeling your heart racing, feeling faint, and even fainting 
  • Digestion problems, such as constipation, bloating, and diarrhoea 
  • Not getting your period on time 
  • Feeling dizzy, cold, and too tired
  • Pains and tingling in your legs and arms

Although these symptoms may be completely unrelated to an eating disorder—and could be something more benign or serious—you should speak with a GP to assess your symptoms.

If they believe you have an eating disorder, they can recommend a plan of action to return to a normal diet. 

Effect on Pregnancy

Unfortunately, an eating disorder causes issues for the mother and the unborn baby. Women who don't consume enough food won’t provide enough nutrients for their unborn children.

Pregnant women with an eating disorder may also experience a higher incidence of stillbirths, low infant birth weights, breech babies, congenital malformation, and first-trimester miscarriage. 

In addition, their babies’ APGAR scores—which measure the baby's heart rate straight after birth—are lower than the scores of babies born to women without eating disorders. 

Bulimia in Pregnancy

Bulimia isn't uncommon during pregnancy, so don't feel like you're alone. However, women suffering from Bulimia nervosa are at far higher risk of complications during pregnancy because it compromises a woman's available natural stores for her baby.

As a result, the baby may become undernourished—resulting in problems at birth or miscarriages. 

Signs and Symptoms

There are various warning signs of bulimia during pregnancy:

  • Self-induced vomiting 
  • Episodes of binge eating 
  • Depression 
  • Using laxatives after eating 
  • Feeling guilty about eating 
  • Irritability 

Effects on Pregnancy 

Women with bulimia nervosa are at greater risk for problems if they become pregnant. Research suggests pregnant women who are currently experiencing symptoms of bulimia are more likely to experience diabetes, miscarriages, early deliveries, and postpartum depression. 

However, some research also suggests pregnancy can be a good treatment for bulimia because women shift their focus to the baby instead of themselves. 

Postpartum Period and Eating Disorders

Various eating disorders can begin after pregnancy, such as anorexia nervosa, binge eating disorder, bulimia nervosa, orthorexia Nervosa, rumination disorder, and purging disorder. Typically, food insecurity, weight stigma and weight shaming, a pressure to breastfeed, and emotional stressors cause eating disorders during the postpartum period. 

Research has also found women with traumatic birth experiences have an increased risk of postpartum eating disorders. Up to 35% of women suggest their birth was traumatic. For a mother with a history of eating disorders, the postpartum period is a common period to experience eating disorders. 

Mother-Infant Relationship

It's normal to feel some prenatal anxiety before pregnancy. Many women suffer from tokophobia—which is a fear of childbirth—before or during their pregnancy. Unfortunately, tokophobia can also lead to eating disorders and bulimia, which often continue after childbirth. 

However, it's important to overcome any eating disorders and build a mother-infant relationship. A happy mother has a better chance of building that all-important mother-infant relationship. 

If you're feeling worried about building a mother-infant relationship due to an eating disorder or other mental health issues, reach out to a doctor. They can assess your symptoms and find a plan of action. 

In Summary 

Eating disorders harm millions of women worldwide during or after pregnancy. Nevertheless, always remember that you're not alone during your struggles. Always reach out for help; you deserve to be happy during your pregnancy. 

At Cradle & Tonic, we are industry leaders in motherhood wellbeing. We have a selection of products to help you or your friends and family get through the mental struggle of pregnancy.