Pregnancy and Bulimia

Posted by on Nov 30, 2018 in Diseases & Dysfunctions |

Pregnancy and Bulimia

With some seven million American women suffering each year from eating disorders, the question of how bulimia can affect pregnancy is a topic of concern for many people. Bulimia is a condition in which a woman obsessively alternates between binge eating and using self-induced vomiting or laxatives to purge the food from her body. The physiological effects of this pattern of behavior can affect a woman’s fertility, and should she become pregnant, can pose an extreme health risk to both her and her baby.

If a woman with bulimia wishes to manage her disorder with the hope of becoming pregnant, she should work closely with her doctor or a specialist in the field of eating disorders. Twelve-step recovery groups, similar to the model best known in the form of Alcoholics Anonymous have proven remarkably efficacious in assisting women with eating disorders to cope with the emotional and mental aspects of their illness. Full treatment of an eating disorder is not a matter only of attending to the physiological aspects, but of the underlying psychological compulsion as well. This is where a twelve-step program or other form of counseling can come into play, helping the patient to change her behaviors and her habits of thought.

While counseling or group therapy helps her to change her inclinations, she must also work (preferably in close concert with her doctor) on achieving and maintaining a sufficiently healthy state of body before attempting to conceive. Ideally, she should no longer be engaging in any purging behavior, and she should achieve and hold a healthy weight (as approved by her doctor) before trying to get pregnant. A nutritionist can help her get started on a healthy diet for pregnancy, with the appropriate vitamins and supplements, as well as sufficient caloric intake.

Barring any other fertility problems, her arrival at a healthy weight is likely to remove any of the impediments to conception which might have been present while she was actively engaging in purging behavior. Excessively low body weight can result in hormonal irregularities and missed periods that make it difficult to get pregnant. As the body returns to a normal state, however, most women’s fertility also returns to normal.

Once she has become pregnant, the bulimic woman should continue her counseling or group therapy, and keep her prenatal visits as scheduled by her physician. It is important that every health care provider who works with her is aware of her history with eating disorder. She may struggle more than the average woman in keeping to the healthy amount of weight gain, but it is certainly possible to keep in good health. This is particularly true of women who avail themselves of all ready resources, including the ongoing services of a nutritionist and counselor.

Women with eating disorders are at a higher risk for post-partum depression than the population of new mothers in general. They may also have greater difficulty than usual with breastfeeding, although this can be helped with the assistance of a lactation consultant. It may also be a psychological help to her to recognize the ways in which breastfeeding can help a new mother to take off the “baby weight” of a pregnancy.

It is important for precautions to be taken before pregnancy, because active bulimia can pose the most severe of health risks to both the mother and child if it is not treated. Poor nutrition, combined in some cases with the use of laxative drugs, can affect the development of the fetus or result in miscarriage or premature delivery. A woman who seeks treatment for her eating disorder will be doing her baby a favor, as well as possibly saving her own life.