Everything about eating disorders during pregnancy, its causes, consequences and how to solve it. Check out the article for useful advice and tips.
Pregnancy weight gain is bittersweet – not exactly fun to get on the scale each month, but a hallmark of a healthy baby. For some women, pregnancy is made harder by the history of an eating disorder. The heated focus on food and exercise can fuel a dormant fire.
Once a pregnancy is discovered, it is imperative to get symptoms of eating disorders during pregnancy under control. Studies suggest that starving or purging during pregnancy increase health risks such as miscarriage, pre-eclampsia, births with complications (including Cesarean deliveries), premature births and delayed fetal growth.
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Holly Allen had been in recovery from bulimia for five years when she got pregnant and is grateful she had treatment first. “I can’t imagine how it would feel to be caught in the tornado of an eating disorder and be pregnant at the same time,” she says. “I would feel worried about the baby, but I know it is impossible to stop on your own.”
Health risks for women in recovery from an eating disorder are similar to women who have never had one. They face many of the same issues as other women, but also grapple with gaining weight without resorting to disorder behavior.
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Overcoming the First Months
The first trimester can be the most trying for a woman in recovery, now expected to eat healthy all the time. Some women get pregnant hoping that it will force better eating habits. They may get lucky as Louis Parks did. She is currently 16 weeks pregnant and has found that compulsive overeating is not an issue. “I can’t overeat to the extent I used to – I’m either not interested or there isn’t room,” she says. Parks’s purging was under control with private therapy before getting pregnant.
“I went to my nutritionist to have her change my eating plan,” Allen says. “Sometimes it was hard eating more, or less, than I wanted. I just had to trust the plan I was on.” Even with guidance, slip-ups are possible. Few of us are able to follow the ideal diet to the letter, but a woman who has had eating disorders during pregnancy may obsess about her cravings. Allen relied on her experience in Overeaters Anonymous to help her through backslides. “I eat pretty healthily and have found, through recovery, it is OK to eat crappy sometimes,” she says.
Early pregnancy can be difficult since, in many cases, weight gain has begun but the baby hasn’t started to show. Women in recovery may not able to see that they are simply growing a baby at their own pace. “I am very freaked out about how heavy I am at this point in my pregnancy,“ Parks says. “I see women in my prenatal yoga class who seem to have only gained a big baby belly.” For her, the weight gain is “totally negative,” she says. “Except for the hard part of my lower belly that is clearly the baby, the rest feels like evil fat.“
Also, check our article about yoga during pregnancy : Om! Baby Yoga for Moms and Babies
Kimberly Porter hated those early days when her clothes didn’t fit and she wasn’t ready for maternity clothing yet. She felt unhappy about the initial weight gain, “because you couldn’t tell I was pregnant,” she says. “I just looked fat.” Porter received treatment for bulimia more than 10 years ago and keeps her purging symptoms under control.
You Should Accept
The reality of weight gain has to be accepted, and it has to be monitored by a health care provider. But doctors might only address the issue if a problem arises, as it did for Porter. “At one point I was losing weight, and my doctor joked about it, telling me to go home and eat ice cream with every meal,” she says. “It’s like I got a hall pass to eat.”
Gone are the days of our mothers when they weren’t allowed to gain more than the actual baby weight. The more common protocol these days is a reassuring, relaxed attitude toward weight gain. Parks says the midwives she sees “do not make a big deal about how much weight I’ve gained, which I appreciate.” Allen discovered her doctor was a source of support. “I told her and she really understood and mostly was happy for me that I found some relief from it,” she says.
Be Proud of Your Shape
The final days of pregnancy may be easier as anticipation mounts and success is imminent. For example, as time progressed, Allen grew to enjoy her body. “Most of the time I was really accepting of it. I felt healthy and thought I looked good,” she says. “I was proud of my big belly.”
Porter recalls that later in pregnancy her eating habits and outlook improved. “I didn’t binge then because I was so happy,” she says. “It was the first time in my life I saw eating with nutritional value. I was feeding the baby.”
“Toward the end I really felt positive and more accepting of my body,” Allen says. “Especially that it was doing such a good job for the baby (and me) after everything I put it through.” She delivered a healthy baby girl who weighed 6 pounds, 9 ounces.
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Risks Which May Occur After Birth
Women with eating disorders during pregnancy history are at an increased risk for postpartum depression, partly due to the concurrence of eating disorders and depression. The concern about weight and eating remains, and caring for the baby adds another stress factor. After delivering a fit, average-sized baby girl, Porter worried about her weight. “It doesn’t end once the baby comes,” she says. “Then you’re stuck with all this extra weight and you’re tired.”
Take a look at our article about postpartum depression : Dealing with Postpartum Stress
Bad habits can be reawakened after childbirth. Porter remembers that postpartum was the hardest for her. “I binged more during those first mommy and me groups, because everyone would bring pig-out food with the attitude ‘We’re breastfeeding so we can eat whatever we want,’” she says. “It’s hard.”
Porter thinks the medical community may be too dismissive. “Doctors should be on top of the eating, especially with women they know have a history,” she says. Parks agrees that health care providers should be more aware of eating disorders during pregnancy, but she is wary of creating “pregnancy police” who put more pressure on an already anxious patient. Allen thinks doctors often oversimplify eating disorders. “It is treated like ‘Stop doing that,’ or ‘just EAT,’ which is like saying to a heroin addict: ‘Stop doing that – it’s so bad for you,’” she says.
Doctors and patients alike should be sensitive to eating disorders during and after pregnancy, so that help can be attained when necessary. “Having any addiction renders a person unable to take care of themselves, let alone a baby,” Allen says. “I believe through going to Overeaters Anonymous meetings I am able to live a better life and to be a fully present, sane Momma.”
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The names of the people mentioned in the article have been changed for security reasons and to protect privacy.