Anorexia and Infertility: Causation or Correlation

Contributor: Article Contributed by Crystal Karges, MS, RDN, IBCLC for Eating Disorder Hope

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If you are a woman attempting to conceive a baby, there may be nothing as disappointing as learning that you are not pregnant. Whether you have been trying to conceive for a couple months or a few years, each negative sign on that pregnancy test can strike a myriad of emotions, from sadness, to frustration and more.

Infertility is a reality for many women and can be defined as the inability to conceive or carry a pregnancy to term after twelve months of attempting to conceive [1].

You Are Not Alone

To begin, it is important to know that you are not alone in this struggle to conceive. About ten percent of the population has faced infertility, and this is something that touches people irrespective of race, gender, socio-economic status, etc. [1]. What if you have been in recovery from anorexia?

You may wonder if your battle with this eating disorder has contributed to your infertility, and this can cause a tremendous amount of fear and distress. Is there any connection between anorexia and infertility?

What Is Infertility?

Woman in summerInfertility is a disease that is recognized to stem from problems with either the male or female reproductive systems. For females in particular, one of the consequences of anorexia is amenorrhea, or an abnormal absence of menstruation.

This can translate into a woman who has missed at least three menstrual periods in a row or girls who have not yet begun menstruation by age 15. Amenorrhea may result in women and girls when body fat falls below a threshold value that is necessary for menstruation and the maintenance of ovulation [2], and this can result in anorexia with weight loss.

Essentially, the body recognizes that is does not have the necessary nutrients to support a developing baby, and the body will cease to ovulate. If regular menstruation is not occurring, this can be a tremendous deterring factor in the process for conceiving and reason for infertility.

There is Hope

The good news is that as a woman recovers from anorexia, adequately nourishes her body, and has weight restoration, normal menses will typically recommence. Once menstruation has started again in the woman with anorexia, her chances of conceiving become much higher.

If it is still difficult for you and your partner to conceive after weight restoration and normal menses, it may be necessary for you to see a reproduction specialist. There may be other reproductive issues, either with you or your partner that may play a part in your difficulty to conceive.

Many medical interventions exist today that help support your decision to have a baby, including hormonal therapy and in vitro fertilization to name a couple.

Final Thoughts on Pregnancy

It is also good to be aware that some woman may in fact ovulate before the return of their menses, which can lead to the opportunity for conception prior to having a period. If you are actively engaging in eating disorder behaviors, it is important to take protective contraceptive measures.

It is not safe to assume that since you have lost normal menstruation that you are unable to conceive, and allowing yourself to heal physically from anorexia will ensure healthy outcomes for you and your baby should you become pregnant.

Women who engage in disordered eating behaviors while pregnant, such as caloric restriction, extreme exercising, or dieting behaviors, risk consequences for their developing baby, such as birth defects, prematurity, congenital malformations and even prenatal death [2].

Working with a Treatment Team

Female Nurse Offering Counselling To Depressed WomanBe sure to work closely with your treatment team while in recovery from anorexia to ensure that your body is allowed the proper time to heal and prepare for a normal and healthy pregnancy.

If you are aspiring towards being a parent, know that your eating disorder does not need to be a deterring factor from this dream. As you heal and recovery from anorexia, you are building a future from yourself that is not hindered by the deadly consequences of this disease.

For more questions and concerns regarding infertility and anorexia, be sure to discuss with your treatment team and/or obstetric physician. For information on dealing with anorexia during your pregnancy click here.

Community Discussion – Share your thoughts here!

As you have recovered from anorexia, is infertility something you struggle with? If so, what helped you get through the process of trying to conceive?


 

References:

    1. Resolve, The National Infertility Association. “What is infertility?”, http://www.resolve.org/about-infertility/what-is-infertility/ Accessed 30 Jan 2015

 

  1. Donna Stewart, MD, FRCP, “Eating Disorders, Fertility, and Pregnancy”. Accessed 30 Jan 2015 http://nedic.ca/eating-disorders-fertility-and-pregnancy

Last Updated & Reviewed By: Jacquelyn Ekern, MS, LPC on February 19, 2015. Published on AddictionHope.com