Eating Disorders in Pregnancy, Here’s What You Need to Know

woman holding white ceramic bowl with yellow pasta

Over 10% of fertile women have or had in the past an eating disorder, namely bulimia or anorexia. These conditions can have a strong impact not only on the women’s ability to conceive, but also eventually on the baby’s development during pregnancy and even extended after birth.

How easy it is to conceive?

Low body weight can severely compromise your ability to conceive, as the reproductive system is one of the first in the body to shut down. It’s very common for women suffering from anorexia and bulimia to stop having their menstruation. It is thought that a high percentage of patients considering fertility treatments with no or irregular periods suffer from undiagnosed eating disorders.

However with proper diagnosis, and treatment for their eating disorder, fertility can be recovered rapidly and pregnancies are possible. Ideally, you should recover completely from your eating disorder before you attempt to get pregnant. This will ensure the best outcome for you and your baby.

Will my baby develop normally?

Pregnancies may be higher risk, especially if the condition has not been fully dealt with, even if they’re just subtle disorders. Maintaining an appropriate diet and weight gain is vital for the baby’s development.

One of the most common complications in pregnant women who have or had an eating disorder is a higher risk of miscarriages and preterm delivery. Babies can suffer from intrauterine growth restriction (IUGR) and they’re more likely to be born premature with low birth weight and small for their gestational age. Commonly these babies have a low Apgar score.

Given its impact on both yours and your baby’s health, it’s vital that you inform your doctor and midwife about your condition and whether you’re fully recovered or not. This way they can follow your pregnancy more closely and potentially avoid any problems.

What about after delivery?

There’s a higher incidence of postpartum depression, which may affect up to 30% of womensuffering from eating disorders. If their eating disorders were still active pre-pregnancy, although symptoms may have improved a little during pregnancy, most women relapse within a few months.

What medication is safe for my baby?

Some women with eating disorders are on very strong medication to avoid depression. At least during the first trimester, when the baby’s major internal organs are developing, this medication needs to stop. Your doctor will be able to advise when to start and what medication is safe for your baby. Furthermore, if you have a history of strong depression before your pregnancy, your doctor may recommend that you continue on anti-depressives immediately after delivery to avoid postpartum depression.

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