Though pregnancy can be an exciting time full of change and growth, it can also present new challenges for those with an eating disorder. From body changes and weight gain to morning sickness and food aversions and cravings, pregnancy can complicate recovery and potentially trigger old eating disorder thoughts and fears.
If you or a loved one are pregnant and recovering from an eating disorder, have a history of eating disorders in your past, or suspect you might be developing an eating disorder, here are some tools to help you successfully navigate pregnancy during eating disorder recovery.
Pregnancy and Eating Disorders
A study published by the Obstetrics & Gynecology journal found that 22 percent of women with a previously diagnosed eating disorder experienced a relapse during pregnancy . Another study revealed women with a recent history of ED were more likely to engage in ED behaviors (e.g., using laxatives, dieting, and over-exercising) during pregnancy than other women . The same study also revealed that women with a history of eating disorders experienced greater concerns over weight gain and body shape changes during pregnancy than women without a history of EDs .
Unfortunately, research shows that eating disorders can have a negative impact on both mother and baby during and after pregnancy . Some of the complications associated with eating disorders during pregnancy include:
- Higher rates of miscarriage
- Labor complications
- Slower fetal growth
- Poor fetal development
- Fetal respiratory distress
- Low birth weight babies (anorexia nervosa)
- High birth weight babies (binge eating disorder)
- Postpartum depression
Since eating disorders like bulimia nervosa and anorexia nervosa can potentially have adverse effects on pregnancy, medical professionals advise women to seek treatment for any existing or past eating disorder thoughts and behaviors before attempting to get pregnant. However, if you or a loved one are pregnant and are currently recovering from an ED or have experienced a relapse in your recovery, it is still possible to have a healthy, positive pregnancy.
Maintaining Eating Disorder Recovery During Pregnancy
Talk to Your Doctor
First and foremost, if you are pregnant and currently have an eating disorder or have a history of eating disorders, make sure to tell your doctor, midwife, or OB/GYN right away. While some women may find it difficult to admit they have an eating disorder during pregnancy, being honest about your illness can help ensure you and your growing baby stay healthy throughout your pregnancy.
Stay in Treatment
As mentioned earlier, pregnancy can be a triggering time for women with a history of eating disorders. That’s why it’s so important to stay in (or seek) treatment during pregnancy. Regularly meeting with an ED specialist (counselor, therapist, etc.) throughout your pregnancy will safeguard your recovery and help protect you and your growing baby from the harmful effects of an eating disorder.
In addition to seeing an ED therapist or counselor, consider meeting with an ED dietitian or nutritionist throughout your pregnancy. They can help you come up with a nutrition plan, give you ideas on the best foods to eat, and help ensure you stay on track in recovery. Getting adequate nutrition during pregnancy is one of the most important things you can do for yourself and your growing baby. Just make sure your dietitian or nutritionist is certified to work with both eating disorders and pregnancy.
Cultivate a Healthy Body Image
If you’re struggling to accept your changing body or obsessing over weight gain during pregnancy, here are five simple tips to help you cultivate a healthy body image throughout the rest of your pregnancy.
Educate Yourself: Learn why weight gain is not only normal but critical to a healthy pregnancy. Finding out what is going on behind the scenes (or the bump) can help you accept and even embrace the changes your body is going through.
Toss the Scales: While it’s important to get regular weigh-ins during pregnancy at your doctor’s appointments, it may be helpful to get rid of your home scales during pregnancy (and beyond). And if you find doctor’s appointment weigh-ins triggering, you may even want to face away from the scale and ask your doctor to refrain from mentioning numbers around you.
Don’t Compare Yourself: It’s easy to get caught up in the comparison trap during pregnancy. Whether it’s sizing up your present body to old photos of yourself or scrolling through social media and comparing yourself to other soon-to-be-moms, this can lead to a downward spiral of disordered thoughts, emotions, and behaviors. If you find yourself getting caught up in comparisons, consider limiting your screen time, unfollowing triggering accounts, and deleting or hiding old photos that make you feel bad about yourself.
Embrace Body Positivity: Try to surround yourself with body positivity during your pregnancy. This might look like following body-positive social media accounts, writing out and posting body-positive affirmations throughout your house, listening to body-positive podcasts, and reading body-positive books and blogs.
Thank Your Body: If you’re struggling to accept some of the outward changes your body is going through right now, one helpful exercise is to stop and acknowledge the amazing job your body is doing growing your baby. By intentionally taking your focus off the external aspects that you may (or may not) love about your body, and instead, thanking it for all the ways it is caring for you and your baby right now, you can begin to cultivate a healthy and positive body image during this incredible journey to motherhood.
References: Kouba, Saloua CNM*; Hällström, Tore MD, PhD†; Lindholm, Caroline MD, PhD*; Hirschberg, Angelica Lindén MD, PhD* Pregnancy and Neonatal Outcomes in Women With Eating Disorders, Obstetrics & Gynecology: February 2005 – Volume 105 – Issue 2 – p 255-260 doi: 10.1097/01.AOG.0000148265.90984.c3  Micali, N., Treasure, J., & Simonoff, E. (2007, August 2). Eating disorders symptoms in pregnancy: A longitudinal study of women with recent and past eating disorders and obesity. Journal of Psychosomatic Research. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0022399907002073.  ibid.  Kouba, Saloua CNM*; Hällström, Tore MD, PhD†; Lindholm, Caroline MD, PhD*; Hirschberg, Angelica Lindén MD, PhD* Pregnancy and Neonatal Outcomes in Women With Eating Disorders, Obstetrics & Gynecology: February 2005 – Volume 105 – Issue 2 – p 255-260 doi: 10.1097/01.AOG.0000148265.90984.c3
About the Author:
Sarah Musick is a freelance writer who specializes in eating disorder awareness and education. After battling with a 4-years long eating disorder, she made it her mission to help others find hope and healing in recovery.
Her work has been featured on numerous eating disorder blogs and websites. When she’s not writing, Sarah is off traveling the world with her husband.
The opinions and views of our guest contributors are shared to provide a broad perspective on eating disorders. These are not necessarily the views of Eating Disorder Hope, but an effort to offer a discussion of various issues by different concerned individuals.
We at Eating Disorder Hope understand that eating disorders result from a combination of environmental and genetic factors. If you or a loved one are suffering from an eating disorder, please know that there is hope for you, and seek immediate professional help.
Published February 22, 2021, on EatingDisorderHope.com
Reviewed & Approved on February 22, 2021, by Jacquelyn Ekern MS, LPC