How Anorexia and Bulimia Affect Pregnancy

Many women with anorexia and bulimia deny that they have an eating disorder. The desire to become pregnant or the pregnancy itself does not alter this secrecy. For example, women with bulimia sometimes claim that their vomiting is due to morning sickness rather than their eating disorder. Therefore, medical professionals must take great care with patients who may have eating disorders.

Risks to the Mother

Pregnancy also poses a variety of physical and emotional difficulties for the woman herself. Physical complications include more vaginal bleeding during pregnancy, a higher likelihood of cesarean deliveries, and greater difficulty healing in the episiotomy area. With anorexia, the woman will most likely experience little weight gain. With bulimia, the woman will often gain a great deal of weight, placing her at risk for severe hypertension.

The pregnant woman’s expanding and changing body often causes profound anguish and emotional conflict. Some women manage to maintain health throughout the pregnancy for the sake of their unborn child, and then make a radical return to their eating disorder immediately after delivery. Others cannot maintain health during pregnancy and must be hospitalized.

Following the birth of the child, women with eating disorders also have a higher incidence of postpartum depression than other women.

They also have more problems breastfeeding, including insufficient lactation or negative reactions to breast milk in their babies. Inadequate breast milk is often the result of dehydration. For these reasons, women with eating disorders are more likely to discontinue breastfeeding prematurely.

Risks to the Baby

Pregnant women who continue to practice their eating disorder have a higher incidence of first-trimester miscarriage, stillbirths, low infant birth weights, breech babies, and congenital malformation. Additionally, their infants’ APGAR scores—which measure infant health immediately following birth—are generally lower than the scores of babies born to healthy women.

What Should I Do If I Have an Eating Disorder and Become Pregnant?

The good news is that if a woman with an eating disorder manages to gain a normal amount of weight throughout her pregnancy, she will not experience a higher risk of complications or birth defects. Sometimes, by focusing on the health of her developing baby and her wish to be the best mother she will make a commitment to recover from her eating disorder.

If you are pregnant and currently struggling with an eating disorder, or have struggled with an eating disorder in the past, it’s important that you tell your Ob/Gyn or prenatal health care provider. You may need to be seen by your doctor more often so that he or she can more closely track the growth and development of your baby.

You may also want to consult with a dietician or therapist who specializes in treating eating disorders to develop a plan for healthy eating and appropriate weight gain.

All in all, make sure that you put together a good support team, consisting of doctors, therapists, family, and friends, who can offer you the care and support both you and your baby need to stay happy and healthy.

If you have questions about inpatient or residential treatment for your eating disorder, please feel free to contact us at 866-332-0836. Our intake specialists would be happy to talk to you about your options.

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