Pregnancy & Eating Disorders
Facts about the risks
Pregnancy and motherhood. Professionals recommend that women with eating disorders do their best to resolve the eating disorder related weight and behavior problems before they attempt to get pregnant.
Pregnancy and motherhood require a great amount of physical and psychological strength. During pregnancy, the growing baby receives all its nourishment from the mother’s body. When stores of carbohydrates, proteins, fats, vitamins, minerals and other nutrients are low, a woman’s body will drain them to support the growth and development of the baby. If reserves are not sufficiently restored through healthy eating, the mother can become severely malnourished, and this in turn can lead to depression, exhaustion and many other serious health complications.
The average woman gains between 25-35 pounds during pregnancy. While this amount is required for a healthy pregnancy, for women with eating disorders having to gain this amount can be very frightening. Some women with disordered eating are able to more easily cope with weight gain during pregnancy because they see it as a sacrifice for an important cause. But others may plunge into deep depression as they struggle with the tension between the idea of weight gain and their body image issues. Most women with eating disorders fall somewhere between these two extremes.
The Relationship between Specific Eating Disorders and Pregnancy:
Women with anorexia nervosa are underweight and may not gain enough weight during pregnancy. They risk having a baby with abnormally low birth weight and related health problems. Women with bulimia nervosa who continue to purge may suffer dehydration, chemical imbalances or even cardiac irregularities. Pregnancy heightens these health risks. Women who are overweight due to binge eating are at greater risk of developing high blood pressure, gestational diabetes and overgrown babies.
Risks for the Mother: Poor nutrition, dehydration, cardiac irregularities, gestational diabetes, severe depression during pregnancy, premature births, labor complications, difficulties nursing, post-partum depression.
Risks for the Baby: Poor development, premature birth, low birth weight for age, respiratory distress, other perinatal complications, feeding difficulties.
Professionals recommend that women with eating disorders do their best to resolve the eating disorder related weight and behavior problems before they attempt to get pregnant. It is important to consult with your physician, counselors and/or registered dietician before attempting to get pregnant. Women with eating disorders who become pregnant are advised to seek specialized medical and psychological help. Pregnant women with eating disorders should inform their obstetricians about these problems and may require “high risk” obstetrical care.
REMEMBER: Eat healthy, well-balanced meals and maintain a healthy weight for several months before conceiving and throughout pregnancy to protect the health of yourself and your baby!
What if I Become Pregnant while Struggling with an Eating Disorder?
Though having an eating disorder may decrease the chances of pregnancy, sometimes women with anorexia or bulimia do become pregnant. When this happens, steps should be taken to protect the health of the mother and the baby. Professionals can address the specific needs related to pregnancy and disordered eating only if you are willing to be completely honest with them about your struggles.
If you are pregnant and struggling with disordered eating…
The skills and support of a multidisciplinary team of health care providers and of family and friends can help you deliver a healthy baby and protect yourself.
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