Eating Disorders and Pregnancy

More than seven million women will be affected by an eating disorder in the United States this year alone. Eating disorders or disordered eating is most likely to peak during the childbearing years, which means that many of these women will be dealing with an eating disorder while they are pregnant or trying to conceive. The ramifications of this are dangerous and far-reaching for both mother and baby.

Pregnancy is a time when a woman's body changes significantly and body image can be a serious issue for many women when they are pregnant. If a woman has an eating disorder the difficulties that arise can be even more serious, exacerbating an already sensitive problem.

Pregnancy and the Two Most Common Eating Disorders

The two most common eating disorders are anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa. Anorexia is a condition where a woman attempts to control her weight through obsessive dieting or starvation and bulimia has the same goal only uses binging and purging as the method of choice. Both are serious mental as well as physical issues and require professional help in order to deal with them properly. A woman with either of these conditions will find pregnancy difficult and usually has a very hard time gaining the weight necessary to nourish her baby adequately as well as meet her own physical needs.

During pregnancy, all of the nutrition for the baby comes through the mother. If there isn't enough nutrition for the baby, the nutrients in the mother's body are depleted. If there is inadequate nutrition in the mother, the baby's are met first and the mother's body will end up drained. Insufficient replenishing of used stores of nutrients means the mother can become severely malnourished, depressed, and fatigued, and a target for a variety of health issues.


Mothers Suffer When they have an Eating Disorder during Pregnancy

On average, a pregnant woman should gain between 25 to 35 pounds. While such a weight gain may be easy for a woman who is not dealing with an eating disorder, women who have anorexia or bulimia may well find this beyond comprehension. There are some women with eating disorders who do manage to put their fears under wraps for the duration of their pregnancy because they view it as a higher cause - they'll do it for their babies. However, others with eating disorders are unable to come to grips with the fear of gaining weight and end up hurting themselves and their babies. Most women with eating disorders tend to fall somewhere in between these two extremes and with proper prenatal care and support they are able to manage through their pregnancy.

There are different outcomes for the different eating disorders. A woman with anorexia may not gain enough weight during her pregnancy and risks having a baby that is small for its gestational age or the baby will be low birth weight along with all of the health related issues that go along with those conditions. A woman with bulimia who continues to purge with laxatives or by vomiting risks dehydration, chemical imbalances and possible heart dysfunction. All of these symptoms are exacerbated with pregnancy.

Complications of Eating Disorders When Pregnant

Eating disorders affect pregnancy with complications such as:

· premature labor

· low birth weight

· stillbirth or fetal death

· increased risk of cesarean birth

· delayed fetal growth

· respiratory problems

· gestational diabetes

· complications during labor

· depression

· miscarriage

· preeclampsia

Women who suffer with bulimia nervosa often gain too much weight which exposes them to the risk of hypertension. The use of laxatives and other types of purging can be detrimental to the health of the baby by robbing important nutrients and fluids from the body before they make their way to the baby through the placenta. It is possible this lack of proper nutrition will lead to abnormalities or even death if used on a regular basis.

Get Help for Eating Disorders before Becoming Pregnant

Women dealing with eating disorders should seek help in overcoming them before getting pregnant in order to provide the best chance for a normal pregnancy and healthy baby. By achieving a healthy weight beforehand, many of the issues mentioned above can be avoided. By seeking counseling and getting on a prenatal program that focuses on maternal and fetal health a woman may be able to end her pregnancy with the eating disorder behind her and a healthy lifestyle before her.

It is important to maintain good health before, during and after pregnancy for the sake of both mother and baby.

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