Nutrition is very important in pregnancy. Pregnant women are always bombarded with lists of food they need to eat to make sure they have all the nutrients they need to sustain the life inside of them. But what does it mean to be battling an eating disorder while pregnant?
Nowadays, there are prevalent cases of those pregnant with anorexia. It is more common in women during their fertile years.
Along with that, about 1 in 200 pregnant women experience the said eating disorder. The condition is typically associated with restricting, binging, and purging. In some cases, all of the mentioned behaviours appear in those suffering from Anorexia nervosa.
Eating Disorders During Pregnancy
Eating disorders are triggered by shame and secrecy. Women who are pregnant may have strong feelings of guilt and humiliation. As a result, it may pose a threat to both the pregnant mother and her unborn child.
Meanwhile, some women are fearful of being judged by others. As a result, they are growing more reluctant to discuss their difficulties and struggles. They may refuse to recognise they have problems, even with themselves.
Pregnant women who restrict their calorie intake and engage in excessive exercise to prevent pregnancy weight gain are known as having pregorexia, a term popularised by the media.
Unfortunately, the phrase gained popularity in 2008 after being used to describe the lives of fashionable New York City women striving for the ideal pregnancy body in print publications and television news media.
Pregorexia is not a medical term, despite the fact that some people outside of the mental health and medical communities may use it.
According to Kecia Gaither, MD, MPH, FACOG, director of perinatal services at NYC Health + Hospitals/Lincoln, a double board-certified in OB-GYN and maternal foetal medicine, a person who is experiencing an unnatural fear of gaining weight during pregnancy is referred to as pregorexia, which is a combination of the words pregnancy and anorexia. Gaither claims that an expectant parent might not properly nourish themselves or their growing foetus as a result of this fear.
Although pregorexia is not a recognised medical condition, it is common knowledge that many pregnant women obsess over their weight and follow strict diet and exercise regimens. Additionally, a small portion of these people will experience an eating disorder while they are pregnant.
Pregnancy And Anorexia
Professor Megan Galbally works at the Centre for Women’s and Children’s Mental Health at Monash University’s School of Clinical Sciences as director. She said that there is a lack of studies and clinical advice on managing pregnant women with anorexia.
“Unlike mood disorders and anxiety and psychotic disorders, little guidance and research are available for anorexia nervosa in pregnancy. Perinatal mental health guidelines, including those in the UK and Australia, provide only limited or no mention of the assessment and management of eating disorders in pregnancy,” the professor said.
Assessment measures for people with Anorexia outside pregnancy are different for women in gestation. Unfortunately, it shows to have limited validity in pregnancy.
“Clearly, the assessment and monitoring of measures and tools for anorexia nervosa require modification in the context of pregnancy,” she added.
Those pregnant with anorexia have a high risk of having a stillbirth, an underweight baby or preterm birth.
Potential Signs of Eating Disorders During Pregnancy
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Inadequate weight gain during pregnancy is just one of the important warning signs to monitor. Other clues of a suspected eating disorder can include:
- Excessive exercise
- Preoccupation with feeling fat
- Abnormal electrolyte levels
- Intense fear of gaining weight
- Substantial intake of food
- Anxiety around or avoidance of eating
A lot of women with eating disorders fear disclosing their eating disorders. However, failing to admit the condition could increase health risks if she is with child.
The following are some of the more typical signs and symptoms that suggest you may be dealing with an eating disorder while pregnant:
- Excessive exercise that leaves you feeling worn out
- reluctance to change your exercise regimen
- limiting calorie intake
- compulsion to count calories
- Binge consuming
- self-induced vomiting or the use of laxatives, or purging
- feeling guilty and ashamed about gaining weight due to eating alone
- weighing yourself frequently each day.
- Little to no weight gain
- expressing worries about one’s size, shape, or weight
- Prolonged fatigue
- lightheadedness and passing out
Additionally, according to Heather Maio, PsyD, The Renfrew Center’s assistant vice president of clinical and admission services, women who experience eating disorders during pregnancy may:
- Steer clear of social gatherings with family and friends.
- refrain from scheduling regular doctor’s appointments
- feel cut off from the unborn child growing inside the womb.
She continues, “The interaction of these factors may increase depression, anxiety, or excessive worries about the health and welfare of the foetus.”
Long-term health risks
The following more serious and long-term health risks can all be signs of the potentially dangerous pregorexia symptoms, including:
- The mother may suffer from bone loss.
- Issues with foetal development
- Birth defects
- Growth restrictions
- Enhanced potential for protracted labour
- Enhanced chance of miscarriage
- Preterm birth
- Feeding issues
- Later in life, there may be attention deficit disorders
It is essential to consult and inform your doctor or health care provider about your condition. It would be best to immediately let them know when you notice that you have eating disorder symptoms.
What Causes Eating Disorders During Pregnancy?
Despite the lack of a clear cause, Maio claims that mental health professionals have noticed these behaviours in some pregnancies.
According to the expert, “we tend to see behaviours like trying to control weight through extreme forms of restriction and exercise in people who are currently struggling with an eating disorder, someone who has previously struggled with an eating disorder, or those who haven’t been diagnosed but may have struggled with significant body image disturbances or a drive for thinness throughout their lives.”
According to Maio, you might experience pressure from friends, family, coworkers, and society as your body changes during pregnancy to gain as little weight as possible and maintain a strict fitness regimen to stay “healthy” for the full nine months.
Effects of Eating Disorders In Pregnant Women
When a pregnant woman is dealing with an eating disorder, those nine months can seem endless.
Many expectant parents find themselves exhausted and dealing with the difficulties of managing an eating disorder in addition to managing the physical and emotional symptoms of pregnancy, preparing for childbirth, and making plans for the arrival of a new baby.
Therefore, a compassionate discussion with a therapist or physician may aid in your understanding of the effects that disordered eating can have on both you and your unborn child.
According to Gaither, some of the more severe consequences for both of you include bone loss, the potential for growth restrictions in your developing foetus, potential for foetal developmental issues, and low birth weight because of nutrient deficiency.
According to Leela R. Magavi, MD, a Hopkins-trained psychiatrist and regional medical director at Community Psychiatry, “People dealing with disordered eating or excessive exercise may experience more fatigue than the average pregnant person.”
You might also experience lightheadedness and syncopal episodes as a result of electrolyte abnormalities and dehydration. Insufficient nutrients and weight, according to Magavi, may raise the chance of extended labour and miscarriage.
Feeling Depressed About Weight Gain During Pregnancy: Concerns With Pregorexia
Women who have previously struggled with eating disorders or body dysmorphia are those who are most at risk. Both the mother and the child are harmed by pregorexia.
Pregnancy weight gain is crucial for both the mother and the developing child because it helps ensure that both parties are getting enough nutrition. Restricting or eliminating food lowers the amount of nutrients a baby needs to develop and grow normally while also increasing the burden on the mother’s body to provide nutrients at the expense of her own health.
Over the course of her pregnancy, a woman carrying a child is anticipated to put on anywhere between 11 and 40 pounds. Additionally, it is anticipated that more weight will be gained if there are multiple babies, such as twins, triplets, etc.
Ask a healthcare professional if there is a concern about the amount of weight gained; they should be able to help you chart your own personal weight progressions or benchmarks throughout pregnancy. Additionally, a healthcare professional can assist a pregnant woman in developing a healthy diet and eating habits, just as they can estimate the appropriate amount of weight gain during pregnancy.
Managing The Health Of Pregnant Women
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When it comes to managing pregnant women’s health, the experts often highlight essential points. They also stress the importance of maternal antenatal nutrition, pregnancy weight gain, and the infant’s birth weight.
These are critical risk factors and vital intervention points for improving lifelong health. Plus, areas such as heart disease, diabetes, and obesity are included. Untreated or undertreated Anorexia nervosa in pregnancy has psychological and psychosocial risks like anxiety and perinatal depression.
Some studies state that anorexia could affect obstetric and neonatal outcomes. It happens through low-calorie intake, nutritional and vitamin deficiencies, stress, fasting, and low body mass. Aside from that, it could also cause problems with the function of the placenta.
There is an increase in obstetric complication reports on those pregnant with anorexia. Compared with those without the condition, a 2020 study from Canada says that women with Anorexia nervosa during pregnancy had:
- 1.32 times the risk of preterm birth
- 1.69 times the adjusted risk of a baby with low birth weight
- 1.99 times the adjusted risk of stillbirth
Currently, there are still no guidelines for how doctors should manage the condition. However, some researchers developed recommendations and principles for multidisciplinary management of anorexia nervosa in pregnancy.
Managing anorexia requires a multidisciplinary team approach. It should also come across mental health, specialist medical care, and dietetics at a minimum.
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Coping with Eating Disorders During Pregnancy
The eating disorders we commonly encounter include anorexia and bulimia. These conditions commonly emerge during adolescence or young adulthood that disproportionately impact females.
The condition often lingers; it is rare for the illness to persist into a woman’s reproductive years. However, it could still affect both the baby’s and mum’s health. Because of this, we must understand the interactions between pregnancy and an eating disorder.
Treatment For Pregorexia
The recommended course of action for a pregorexic woman takes both the physical and psychological challenges associated with an eating disorder into account.
When a pregnant woman becomes aware that she is battling a body image problem or an eating disorder, she first asks for assistance. Being pregnant frequently makes one’s insecurities and desire to hide them worse, making it extremely difficult for those who struggle with these issues to do so.
Be honest with your significant other
The fears, anxieties, and symptoms that a person experiencing pregorexia should be openly discussed with their significant other, their support system, and/or their doctor. The doctor will then start keeping an eye on the mother’s and the child’s physical well-being and help the mother find a mental health specialist who specialises in eating disorders.
They will then start collaborating to develop realistic expectations for weight gain, pregnancy health, a suitable diet, and sufficient exercise that will be incorporated into the expectant mother’s life.
Many people who are battling an eating disorder avoid asking for help at all costs. The desire to hide your worries and fears about food, exercise, and your body is only exacerbated by pregnancy.
But if you experience body image issues or eating disorders while pregnant, it’s critical to seek assistance.
Consider scheduling an appointment with a therapist you’ve previously worked with to go over your worries.
Connect to a support system
The presence of a support system to be there for the mother is also a crucial step because dealing with the presence of an eating disorder can be difficult on both a physical and emotional level. She will require reliability and responsibility from those close to her.
No single straightforward pregorexia treatment exists. Each individual’s course of treatment is unique, and the journey toward personal growth and change requires effort and time.
At present, there are no specific treatments for eating disorders during pregnancy. Fortunately, a registered dietitian could help provide nutritional needs during pregnancy and how much weight should be gained.
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