Eating disorders during pregnancy pose a risk to both mother and baby. Some experts hypothesize that one in twenty women suffer an eating disorder while pregnant. Unfortunately, eating disorders are infrequently discussed at routine OB appointments, though they have been deemed by a 2014 Norwegian Review of eating disorders as “relatively common.”
Eating Disorders During Pregnancy and Postpartum
While pregnancy is a highly vulnerable time for many mothers, the postpartum period presents equal challenges to those with a genetic or temperamental predisposition for, or history of, eating disorder. It is important that we challenge some of the stigmas new mothers feel when struggling with eating disordered behaviors to ensure full-rounded pre and postnatal care, both mentally and physically.
Many new mothers hide their eating disorder for a number of reasons, including fear of judgment from others and shame. In a recent Refinery 29 article, mother Anna Davies writes, “As a single mom, I already felt like I was under so much scrutiny. I didn’t want my OB to think I couldn’t handle the challenge.” Some women report that their refusal to share their symptoms with a doctor or loved one is as a result of their own shame. They may feel as though struggling with an illness suggests an impaired ability to mother or a lack of self-control. In reality, there is no association between a postpartum eating disorder and a deficit of any sort. Hiding disordered eating behaviors will serve only to exacerbate symptoms and leave a new mother feeling increasingly isolated.
Celebrities “Bouncing Back” After Pregnancy
What appears to be a dangerous new trend is a media focus on celebrities “bouncing back” from their pregnancies. Media outlets worldwide have been known to praise models, actors, and celebrities for how swiftly they returned to post-baby weight and made their red-carpet debut. There is no shortage of similar posts on fitness blogs, where post-baby body journeys are chronicled. While comments like these appear complementary in nature, they are sending messages to women worldwide that there is an expectation to return to a post-baby body in short order.
For many women, these seemingly innocent comments on award shows or social media platforms have great impact. It may be challenging for a new mom, feeling this societal pressure, to recognize the presence of disordered eating behaviors. It is important that transparency with an OB is maintained throughout the pre and postnatal periods, especially for those women who have a history of an eating disorder.
The stress associated with new motherhood paired with a societal pressure to bounce-back can feel insurmountable. Anna Davies goes on to speak to this point: “It wasn’t until my daughter, Lucy, was six months old that I felt the urge again. And while I wasn’t 100 percent satisfied with my post-baby body, the urge was anchored in so much more than body image. I liked the control I felt when I purged; liked the feeling of an empty stomach. I never binged; my purges could occur after any meal or no meal at all. I was stressed about making money, stressed about finding a job, stressed about being a good parent.”
Seeking and accepting help is just one part of being a parent. As a community, we must continue to challenge any stigmas that prevent women from seeking pre and postnatal treatment for eating disorder and promote swift recovery.
Feeling like you need someone in your corner? Reach out to the team at Columbus Park for help.