An article in The Times recently commented on how midwives were calling for a return to the policy of “weigh-ins” for women during pregnancy, to monitor weight gain. While the focus was more geared towards the effects that excessive weight gain of pregnant women can have on their children, leading to higher levels of child obesity; it raises the spotlight on a related issue: eating disorders during pregnancy. Growing a human requires women to put on substantial amounts of weight to ensure the baby grows at a healthy rate; however, for some women it can distort the relationship you have with your body. Pregnancy can also be an incredibly trying time for women who have struggled with their body image and eating habits in the past.
While in-depth research on this topic is scarce, studies show that around 1 in 20 pregnant women suffer from an eating disorder. One in *twenty*. So, why aren’t we talking about this more?
Without wanting to sound too much like something out of “What to Expect When You’re Expecting”, pregnancy press is usually all about the traditional “glow”. There’s an emphasis on the positive experiences during pregnancy and the less than glamourous side-effects don’t really get talked about in much depth. Every tabloid in Britain is currently obsessed with what maternity wear Meghan Markle has or just how much she is “glowing” on every public outing; whereas that is not the day-to-day experience for many pregnant women. While it is exciting and enjoyable for countless mothers-to-be, around 5% have a much more complicated experience while pregnant with very serious risks. Women can experience a re-occurrence of a previous eating disorder due to the changes their body experiences, or pregnancy can act as a trigger for latent image and body issues. After all, pregnancy changes your body shape and size in a way that is, for the most part, out of your control – an issue which people in recovery from eating disorders find challenging.
Working through an eating disorder while also experiencing all the biological, psychological and emotional changes that come with pregnancy is no easy feat. Women face a great amount of psychological conflict if they need to eat more than usual for their health of their child, while their eating disorder twists the action to break down their body image. While many women are able to use the maternal drive as strength to defeat their eating disorder during pregnancy, those who do not run the risk of many complications. Irregular and disordered eating can cause pregnant women to suffer from consequences including the following:
• Cardiac irregularities
• Gestational diabetes
• Severe depression
• Premature birth
• Labour complications
• Difficulties nursing
• Postpartum depression.
Additionally, due to the inherent nature of a mother’s nutrition affecting the human they are growing, eating disorders can seriously affect the foetus as it develops. Risks include:
• Poor development
• Premature birth
• Low birth weight
• Respiratory distress
• Feeding difficulties
• Other perinatal complications
The psychological turmoil pregnant women experience when battling an eating disorder can be heightened by the need to gain appropriate amounts of weight for the health of their child, so the notion of bringing back “weigh-ins” is a tricky one. Feeling like your weight is being monitored by external forces while internally battling an eating disorder can make it harder to stay healthy. On the other hand, as eating disorders are such a prominent issue, perhaps more structured guidelines and weight-related check-ups would allow healthcare professionals to notice changes quicker and provide support to expectant mothers sooner. Regular check-ups can give you the additional medical observation you and your growing baby needs, so don’t be afraid to ask for more. If you’re honest with your doctor, they can help you stay on a positive track. Tailor your pregnancy to suit your own body and your mind, so that you’re staying nourished and healthy, both physically and mentally.
The key thing that we should all take from the fact that 1 in 20 women go through this experience, is that we need to talk to each other more. I for one was completely ignorant to any major prevalence of eating disorders during pregnancy and any possible consequences. We need to change this. We’re getting better about being more open in regard to mental health in general, so now it’s time to get into the nitty-gritty. Let’s have frank and honest discussions about what pregnant women go through physically and mentally if they’re battling an eating disorder. If we make it easier for women to talk about this complicated, negative side of pregnancy, we remove the stigma about needing to look a particular way when pregnant. As a result, we take away some of the power of the eating disorder. There are several blogs online where women share their stories about handling an eating disorder while expecting; but the lack of information, statistics and real understanding about the issue tells us this evidently isn’t enough. As with so many mental health problems, by sharing your feelings with someone and feeling like you have adequate support, it can become so much easier to overcome and stay healthy.