Written by Erica Robinson, NC A&T SU ‘19
Although mothers make it look easy, motherhood is bigger than just kissing boo-boos, taking care of the children they’re when sick, and tucking them in bed at night. To handle this great responsibility, mothers must first adapt emotionally, financially and physically, even before their babies are born. As soon as a woman becomes pregnant, the body begins to reshape and adjust for the presence of a baby.
A drastic body transformation can be a hard concept for women to accept, especially ones with eating disorders because these disorders are often associated with distorted body image. The Children of Mothers with Eating Disorders investigated how women with eating disorders handle the inevitable changes their bodies goes through during pregnancy and possible dangers of maternal eating disorders on the baby (Patel et al. 2002).
Eating disorders are characterized as a persistent disturbance of eating or eating-related behavior that results in the altered consumption of food and significantly impairs physical health or psychosocial functioning (DSM-V, p.329). Although eating disorders affect the lives of both genders, they are more common in women. The two main eating disorders focused on in the article are anorexia nervosa (AN), the restriction of food intake leading to considerably low body weight, and bulimia nervosa (BN), recurrent episodes of binge eating followed by inappropriate behaviors, such as self-induced vomiting, to prevent weight gain (DSM-V, p.339, p.345).
The impact of eating disorders affects a mother’s chances of conception. Women with eating disorders have an increased rate of fertility problems due to their unhealthy eating behaviors. Many women with BN experience infrequent menstrual periods. A high percentage of women with AN stop having menstrual periods all together due to extreme weight loss. The inconsistency or halt of menstruation makes it much more difficult to get pregnant, if not impossible.
Once pregnant, the women’s distorted perception of their bodies still influence the pregnancy. It is most common for mothers with eating disorders continue to have a negative outlook about their body shape and weight. These mothers often face difficulties handling anxiety related to losing control over their weights. However, a fraction of mothers’ beliefs about body shape and weight are altered and become more accepting to body transformation. The change in mindset stems from concerns about the unborn babies’ health.
Though the majority of mothers with eating disorders experience normal length of pregnancies and give birth to infants of normal weight (Franko et al. 2001), some studies argue maternal eating disorders pose risks to both the mothers and the unborn babies. Mothers with BN can suffer from abnormally high blood pressure due to excessive weight gain. On the other hand, due to low pregnancy weight gain, mothers with AN have a possibility of their babies being born with low infant birth weight. Other health risks are babies being born prematurely, developing growth abnormalities/impairment and perinatal death.
This review helps raise awareness of the consequences of having an eating disorder during pregnancy. Increasing awareness of this issue will hopefully inspires expecting mothers with eating disorders to seek support during the pregnancy period.
Patel, P., Wheatcroft, R., Park, R. J., & Stein, A. (2002). The Children of Mothers with Eating Disorders. Clinical Child and Family Psychology, 5(1), 1-19.
Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders: DSM-5. (2013). Washington, Londres: American Psychiatric Association.
Franko, D. L., Blais, M. A., Becker, A. E., Selwyn Delinsky, S., Greenwood, D. N., Flores, A. T., . . . Herzog, D. B. (2001). Pregnancy Complications and Neonatal Outcomes in Women With Eating Disorders. American Journal of Psychiatry, 1461-1466.