Through every stage of pregnancy, both mother and child need to ensure they’re receiving the right amount of caloric intake, vitamins, and minerals to remain healthy and developing correctly. The presence of an eating disorder often means that nutrient intake plummets, causing a number of health problems to arise. During pregnancy, this can have a powerful effect on both the mother and the fetus. Therefore, it is even more important that women with eating disorders seek support from a professional eating disorder treatment center when pregnancy happens.

During a pregnancy, without eating disorder treatment and support, the following health issues could arise as a result of engaging in disordered eating behaviors:

Restricted Fetal Growth

When pregnant women do not take in enough calories each day, their body struggles to provide enough energy for proper fetal growth. This can cause premature births, result in abnormally low birth weights and nutritional deficiencies in the infant, or in the worst cases, causing a failure to bring the child to term.

Furthermore, restricted growth can impact how fetuses’ organs form, resulting in an increased risk of breathing difficulties, brain hemorrhages, and heart problems. The prenatal medical team will normally try to counteract these symptoms, but prolonged minimal caloric and nutritional intake only exacerbate these issues.

Premature Labor

Pregnant women with eating disorders face a high risk of premature birth due to their low nutrient intakes. Especially in the third trimester, their bodies simply can’t meet the nutritional needs of the rapidly-growing fetus. Pregnancy raises the normal requirements for calories and nutrients even in the easiest cases, and when an eating disorder like anorexia or bulimia nervosa is thrown into the mix, the lack of intake can simply short out the system.

Without it, their bodies simply cannot maintain the pregnancy, resulting in preterm labor. Many complications can arise when having a child before their due date, including:

  • Incomplete organ development, including the lungs
  • Anemia
  • Jaundice
  • Infections
  • Low heart rate

Premature babies often have to stay in the hospital for an extended time after birth for support with breathing and feeding until their bodies can take over.

Heart Health and Other Cardiac Issues

Pregnancy already puts an enormous amount of stress on the heart as it pumps enough blood to maintain the health of both mother and child for up to 40 weeks. Disordered eating behaviors put additional strain on the heart by limiting nutrients that it needs to work effectively. As sodium, potassium, magnesium and other electrolytes swing out of balance, the neural signals to the heart can be interrupted, which can cause heart irregularities. As this repeatedly occurs, the heart muscle can start to atrophy, resulting in lasting health problems for the mother.

Postpartum Depression                                                       

According to NIMH, without consulting an eating disorder therapist or facility, the presence of an eating disorder can significantly increase the risk of postpartum depression. In fact, up to 30 percent of women with eating disorders go on to develop postpartum depression after giving birth, which is 10 percent higher than those who don’t show symptoms of an eating disorder. Successfully treating an eating disorder during and after pregnancy, then, can have a positive effect on not on the physical health of the child and mother, but also improve her mental health after the birth.

When to Seek Help from Eating Disorder Treatment Centers

As pregnancy can act as a trigger for eating disorders, early care from eating disorder therapists is helpful in preventing disordered eating behaviors from impacting the health of the mother and child. Unfortunately, eating disorders tend to cause missed or late periods, causing the pregnancy to come as a big surprise to many. Thankfully, it is never too late to receive eating disorder support and start making healthy changes during pregnancy.

If you or a loved one is facing pregnancy and also suffers from an eating disorder, there’s no reason to delay.  Reach out and find a quality treatment center today – for the health of the mother and the child.

Cite this article as:
Editorial Staff, "Pregnancy and Eating Disorders Don’t Mix; Why You Should Get Treatment," in Medicalopedia, December 12, 2019, [Permalink: https://www.medicalopedia.org/8062/pregnancy-and-eating-disorders-dont-mix-why-you-should-get-treatment/].