While most mums-to be try to nourish their body as much as possible, eating disorders in pregnancy are more common than you might think…
Eating disorders are characterised by dramatically altered eating patterns, as well as changes in social behaviour and other symptoms of depression. They sometimes occur as an outwards expression of other anxieties, and finding the underlying cause is a vital part o a patient’s treatment.
The most common eating disorders are:
There are no definite figures, but a study published in the International Journal of Eating Disorders in 1999 suggested that as many as 1% of women suffer from some form of eating disorder during pregnancy.
The most common reason for developing an eating disorder during pregnancy is having had anorexia or bulimia in the past. On the other hand, however, some women with a history of problems with food give themselves ‘time out’ from the illness during pregnancy. It gives them ‘permission’ to gain weight, as they rationalise that the food is for the baby rather than themselves. Such women may find the illness comes back after they give birth, though, when they have concerns about losing the pregnancy pounds.
Eating disorders usually start when food is used to control feelings. Life-changing events, anxiety and difficulty in coping are often contributing factors – all of which can be caused by the stress and responsibility of having a baby. People who develop eating disorders tend to have limited coping abilities, and the ‘rituals’ of the disorder can make them feel like they’re regaining some kind of control. Dr Alex Yellowlees, psychiatrist and medical director of the Priory Hospital, Glasgow, specialises in treating women with eating disorders. He adds that: “In Western society, women base a lot of their self-worth on their body shape and appearance. If we assess our value exclusively on how we look this places us in a fragile situation when something like pregnancy challenges that…women need to find alternative coping strategies and to reassess the values on which they measure their self worth.”
With the right sort of help, most eating disorders are curable and the majority of sufferers go on to lead full lives – even if they’ve had the illness for many years. There is a range of services available, some on the NHS and others through private clinics.
Treatment usually involves addressing both the psychological causes and the physical symptoms of the illness, and so may involve cognitive behavioural therapy or psychotherapy as well as specialist nutritional treatment.
Dieting during pregnancy is potentially hazardous to you and your developing baby. Many weight-loss regimes are likely to leave you low on iron, folic acid and other important vitamins and minerals, as well as lacking in the all important energy you need to nurture your growing baby.
Various studies have been conducted into the effects of eating disorders during pregnancy. While the majority of women monitored had normal pregnancies and healthy babies, it has been shown that the incidence o complications among women with a current or past eating disorder is higher than average. Risks associated with active anorexia and bulimia during pregnancy include increased incidence of miscarriage, still birth, premature birth, low birth weight, cleft palate and breech delivery. Apgar scores of babies born to mothers with eating disorders are generally lower than average.
For some women with a history of eating disorders, pregnancy leads to a temporary cessation of symptoms. Studies suggest, however, that although disordered eating behaviour tends to decrease during pregnancy, it often resurfaces post-delivery and can actually increase in severity. This can lead to problems with bonding and breastfeeding, and a higher likelihood of a woman suffering from postnatal depression. In the longer term, it is thought that children of parents with eating disorders find it more difficult to develop healthy eating habits themselves. Remember, weight gain is one of the most positive signs of a healthy pregnancy. Women who eat well and gain an appropriate amount of weight are more likely to have healthy babies. So if you’re eating a variety of fresh, wholesome foods and adding pounds, relax: you’re supposed to be getting bigger!
© Immediate Media Company Ltd 2012. This website is owned and published by Immediate Media Company Limited. www.immediatemedia.co.uk