The Effects of Eating Disorders During Pregnancy

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Eating disorders such as anorexia and bulimia nervosa are becoming more and more common, especially in Western society. It is estimated that eighty percent of women have a negative view of their body, while fifteen percent actually engage in disorder eating habits. When it comes to eating disorders and pregnancy, however, professionals estimate that up to twenty percent of women who are pregnant have some form of eating disorder, with binge eating and bulimia being the main culprits.


In regards to eating disorders and pregnancy, they not only have a huge impact on the gestational period but also on the fertility of the individual with the disorder. Anorexia nervosa in particular, along with other eating disorders, reduces the chances of conception as one of the symptoms of the disorder is the loss of one’s menstrual period.

While individuals with bulimia nervosa do not necessarily lose their menstrual cycle, those suffering from the disorder are more likely to have one which is abnormal, which in turn affects the likelihood of conceiving. Also, it is believed that approximately twenty percent of women employing fertility clinics in their attempts to conceive suffer from anorexia.

Pregnancy Complications Associated with Eating Disorders

Eating disorders can have a myriad of negative impacts on both pregnancy and labor and delivery. For example, in a woman with an eating disorder, the most likely complication is that she will go into premature labor or have a child with delayed fetal growth or a low birth weight, and there is also a higher likelihood of miscarriage, pre-eclampsia, cesarean birth, and gestational diabetes. The babies of mothers suffering from an eating disorder during pregnancy are also more prone to coronary death, respiratory illness, and developmental issues such as blindness, cleft palate, and a host of mental disorders.

In regards to bulimia nervosa specifically, women will often be at risk of hypertension due to excess weight gain, and any medications that are taken to purge, such as diuretics or laxatives, reduce the mother’s ability to nourish her baby; individuals who regularly use medications such as these during pregnancy are risking such severe results as fetal abnormalities.

Essentially, eating disorders and pregnancy put the fetus at considerable risk; mothers with eating disorders who over exercise, refuse to gain the appropriate amount of weight, and eat improperly are more likely to suffer stillbirths and miscarriages.

Effects on the Mother

For women suffering from an eating disorder during pregnancy, the physical symptoms they are already experiencing can worsen. The developing fetus will take all of the nourishment it needs from the mother, and this can result in increased weakness and osteoporosis if she is still engaging in disorder eating habits and not eating properly. Pregnancy can also have a significant psychological impact, as it is hard for many women with eating disorders to come to terms with the necessary weight gain; often, they will become increasingly depressed.

Tips for Handling Eating Disorders and Pregnancy

Seeking help for your eating disorder prior to making the decision to conceive is a wise decision, as eating disorders often run in families and parents are role models for their children. If you have an eating disorder, consult your doctor prior to getting pregnant, and begin or continue your involvement in therapy or support groups.