Eating Disorders | Obstetrics | Dartmouth-Hitchcock
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Eating Disorders

An eating disorder is more than just an unhealthy diet; it is an unhealthy relationship with food. It usually begins for women in high school or young adulthood.

The most common eating disorders affecting women

  • Anorexia: starvation to 15 percent or more below normal weight
  • Compulsive overeating
  • Bingeing: eating even when not hungry, usually resulting in an overweight condition
  • Bulimia: bingeing and purging, or getting rid of food by vomiting, laxative use, restrictive diets, or excessive exercise

Impact on pregnancy

  • Amenorrhea (not having periods, and therefore not ovulating) is common to anorexics, so in severe cases, women will not be able to conceive spontaneously.
  • Anorexic women who are underweight and/or who do not gain adequate weight in pregnancy are at risk for having small and unhealthy babies.
  • Mothers' bodies, particularly their bones, will suffer without the right nutrition.
  • There is a risk of sudden death from chemical imbalance and heart problems.
  • Women who are overweight and/or who gain too much weight in pregnancy are more at risk for developing complications such as high blood pressure, gestational diabetes, and overgrown babies.
  • Women with eating disorders are at risk of depression.
  • Women who suffer from present or past eating disorders will often have more difficulty accepting common symptoms of pregnancy, such as:
    • Bodily sensations: nausea, vomiting, fatigue, bloating
    • Physical changes: weight gain, larger breasts and abdomen
    • Changing body image and a preoccupation with weight

Health care in pregnancy

  • It is important that you be open with your doctor or midwife about food, weight, and body image, so that you can get the support you need.
  • An early counseling session with a nutritionist experienced in eating disorders is important to formulate a plan for healthy eating and weight gain during your pregnancy.
  • Individual counseling or support programs such as those listed below may be helpful.
  • Allowing yourself to be weighed provides your doctor or midwife with important information. You do not have to be told your weight.

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