• Eating disorders pregnancy risks to the baby include low birth weight, delayed fetal growth, abnormalities such as a cleft palate or cleft lip, respiratory distress of the baby immediately after birth, higher death possibility to the baby in the last trimester of pregnancy or within 1 month after birth and low Apgar scores.
•Eating disorder pregnancy Risks to both mother and baby include miscarriage, gestational diabetes, preeclampsia (toxemia), low amniotic fluid, placental separation, complications during labor (such as a breech birth), spontaneous abortion, and damage to the kidneys and heart.
• Actively restrictive pregnant anorexic women gain an average of 15.8 pounds during pregnancy, nearly 40% less than the 25 pounds that an average non-anorexic woman gains during pregnancy.
• Active bulimics gain an average of 5.7 pounds during pregnancy (almost 80% below average).
• The average birth weight of a baby born to an active purging anorexic is 4.9 pounds.
• A long-term Danish study discovered that prenatal mortality was nearly six times greater, and incidence of low-birth-weight babies twice as high, among women with anorexia than among non-anorexic mothers.
When Katie Harrison of Arroyo Grande, Calif., was in her second round of treatment for anorexia, she found out she was 10 weeks pregnant. She was only around 90 pounds and had to basically choose life for herself or her baby, or death for both. She chose to fight, and is now a happy, healthy mom to two girls.
It wasn't easy. Part of Harrison's vision of being a mom was "being a 'poster mom' – cute, skinny, perfect!" she says. "It was a constant struggle of doing what you know is right, and eating all that needs to be eaten, and then there is this voice constantly in the back of your mind telling you if you eat, you are going to gain too much weight, you will never be skinny, and basically be worthless. I know my pregnancy saved my life because without that baby in me that voice telling me not to eat would have taken over."
Harrison thinks it's really scary that "pregorexia"--and really any pregnancy eating disorders-- is happening so often. "I think it needs to be brought to light the dangers of what is happening to these babies while moms are starving themselves," she says. "I'm not surprised it's happening. At pregnancy checkups, so much is focused on your weight, whether you are gaining too much or too little. I was weighed backwards through both pregnancies and never knew my weight. If there was a problem, it was brought to my dietician, who then adjusted my meal plan. I think that is a great way for moms to deal with weight issues in pregnancy. They need to focus on eating healthy meals, not on what their weight is doing."
This thinking is not only dangerous, but also compromises much of the experience of having a new baby. Too rapid weight loss through restriction and/or purging can compromise breastfeeding. The focus on body and weight takes the focus off the bonding with your new baby. Worst of all, it greatly increases your chances of spiraling out of control with your eating disorder.
The weight will come off, in its own time. The key is to be very patient--don't panic. Realize that body and weight focus, as part of the eating disorder, is a method of coping with anxiety through distraction. New parenthood is filled with stress, but don't allow the eating disorder thinking to take over.
It is appropriate for the weight to take 9 months to a year to return to normal (it took that long to gain and should take that long to lose). If you intend to breastfeed for longer, you may notice 5-10 pounds is retained until weaning--this is part of hormone production.
The key is to listen to your hunger and fullness cues . If you eat when you are hungry (and you may find yourself even more hungry than while pregnant due to breastfeeding) and stop when you are full, you will be right on track. Best of all, this provides you the greatest chance to release yourself from the eating disorder after birth. Gradual weight loss to a normal level is much less likely to trigger dangerous eating disordered thinking than rapid, drastic weight loss.
You owe it to yourself and your baby to do things right during your eating disorder pregnancy and with your eating disorder after birth. You cannot get that time back. If you waste it on body and weight focus, you will regret it. The bond with your baby and the memories of this time are far more important than any number on the scale.
Contact us with any questions about eating and mental health issues. You or someone you know may be in need of outpatient eating disorder treatment.