Bulimia is an eating disorder that affects mostly women. It is becoming more and more common in western cultures.
Bulimia is dangerous, causing both physical and psychological issues. But during a pregnancy the eating disorder harms not only the health of the mother, but also the health of the baby.
Bulimia does cause irregular or absent periods. This is because of the altered nutritional patterns that affect these women.
However, researchers don’t think that this affects the chances of a woman to get pregnant after she may recover from bulimia. But during pregnancy bulimic eating disorders can result in these conditions:
High blood pressure in the mother
Low birth weight in the child
Low Apgar scores (tests done immediately after birth to determine the health of the baby)
The effect of bulimia on pregnancy is far reaching, well beyond the initial 9 months.
Puts Baby at Risk
Interestingly, statistics show that there are about 15% of pregnant women who suffer from an eating disorder and approximately 80% express dissatisfaction with their bodies. Bulimia and binge eating are the most common eating disorders.
An eating disorder during pregnancy puts the baby at a higher risk of developing a number of medical disorders. The baby can suffer from lack of nutrition or stress that is caused by the eating disorder.
Women who have recovered from bulimia also have higher risk pregnancies but without the risk of lack of nutrition. The most common effect of bulimia on pregnancy is the increased risk of low birth weight and preterm labor.
The lack of nutrition that the mother receives translates to lack of nutrition for the developing baby. This places the baby at greater risk for respiratory distress and illnesses.
These babies also have a 35% increased risk of coronary death and are 6 times more likely to develop diabetes later in life.
Decreased Calcium Intake
During binging and purging the mother has a risk of decreased calcium intake.
During the pregnancy the baby takes calcium from the mother’s body to develop it’s own bones. This lack of calories and calcium will increase the risk of osteoporosis as the woman grows older.
The effect of bulimia on pregnancy can also result in babies who develop cerebral palsy, liver disorders, cleft palate, blindness and other physical disabilities. The lack of nutrition also places a baby at greater risk for lowered IQ, learning disabilities and mood disorders.
Bulimia in pregnancy will also add to any existing physical problems. If the mother isn’t eating enough she have a risk of becoming weak and have difficulty with breathing, walking and doing daily tasks.
Internal Organ Damage
Women with bulimia can also suffer from heart damage, liver and kidney damage that will become worse during a pregnancy that is affected by bulimia. Placental abruption and breech birth are also more common among women with an eating disorder.
Pregnancy is normally a very stressful and emotional time. When that stress is compounded by an eating disorder the woman is at greater risk for depression and post-partum depression.
Another effect of bulimia on pregnancy is that some mothers will purposely under feed the baby because they become increasingly concerned about the size and shape of the baby.
Some women find that their symptoms improve during a pregnancy because they can’t imagine starving their baby. However, without help these women will return to their previous ‘dieting’ habits and their eating disorders.
For More Information:
Norwegian Institute of Public health: Pregnant Women with Bulimia Have More Anxiety and Depression
Womens Health: Bulimia Nervosa Fact Sheet
Vanderbilt University: Eating Disorders and pregnancy
American Pregnancy: Pregnancy and Eating Disorders
British Journal Psychiatry: Bulimia Nervosa: The Impact of Pregnancy on Mother and Baby
BabyCentre: Eating Disorder in Pregnancy
Bulimia Help: Bulimia and Pregnancy: What You Need to Know