Eating disorders and pregnancy
Edward Szmuc, MD, is an OB-GYN at Banner Desert Medical Center in Mesa, Ariz.
Question: What should I do if I have an eating disorder and become pregnant?
Answer: According to the American Pregnancy Association, approximately seven million women in America suffer from eating disorders. For these women, pregnancy can cause their illnesses to become more serious.
The average woman should gain between 25-35 pounds during pregnancy. For most women, this might not seem like a great deal. However, for women with eating disorders, gaining this amount of weight can be very frightening when coupled with the drastic changes to their physical appearance.
The two most common forms of eating disorders that affect pregnancy are anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa. Women who suffer from anorexia tend to starve their bodies of needed nutrients. During pregnancy, women with anorexia tend to be underweight and unable to gain the necessary amount of weight to remain healthy while carrying their babies. This lack of nutrients for mom and baby causes abnormally low birth weight, premature birth and other related health problems.
Bulimia, or binge eating which results in purging or the use of laxatives to prevent weight gain, can also be extremely dangerous during pregnancy. Pregnant women with bulimia tend to suffer from dehydration, chemical imbalances and cardiac irregularities. These women may also be at risk of developing gestational diabetes and high blood pressure if they are overweight due to binge eating.
Women who suffer from eating disorders must remember that healthy weight gain during pregnancy can significantly lower risks to both themselves and their babies.
If you struggle from an eating disorder and become pregnant, schedule a prenatal visit with a doctor immediately and let him know about your eating disorder. With the help of your doctor and a nutritionist, you can develop a well-balanced diet that will provide you and your baby with the nutrients needed during your pregnancy. Avoid purging or using laxatives and other medications that might be harmful to your developing baby. You should also seek counseling to address your eating disorder and any underlying concerns about your body image during your pregnancy.
After you deliver your baby, it is important for you to continue your counseling, as eating disorders put women at an increased risk of postpartum depression. In addition, request to meet with a lactation consultant who can help you with breastfeeding, which can also be more difficult due to eating disorders.