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Eating Disorder Relapse During Pregnancy

Pregnancy is 40 weeks of a woman’s life where her body is constantly changing, emotions are flooding and hormones are raging. It is a time of happiness, stress, excitement, and embracing the future of unknowns. Pregnancy for many can be a happy time but it can also be a stressful time as every individual deals with pregnancy differently and there is no way to tell how one will handle this nine month period. For many, gaining weight and having your body morph in unimaginable ways can be terrifying, especially if you have a history of an eating disorder or body image issues. Approximately 30 percent of pregnant females in the United States do not gain enough weight in pregnancy. According to healthcare professionals, women who are average weight before pregnancy should gain 25 to 35 pounds during their pregnancy. Underweight women should gain 28 to 40 pounds and overweight women may need to gain 15 to 25 pounds during pregnancy. Pregnancy takes an immense amount of strength in order to get through the sleepless nights, morning sickness and the emotional and physical toll the body endures. The nourishment and care of the unborn baby must come from the mother through what she eats and drinks. A pregnant mother must take care of herself in order to nourish the baby. Women who are currently struggling with an eating disorder or who have a history of an eating disorder are more at risk for relapsing during their pregnancy because of the changes their bodies endure.

Risks associated with eating disorder relapse in pregnancy

Women who engage in disordered eating behaviors while pregnant, such as caloric restriction, extreme exercising, or dieting behaviors, risk consequences for their developing baby, such as birth defects, prematurity, congenital malformations and even prenatal death. Additionally eating disorders are known to result in postpartum depression and complications with breastfeeding. Additionally women who engage in disordered eating while pregnant are putting their bodies at risk for dehydration, electrolyte imbalance, and are even at risk for cardiac irregularities. Overeating and binge eating in pregnancy can increase the likelihood for gestational diabetes and high blood pressure, which can have negative effects during delivery of the infant. It is recommended to not become pregnant if you are actively struggling with an eating disorder and to be on birth control as a precaution.

Seeking help during pregnancy

If you are in eating disorder recovery and you become pregnant it is very possible to have a happy and healthy pregnancy but it is also possible relapse may occur. It is important to be open and honest about your eating disorder recovery with your OB/GYN so they aware of any presenting signs and symptoms associated with relapse. They may also request to see you on a more regular basis to ensure that you and your baby remain healthy both physically and mentally throughout the pregnancy. It may also be wise to meet with a registered dietician to obtain information on healthy eating during pregnancy. Contrary to popular belief, doubling food portions and calories is not recommended. Learning about which foods are healthy during pregnancy and the postpartum period can help nourish you and your baby and keep you at a healthy pregnancy weight. Relapse can happen but before it happens most women experience warning signs such as skipping meals, feeling pressure to engage in purging behaviors or having unhealthy thoughts about body weight and image. Instead of trying o ignore the warning signs, it is important you tell your OB/GYN immediately and seek help from a therapist. Recognizing warning signs and taking precautions to prevent dangerous behaviors is a mature sign that you are aware of what is going on with your mind and body. Seeking professional treatment if relapse does occur is necessary for both you and the baby.

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Center For Discovery Eating Disorder Program