Pregnancy may be a very special time in a woman’s life, but for many soon-to-be moms, especially those battling eating disorders such as anorexia nervosa, bulimia and binge eating disorder, it can be a great challenge. For these people, maintaining control over their body shape (and keeping weight off) can become an obsession, and they can struggle to come to terms with their changing shape as their pregnancy advances. It is vital that women experiencing eating disorders obtain help from specialized medical professionals, since the consequences of malnutrition during pregnancy range from depression to exhaustion for the mother, and numerous health problems for their babies.
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Average weight gain during pregnancy
The average weight gain during pregnancy ranges between 25 and 35 pounds. For women with eating disorders, this can be very daunting and can lead to depression and anxiety. Others are able to view the pregnancy as a period of temporary sacrifice for an important cause.
Heath risks for mothers and babies
Depending on the eating disorder involved, women and their babies face different health risks. Those with anorexia nervosa are used to consuming an extremely low-calorie diet, starving themselves of the many nutrients their body needs to function normally, and to feed the growing fetus.
Women with bulimia nervosa, meanwhile, alternate between binging and purging, which increases their risk for cardiac irregularities, chemical imbalances, and dehydration.
Those with binge eating disorder can become obese, thereby increasing their risk of developing gestational diabetes and high blood pressure. Babies born to women with eating disorders can have a low birth weight, hindered brain development, and serious health conditions, such as respiratory distress syndrome. Therefore, it is paramount that women with eating disorders obtain the help they need, as early into their pregnancy as possible. Gold standard treatments such as Maudsley Therapy and Behavioral Therapy can go a long way towards promoting a healthy relationship to food, thereby ensuring babies have all the nutrients they need to develop at an optimal level. Maudsley Therapy focuses on the whole family’s role in supporting the person with the eating disorder, while Behavioral Therapy aims to teach a patient to recognize destructive cognitive and behavioral patterns, and to enlighten them on more productive ways to release stress, anger and anxiety.
Tips for pregnant mothers with eating disorders
- The first step for anybody with an eating disorder is to inform their health professional about the problem.
- Seek the help of a nutritionist, who can help draft a healthy eating plan that will ensure you get all the nutrients you need, while gaining a healthy amount of weight.
- Consider therapy: Regular therapy sessions will enable you to express your mixed feelings about your pregnancy, without being judged. A good therapist will take the weight off your shoulders by teaching you the skills you need to adopt when you feel barraged by negative thoughts and worries about your body shape during pregnancy.
- Consider group meetings: Meeting other people who are facing the same struggle will help you feel like part of a community. Knowing you are not alone is always important when you are called upon to face big challenges.
- Be aware that if you are facing a concurrent medical condition such as severe depression, your health care provider may recommend medication.
- Lighten your exercise load: Focus on low impact exercises, such as prenatal yoga, walking and swimming. Don’t feel guilty about changing your schedule; remember that during this time, it is vital to keep energy levels high and that means doing only as much exercise as is reasonable.
- Monitor your weight gain alongside a health professional: You need to make sure you are putting on a healthy amount of weight during your pregnancy. If you do not want to see your weight, ask the health professional to record it down silently.
- Focus on having a happy pregnancy: Depriving body and mind of vital nutrients, or overloading your body through bingeing, can lead to a difficult pregnancy, characterized by mood swings, cravings, nausea, extreme tiredness or inordinate weight gain or loss. By eating according to a nutritionally sound plan, you and your baby both have a much better chance of lasting health and happiness.
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www.eurekalert.org, Perinatal complications linked to eating disorders, accessed November, 2015.