Eating Disorders and Pregnancy: How do They Affect One Another?

Willow Place on January 13, 2020
Eating Disorders and Pregnancy: How do They Affect One Another?

Women struggling with eating disorders may have more than their own health to worry about. Specifically, their unborn children, if they are indeed pregnant. While eating disorders present a number of life-threatening effects on their own, when pregnancy gets thrown into the mix, there are even more concerns. In this article, we discuss the specific scenario in which a woman struggling with eating disorders faces while pregnant. This way, women in this situation can understand the dangers that eating disorders pose to their pregnancy. And, what dangers pregnancy may pose to women who are dealing with eating disorders.

When Women Living With Eating Disorders Get Pregnant

Living with an eating disorder often means obsessing about weight, size, and eating habits. So, often, women living with eating disorders are completely terrified of the thought of getting pregnant. Pregnancy is a time where a woman’s body needs to grow, change, and adjust to the living life form inside of her. These bodily changes are nothing but spectacular and natural. However, to a woman whose worst fear is being unable to control her weight and size, pregnancy can be a worrisome and even traumatic event.

According to a study by The National Institutes of Health (NIH), nearly 1 in 21 women who are pregnant are living with an eating disorder. This means that about 1 in 21 pregnant mothers or unborn children may experience complications during pregnancy. And, that women thinking about getting pregnant or may already be pregnant who live with eating disorders should receive treatment. Thus, needing to undergo treatment to lessen the risk of complications due to eating disorders during pregnancy.

The Effects of Eating Disorders on Women Who Are Trying to Get Pregnant

Not only can eating disorders affect pregnancies, but they can affect a woman’s chance of getting pregnant. This is especially true for women diagnosed with Anorexia Nervosa and Bulimia Nervosa. According to the NIH, 66–84% of women diagnosed with Anorexia Nervosa don’t have a menstrual cycle. Additionally, 7–40% of women diagnosed with Bulimia Nervosa don’t have a menstrual cycle either. This phenomenon, otherwise known as amenorrhea, is due to a low Body Mass Index, low caloric intake, and a higher level of exercise. Unfortunately, without a menstrual cycle, women experiencing amenorrhea due to disordered eating can’t get pregnant.

Also, while the majority of conceiving issues occur in women diagnosed with anorexia or bulimia, women living with Binge Eating Disorder have an increased chance of experiencing amenorrhea too. In the same NIH study, it was found that women diagnosed with Binge Eating Disorder have a higher chance of experiencing trouble conceiving and amenorrhea than women who don’t display disordered eating behaviors.

The Effects of Eating Disorders on Pregnant Women and Their Unborn Children

While women living with eating disorders can have a hard time getting pregnant, once they do get pregnant, they’re not in the clear. If disordered eating behaviors continue, a number of difficulties can ensure during the length of the pregnancy and during the birth process. Some of the effects on pregnancies that can occur when expectant mothers experience eating disorders may include:

  • Eating Disorders and Pregnancy: How do They Affect One Another?Higher chance of needing a cesarean
  • More risk for premature labor and birth
  • Increased risk for stillbirth/fetal death
  • More chance of labor complication(s)
  • Increased risk for delivering a baby with a low birth weight
  • Delay of developmental growth after birth
  • Increased risk of miscarriage
  • The risk for development of gestational diabetes
  • Increase in risk for development of postpartum depression in mothers
  • Increased risk for respiratory issues in infants
  • Higher risk for preeclampsia pregnancies

Are You Trying to Get Pregnant or Are Already Pregnant with an Eating Disorder?

Pregnancy can be a scary frightening and overwhelming time for women diagnosed with eating disorders. But, for many women living with eating disorders, finding out they’re pregnant can be the motivation needed to get help. And, to start implementing healthy eating behaviors in order to achieve a healthy pregnancy and birth. Fortunately, there are

things you can do to lessen the chance of the above effects of eating disorders on your pregnancy.

Furthermore, if you’re trying to get pregnant and have previously or currently are living with an eating disorder diagnosis, there are also things you can do to increase your chances of getting pregnant.

Some things women living with eating disorders can do to increase their chances of getting pregnant include:

  • Maintaining a healthy weight.
  • Talking to your doctor about vitamin regimen and dietary needs to encourage a healthy pregnancy.
  • Avoiding disordered eating behaviors like purging.
  • Consulting with an eating disorder counselor to address concerns and adjust any thinking patterns or behaviors which may negate your chances of achieving pregnancy.

Some things women diagnosed with eating disorders can do during pregnancy to maintain health for both baby and mother include:

  • Eating Disorders and Pregnancy: How do They Affect One Another?Talking to your doctor about your pregnancy concerns and your history with eating disorders.
  • Continuing to strive for healthy weight during pregnancy according to what your physician suggests.
  • Eating a nutritional diet to get the proper nutrients to encourage a healthy pregnancy
  • Establishing a relationship with a nutritionist to gain knowledge on nutritional needs during pregnancy.
  • Avoiding disordered eating behaviors like purging.
  • Getting treatment through counseling to address any questions, concerns, and underlying mental health issues associated with eating disorders during pregnancy.

Some things women diagnosed with eating disorders can do after giving birth to ensure maintained mental health include:

  • Educating your support group (doctor, spouse, family, and friends) about the potential dangers eating disorders pose to you (increased risk of postpartum depression). This way, they can understand the importance of continuing support after birth and know it’s important to be present.
  • Continuing to work with a nutritionist to ensure a healthy and well-balanced diet post-pregnancy.

Help Before, During, and After Pregnancy

Are you trying to get pregnant but seem to be running into issues due to an eating disorder? Are you pregnant, have an eating disorder diagnosis, and want to ensure a healthy pregnancy? Have you recently given birth and experienced issues during your pregnancy due to living with an eating disorder?

Eating Disorders and Pregnancy: How do They Affect One Another?

Whatever your situation, if you’re a woman dealing with an eating disorder, Willow Place for Women is here to help. We offer counseling, group therapy, supportive therapies, and nutritional help for women who are pregnant or wanting to get pregnant and living with an eating disorder.

To learn more about how we can help, contact us right on our website so we can reach back out to you with the information you need. Or, give us a call for a confidential conversation with one of our helpful consultants at 1-888-651-4212.

Request a Call Back

If you or someone you love is battling substance use, mental health, or eating disorders, please feel free to contact one of our trained admission specialists today. All calls are free and completely confidential. While we know that suffering from a severe and life-threatening substance use disorder or a mental health issue can, at times, seem insurmountable, we sincerely believe that every woman is capable and deserving of the opportunity to recover. Reaching out is the first step – give us a call today and we will gladly walk you through the process of beginning your beautiful, fulfilling journey of recovery.

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