Eating disorders in & after pregnancy

Eating disorders are more common in younger women who are also the women most likely to be pregnant.

The three most common eating disorders are:

  • anorexia nervosa – characterised by fear of gaining weight, restrictive diet, low body weight, poor body image, excessive exercise and/or purging
  • bulimia nervosa – poor body image but a more normal weight range. Binge eating alternating with using laxatives or vomiting to purge
  • eating disorders not otherwise specified (EDNOS) – milder symptoms than either of the above conditions and with less specific and/or fewer symptoms.

Women with eating disorders face increased risks during pregnancy:

  • Your body may divert nutrition to your baby at your expense.
  • Women with active symptoms of bullemia nervosa have an increased risk of miscarriage.
  • Women with active anorexia nervosa have an increased of small babies with smaller heads.
  • You are more prone to anaemia.
  • You will take longer to recover from caesarean, tearing or episiotomy.

It is important that your eating disorder is under control or in remission before you consider getting pregnant. Pregnancy is also a tricky time for women with an eating disorder because the ability to control your eating and your weight gain is reduced. Some women will find this very distressing. 

If you have an eating disorder, you are likely to require extra monitoring to ensure the health of you and your baby. Ideally a team of  health professionals will play a role in your care and might include a dietician, a physician and a psychiatrist, in addition to a midwife and an obstetrician. 

Even if your eating disorder has been under control during pregnancy, you are at risk of relapse after the baby is born. It is not uncommon for women in general to have unrealistic goals for weight loss after the birth of their baby. If you are breastfeeding, eating restrictions and exercise can affect your breast milk supply. 

After the birth, if you find yourself resuming dieting, purging and excessively exercising, it's time to return to your health professionals for more support.


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