Pregnancy requires a great deal of physical, psychological, and emotional strength. During pregnancy, the growing baby receives all of its nourishment from the mother’s body. While gaining weight is required for a healthy pregnancy, for those with an eating disorder, having to gain weight can be triggering and frightening.
Complications of Eating Disorders During Pregnancy
Poor nutrition, dehydration, cardiac irregularities, gestational diabetes, severe depression during pregnancy, premature birth, labor complications, difficulties nursing, and postpartum depression are all risks for a pregnant individual when suffering or recovering from an eating disorder.
In regards to the baby, risks may depend on the type of eating disorder the mother is suffering from. These potential risks are broken down below.
- Anorexia nervosa: Individuals can be underweight and may not gain enough weight during pregnancy. They risk having a baby with abnormally low birth weight and related health problems.
- Bulimia nervosa: Those who continue to purge may suffer dehydration, chemical imbalances, or cardiac irregularities. Pregnancy heightens these health risks.
- Binge eating disorder: Binge eating is often correlated with weight gain, which may lead to a greater risk of developing high blood pressure and gestational diabetes.
What if I become pregnant while struggling with an eating disorder?
Though having an eating disorder may decrease the chances of pregnancy, sometimes those struggling with eating disorders do become pregnant. When this happens, steps should be taken to protect you and your baby. Health providers can address the specific needs related to pregnancy and disordered eating, however, this requires honesty on your part. If you are pregnant and struggling with an eating disorder:
- Be honest with your prenatal health provider regarding past or present struggles with an eating disorder. If they aren’t sensitive to your struggles and concerns, look for a provider who will be more considerate of your experiences.
- Understand that extra appointments may be necessary to more closely track the growth and development of your baby.
- Consult a nutritionist with expertise in eating disorders before or immediately after becoming pregnant. Work with the nutritionist throughout the pregnancy to create a plan for healthy eating and weight gain. It’s often helpful to continue seeing them postpartum.
- Individual counseling and support groups during and after pregnancy can help you cope with your concerns and fears regarding food, weight gain, body image, and the new role of parenting.
Tips for healthy body image during and after pregnancy
- Be aware of the triggers of pregnancy. The constant counting, comparing, and measuring that happens throughout pregnancy and beyond can tap into some of the very vulnerabilities that are linked to eating disorders. If you are getting the support that you need, you’ll have a better chance of weathering those vulnerabilities without resorting to self-destructive habits.
- Resist the urge to shut down or close-off. Remember that there is nothing shameful about asking for help. Asking for assistance in a time of need is one of the most courageous things you can do for yourself and your baby. Look at your recovery as an ongoing process that will help you reach your full potential as an individual and as a parent.
- Break the cycle of body hatred. Allow yourself to celebrate the fact that your body is working hard to bring a wonderful baby into the world. Practice and reflect on how you will teach your child that you appreciate your body and they should appreciate their own. We have the power to help future generations grow up placing a higher value on good health rather than weight and physical appearance. Before we can pass along those positive attitudes, we must embrace these ourselves.
If you are suffering from an eating disorder, you don’t have to suffer alone. There are resources and trained professionals ready to help you find recovery. Click here to submit your information to speak to an admissions specialist at Avalon Hills.