Eating Disorders and Pregnancy: Physical Issues
Eating disorders affect a growing number of women every year. Not only can an eating disorder cause detrimental problems to your health, if you are pregnant, an eating disorder can also result some very serious health issues with your baby.
Types of Eating Disorders
There are three main types of eating disorders: anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa and compulsive overeating. People who are affected by anorexia will literally deprive themselves of food and become alarmingly thin. Other anorexia symptoms include excessive exercising, avoiding food and unusual eating habits. Many anorexia sufferers are also affected by obsessive-compulsive disorder.
Bulimia, on the other hand, involves binge eating and then purging the food from the body either by vomiting or through the use of laxatives or exercise. Bulimia symptoms can be harder to detect as people with this eating disorder generally stay at a normal weight. However, many bulimia sufferers also have substance abuse problems.
Compulsive overeaters are similar to bulimia sufferers in that they are unable to control the amount of food that they eat. However, compulsive overeaters do not purge following their eating binge and will often feel guilty and ashamed of their actions. As a result, most compulsive overeaters are overweight.
All three eating disorders carry serious health repercussions and require medical attention. However, these disorders are both physical and mental ailments that should be treated not only by a doctor, but also by a psychiatrist and a nutritionist. (See our article on the emotional dangers of eating disorders).
Eating disorders seriously affect your hormonal system and therefore make it extremely difficult to both conceive and carry a child to term. If you suffer from an eating disorder, it is strongly recommended that you seek and successfully complete treatment before you get pregnant. Visiting a chat room to talk with other women who have an eating disorder is one way of finding support and understanding during your pregnancy. At the very least, you should be undergoing treatment and be effectively managing the disorder before becoming pregnant.
In addition to seeking treatment, it will be necessary for you to get your weight under control. Compulsive overeaters will need to loose weight before they become pregnant. Anorexics should slowly bring their weight up to a healthy number as gaining weight too fast may lead to serious problems, including congestive heart failure.
Since bulimics are usually already at a healthy weight, they are much more likely to get pregnant than other women affected by an eating disorder. In fact, bulimics are more likely to have their symptoms improve while they are pregnant. However, they are also the most likely to relapse back to their binging and purging habits during the postpartum period.
Carrying a pregnancy to term can be stressful on the female body, even if you are healthy. It is always important that you are able to follow a nutritious diet while you are pregnant. Depriving yourself of food, purging your body of food before it is able to absorb any nutrients, or eating too much food can place both you and your baby in danger.
There are numerous risks to your baby if you get pregnant while you are still battling an eating disorder, including:
- Higher rate of miscarriage and stillbirth
- Higher rate of death within the first month after birth
- Increased chance of having a low birth weight baby
- Low APGAR scores
- Low amniotic fluid
- Placental separation
- Increased risk of birth defects, especially blindness and mental retardation
Even if your baby seems healthy at birth, studies have shown that as children born to women with eating disorders during pregnancy grow up, they are more likely to be:
- Smaller than their peers
- Have slower growth, both physically and mentally
- Have poor social skills
- Be more emotionally dependant
Women who have an eating disorder during pregnancy have an increased risk of:
- Gestational diabetes
- Labor complications
- Needing a c-section
- Postpartum Depression (bulimics are especially vulnerable to this)
Additionally, if you have any other health issues, like kidney or heart problems, these conditions can be worsened and become potentially fatal by a pregnancy. Women who have diabetes along with an eating disorder will face even more health problems during pregnancy.
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