Anorexia and Pregnancy
According to the American Psychiatric Association, anorexia nervosa is one of the three major types of eating disorders along with bulimia nervosa and binge eating disorder. While eating disorders indeed affect millions of people at any given moment, they most commonly manifest in women between the ages of 12 and 35. In general, individuals who suffer from anorexia nervosa as well as bulimia nervosa are perfectionists who experience low self esteem; they are usually incredibly critical of their bodies and themselves in general. Unfortunately, individuals with eating disorders may deny the existence of a problem in the beginning, and will continue to feel overweight even if they are experiencing malnutrition.
Hallmarks of Anorexia Nervosa
There are three major hallmarks of anorexia nervosa, according to the American Psychiatric Association:
- An intense fear of gaining weight or being “fat”
- Limited intake of food which leads to significant weight loss
- Issues with one’s Distorted perception of body image and/or a denial that there is a problem.
Possible Signs of Anorexia Nervosa
The reason individuals suffering from anorexia nervosa are unable to keep a healthy body weight is due to their refusal to eat enough; they also may exercise in excess as well as using laxatives or forced vomiting to lose weight. As a sufferer’s body enters starvation, he or she may develop the following symptoms:
- Their menstrual periods may cease
- They become severely constipated
- They develop osteoporosis or osteopenia, or a thinning of their bones, through calcium loss
- Their hair and nails become brittle
- They develop mild anemia
- Their muscles (including cardiac muscles) could waste away
- Their skin could become dry and even take on a yellowy cast
- They experience lethargy and depression
- Their blood pressure drops, along with slowed breathing and lower pulse rates
- They constantly feel cold due to a dip in their internal body temperature
Anorexia Nervosa and Pregnancy
But what happens if one is suffering from anorexia nervosa while pregnant? The National Eating Disorders Association says that dealing with an eating disorder while someone is pregnant comes with a host of risks for both the parent and child. Risks for the parent could include:
- Cardiac irregularities
- Poor nutrition
- Severe depression during pregnancy
- Difficulty nursing
- Gestational diabetes
- Labor complications
- Postpartum depression
- Not gaining a sufficient amount of weight during pregnancy
And the following could be risks for the baby:
- Low birth weight
- Poor development
- Feeding difficulties
- Respiratory distress
- Premature birth
- Other perinatal issues
What to Do if You are Living With Anorexia Nervosa While Pregnant
The National Eating Disorders Association suggests that if you become pregnant while dealing with an eating disorder, you should take the necessary steps to protect not only yourself but your baby. They continue to say that if you are totally honest with your healthcare professionals, they should be able to address the correct pregnancy-specific needs for you. If you are pregnant and concurrently dealing with disordered eating:
- You may need extra appointments to keep close tabs on your baby’s development and growth.
- You should consider consulting a nutritionist who specializes in eating disorders; they can help you create a plan for healthy weight gain and eating.
- You should also consider enrolling in support groups as well as individual counseling not only during but after pregnancy; this can help you cope with any concerns (and fears) regarding body image, weight gain, food, and your new role as a parent.
- You may want to enroll in classes on parenting skills, childbirth, child development, and pregnancy in general.
- You should check with your doctor before enrolling in any prenatal workout classes.
- Though it may be difficult, you should permit your health provider to weigh you; this is important in tracking your baby’s health and you can always request that your doctor does not tell you your weight.
Eating Disorder Hope estimates that 10 million women and 1 million men in the United States find eating disorders to be a daily struggle. If you or a loved one is experiencing an eating disorder such as anorexia, we are here to help at Eating Disorder Recovery Specialists. You may contact us via phone (866-525-2766), email, or by filling out our contact form.