I’ve recently discussed the dangers of eating disorders (which you can read here) but I want to talk about the dangers associated with being pregnant and having an eating disorder. Eating disorders are a very real concern in today’s society. Many women feel the pressure to look a certain way and it doesn’t stop when that women becomes pregnant. The difference is a pregnant woman is pressured not to gain TOO much weight and to lose it quickly after. With this mentality thrown on women, the worry about how much weight they gain during their pregnancy is all consuming. Not to mention if they already struggled with an eating disorder before, gaining weight while pregnant can trigger negative psychological/emotional thoughts. The fears associated with an eating disorder can be exacerbated to an entirely new level.
Healthy Weight Gain
There are proper goals for weight gain that are associated with each BMI group. For a woman on the lower end of the BMI scale (<19.8), usually associate with being underweight, typical weight gain is around 37-39 pounds. A woman on the higher end of the BMI scale (>26), which is usually classified as overweight, weight gain is less than 25 pounds. A BMI of 19.8-26, which is said to be average, a woman’s healthy weight gain would be around 25-35 pounds. If you break down how the weight is distributed across the body, it’s not as scary.
Below is an example of how the weight is distributed throughout the body:
- 1.5 pounds- the placenta
- 7 pounds- maternal stores of fat, protein, and other nutrients
- 7.5 pounds- average full term baby
- 2 pounds- breast tissue
- 4 pounds- increased fluid volume
- 4 pounds- increased blood volume
- 2 pounds- the uterus
- 2 pounds- amniotic fluid
Total= 30 pounds
Basic Breakdown of Three of the most Common Eating Disorders:
- Obsessive dieting
- Starvation to control weight gain
- May not gain enough weight during pregnancy
- Binge eating and then vomiting to rid body of excess calories
- Can suffer dehydration, chemical imbalance, or even cardiac irregularities
Binge Eating Disorder:
- Overeating to the point of discomfort
- Usually eats large quantities
- Often associated with weight gain
- Can lead to developing high blood pressure and gestational diabetes
Eating disorders can negatively affect fertility, making it hard to conceive. For example, those suffering from anorexia usually do not have a menstrual cycle and those suffering from bulimia have irregular menstrual cycles. The absence of the menstrual cycle is caused by the extreme caloric reduction and excessive exercise. This makes getting pregnant very challenging.
How Does Eating Disorders Affect Pregnancy?
Risks for Mom:
- Poor nutrition
- Cardiac irregularities
- Gestational diabetes
- Severe depression during and after pregnancy
- Labor complications
- Difficulties nursing
Risks for Baby:
- Poor development
- Premature birth
- Low birth weight
- Respiratory problems
- Feeding difficulties
- Stillbirth or fetal death
Advice to help overcome eating disorders and have a healthy pregnancy:
- Talk to your prenatal health provider. Being open and honest with your health care provider will allow them to give you the best care possible. They can schedule extra appointments to monitor healthy weight gain and fetal development.
- Consulting a nutritionist can put you on a path to healthy eating. They can help you come up with a meal plan that will be beneficial to both you and baby.
- Seek counseling to address your eating disorder. Individual counseling and/or group therapy can help identify triggers that may become problems throughout your pregnancy. For some women, pregnancy is a motivation for recovery and therapy can help guide you through the process. Asking for help from others is the most courageous thing you can do for yourself and your baby.
- Keep a close circle of strong supportive people. Having a strong support group to help you when you fall is crucial. Don’t be ashamed of admitting when you need help.
Eating disorders can be really hard to overcome mentally and adding in the stresses of pregnancy can be triggering for some new moms. Realizing that your body is doing incredible things and allow yourself to celebrate the new life you are creating can help mentally get your through the nine long months. Don’t allow yourself to get sidetracked by the number on the scale, instead appreciate your body and the fact that you are nourishing your child. Being able to create life is an amazing experience and keeping a positive attitude will go a long way. When you feel overwhelmed and starting to slip, remember your support group and lean on those around you who can help you pick yourself back up.