With more than 600,000 babies born annually in the UK it could mean there are about 12,000 women who develop anorexia or bulimia while pregnant.
The findings are worrying as research has shown that eating disorders are associated with low birthweight and premature birth, which are major causes of infant death and childhood illness.
The survey was carried out by the baby charity Tommy’s and found that nine in 10 women felt stressed during their pregnancy. Stress hormones can pass into the baby’s bloodstream as early as 17 weeks into the pregnancy and depression is linked to premature birth.
Andrew Shennan, the professor of obstetrics for Tommy’s, added the survey’s findings were shocking. “Suppressing concerns during pregnancy can contribute to the development of pre-natal depression, which can be damaging to both mother and baby,” he said. “In the vast majority of cases, whatever thoughts or concerns they may be having, nearly every other pregnant woman will have been through the same thing, and so they shouldn’t worry that they will be demonised for having perfectly normal feelings.”
Susan Ringwood, the chief executive of the eating disorder charity Beat, said: “Although we hear and read more nowadays of women developing an eating disorder in pregnancy, we have no statistics to prove there is an increase. One in 50 women develops an eating disorder during their life so this figure does not differ.
“Having said that, we are aware that there is increased pressure on women to return to their pre-pregnancy weight, which could lead to increased risk.”