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Pregnancy and Eating Disorders

It's estimated that about 7,000,000 women a year suffer from an eating disorder. These disorders peak especially during the woman's child-bearing years.  And especially during pregnancy, a woman who is already suffering from one of these disorders might find that her condition worsens.

The two eating disorders that affect most women are bulimia and anorexia. Bulimia is when a person goes on periods of binge eating followed by vomiting or the use of laxatives to get rid of the calories that the person has just ingested.  Anorexia is extreme dieting, to the point of starvation, in order to control a person's weight.  Both of these disorders can have a negative impact on a woman's pregnancy.

Prior to pregnancy, eating disorders can affect a woman's fertility negatively.  This is especially true of anorexia, which reduces a woman's chance of conceiving.  Anorexia causes most women with the disorder to fore-go the normal menstrual cycle. Likewise, about half of women with bulimia don't have normal cycles.  The reason is simple:  A lack of sufficient calories combined with stress causes a woman to lose the regular menstruation periods.  And without these periods, it's difficult for them to get pregnant.

Even if a woman becomes pregnant, the eating disorder can have a bad effect on the pregnancy or delivery.  Some things that an eating disorder might cause include:

  •  Birth weight that it too low
  •  Premature labor
  •  Stillbirth
  •  Need for Cesarean
  •  Fetal death
  •  Delay in growth of fetus
  •  Breathing problems
  •  Gatational diabetes
  •  Labor complications
  • Miscarriage
  • Depression
  • Preeclampsia


In addition, those suffering with bulimia usually gain too much weight, which increases the risk of hypertension / high blood pressure. And even after the birth, if a woman has an eating disorder, she has a higher chance of suffering from postpartum depression than a woman without such a disorder. Finally, women with eating disorders many times have difficulty with breastfeeding.

So what should the woman with bulimia or anorexia do?  First, because of the risk of complications with pregnancy, most health care professionals would encourage you to resolve these behavior and weight issues.  If you do resolve the eating disorder, in most instances, you will have a healthy baby. 

What's more, what's you've taken care of the eating disorder, even if you gain normal weight during the pregnancy, this should not create a higher risk of problems.  Doctors suggest you follow these guidelines if you have suffered from an eating disorder and you are either trying to get pregnant or find out that you are pregnant:

  • Before the pregnancy, try to get to a healthy weight and then maintain it at that level. You should avoid purging at all costs. Also, make an appointment with your physician for pre-conception advice.  You should also consider making an appointment with a nutritionist and ask him / her to help you begin a healthy diet (which could include prenatal vitamins).
  • During your pregnancy, you should schedule an appointment with your doctor early in the pregnancy and confide in him or her that you have struggled with an eating disorder in the past.  Following his / her guidance, you should try to achieve a healthy gain in weight. Each day, eat balanced meals with all the necessary nutrients.  Avoid purging at all costs, and if necessary, get professional counseling to help you address the root of the eating disorder.
  • After the pregnancy, you should continue your counseling (Remember that you're more vulnerable to postpartum depression than women without eating disorders). You should also create a support of network, to include your doctor, spouse and friends, who know of your struggle, and you should invite them to hold you accountable for your eating habits. And finally, consult with a lactation consultant, who will help you in the early days of breastfeeding.

Remember never to judge yourself for your eating disorder. However, if you plan to have a child, now is the time to find the courage within you to overcome this problem so that it doesn't affect you or your child during or after the pregnancy.

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