How Eating Disorders Affect Pregnancy and Birth

What you eat and how you eat is very important when you're pregnant - for the sake of your health and your unborn baby's health. Image by earl 53.

What you eat and how you eat is very important when you’re pregnant – for the sake of your health and your unborn baby’s health. Image by earl 53.

Many women are, at some point, concerned about their bodies and the weight they gain during pregnancy. Of those women, most are able to push their concerns aside as they steadily gain weight throughout the process. The average-sized woman goes on to gain 25-35 pounds during pregnancy, based on recommendations by her health care provider. What begins as a slow weight gain at first typically increases to an average of a pound per week as the weeks progress. For some women, this weight gain, or even the potential for it, is cause for great distress.

Eating Disorders During Pregnancy

About seven million American women suffer from eating disorders annually, many of whom are in their childbearing years, according to American Pregnancy. While not all women who have suffered from an eating disorder exhibit symptoms during pregnancy, some do. Anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa and binge eating disorder are the three most common disorders.

Some women find that their pregnancy is a motivator for freedom from their disorder, while for others it serves as a trigger. The lead author of the recent study, Reproductive Healthy Outcomes in Eating Disorders, Dr. Milla S. Linna, tells Decoded Pregnancy, a “major proportion of otherwise healthy women experience some worry related to weight gain and their changing body during pregnancy and post-postpartum period, and food cravings and fluctuations in eating patterns are physiological during these periods. On the other hand, adequate nutrition and weight gain are crucial for fetal development.”

Complications: Eating Disorders Affect Your Pregnancy

Contrary to prior beliefs, eating disorder sufferers are often able to conceive in spite of health problems associated with their disorders, though they are at higher risk for pregnancy complications, many of which are serious.

Reproductive Healthy Outcomes in Eating Disorders explores those health outcomes in greater depth. What Dr. Linna found most surprising was that there is a “high proportion of pregnancies ending in miscarriage among women with binge eating disorder.” 

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Dr. Linna and her colleagues found, among other things, that nearly 47% of women who suffered from Binge Eating Disorder (BED) during pregnancy experienced a miscarriage, as opposed to 23% of women in the control group. 

Pregnant eating disorder sufferers often slip through the health care system undetected, making this an alarming issue. Because many women experience morning sickness during the first trimester, and some throughout their entire pregnancies, women may blame their vomiting or calorie restrictions on upset stomachs.

If undetected, eating disorders contribute to many serious complications for both mothers and babies. Complications in babies can include low birth weight, premature birth and stillbirth. Mothers with eating disorders are more likely to experience miscarriages, difficult deliveries, preterm labor, gestational diabetes and postpartum depression, among other symptoms.

Manage Your Eating Disorder

If you have an eating disorder, talk to your doctor. Although it is ideal that moms get their eating disorders under control before getting pregnant, it doesn’t always work out that way. “Early recognition, effective treatment and long-term monitoring of eating disorders is crucial for optimizing reproductive health outcomes among these women.” Dr. Linna tells Decoded Pregnancy. She continues by saying that because pregnancy can present extra challenges for women with past or current eating disorders; they will need enhanced support throughout pregnancy, preferably with those who specialize in disorders.


Linna M., Raevouri A., Haukka J., Suvisaari J., Suokas J., Gissler M. Reproductive Health Outcomes in Eating Disorders. (2013). International Journal of Eating Disorders. Accessed November 19, 2013.

Web MD. Gain Weight Safely During Your Pregnancy. Accessed November 19, 2013.

American Pregnancy Association. Pregnancy and Eating Disorders(2011). Accessed November 19, 2013.


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