“As a woman with an eating disorder, I don’t think that you can go into pregnancy and have them be two mutually exclusive things. Like one is going to impact the other.” ~ Melissa.

Pregnancy can be a challenging time for all women, but it is particularly so for women with eating disorders or a history of an eating disorder. This page is designed to provide information and resources on how to navigate the pregnancy and postpartum process while you heal and to ensure your baby’s health.

A Toxic Relationship: Eating Disorders and Violence

By Hattie Rowe
West Virginia University

Trigger Warning. Discussions of Intimate Partner Violence, Sexual Assault, and Eating Disorders*

You may have heard of the nature vs. nurture debate. Some people say that our genetics and biology are what make us who we are. Others say that our environment shapes us to create the person we are. Researchers have applied this theory to the development of eating disorders
Learn More

By Hattie Rowe
West Virginia University

Breastfeeding is a unique and personal choice for every woman. The decision whether or not to breastfeed should be made by the mother, and not by her eating disorder. Research has shown that women who experience eating disorders and body image issues are less likely to initiate breastfeeding and more likely to wean their child sooner than average (Micali et al., 2009; Zerwas & Claydon, 2014; Claydon et al., 2014). Learn More

Breastfeeding While in Recovery

Recognizing Body Shame & Fat Talk

By Elizabeth Claydon

Body shame comes in so many forms and can manifest itself internally or externally. With the many nuances involved in body shame, I thought it time that it was broken down into a more easily-understood graphic depicted above. Learn More

By Hattie Rowe
West Virginia University

Getting the individual help you need for eating concerns is an essential step in moving towards healing. However, seeking treatment close to you can be challenging. Depending on your location, options may be limited, but there are always services available that can offer help in some way. This post offers advice and tips on how to search for local eating disorder treatment options. Learn More

How to Search for Eating Disorder Resources in Your Area

Shifting the eating disorder voice during pregnancy

By Hattie Rowe
West Virginia University

Major changes in life can be stressful for anyone. But for women who have struggled with eating disorders, adapting to changes may look more difficult. People who suffer from an eating disorder have unhealthy coping strategies related to their body. Whether these life changes induce stress or excitement, adjusting to something new can elicit anxiety at the unknown. Learn More

Many women who are recovering from an eating disorder or still have an eating disorder are very concerned about their children picking up on their behaviors or modeling their eating. Additionally, given the complicated relationship that someone has with food whether they have an eating disorder or are recovered from one, it is challenging to figure out how best to talk about eating and weight with children. Learn More

Creating a healthy relationship with food for your child

Coping Strategies from women who have been there

Adjusting to all the changes that come with pregnancy can be a challenging process even for women without an eating disorder or history of an eating disorder. Women who have had eating disorders identified a few areas that helped them better cope with pregnancy so that they could improve the process for themselves and their baby. Learn More

Weight gain and body shape changes can be very daunting during pregnancy especially for women who have an eating disorder or eating disorder history. However, it can be helpful to understand how the weight is attributed to the baby and how it is distributed. Being able to connect that weight gain specifically to the baby or pregnancy components can help the woman reframe the weight gain positively. Learn More

Weight Gain Distribution

Options for Weighing

Since weight and body image concerns are areas of concern for pregnant and postpartum women with eating disorders, it’s important to know the options around weighing whether you’re a patient or a clinician. Clinicians make these decisions around weighing on a case-by-case basis or have a conversation about weighing preferences at an early prenatal appointment. Patients may want to review this list to determine what options they feel most comfortable with and then engage their clinician in a conversation about their preference. Learn More

Relevant Blog Posts

A Perfect Storm

A Perfect Storm

A Perfect Storm

By: Hannah Meeks

        Pregnancy, especially an unplanned one, can be a stressful time for women with eating disorders due to amplified feelings of body dissatisfaction and anxiety about gaining weight. This, coupled with a lack of support and screening from clinicians who may not understand the intersection of eating disorders and pregnancy, creates a perfect storm for women with eating disorders.
        While these unpleasant feelings normally dissipate to that of women without eating disorders after 18 weeks’ gestation, they can be even more overwhelming for women whose pregnancy is unplanned. Easter, Treasure and Micali (2011), notes that rates of unplanned pregnancy for women with eating disorders are higher than that for women without eating disorders, with women who have anorexia being twice as likely and women with bulimia being 30 times as likely to experience an unplanned pregnancy.
        Many women with eating disorders experience amenorrhea and oligomenorrhea and can incorrectly assume that also means they are infertile. Amenorrhea is characterized by the absence of a menstrual period for at least three months and is often seen in women with anorexia nervosa(Amenorrhea, 2019). Oligomenorrhea is characterized by infrequent menstrual periods and can be seen in women with both anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa. The belief that this reduces fertility is incorrect and can be one potential explanation for why rates of unplanned pregnancy are so high in these groups.
        Another possible explanation for these high rates of unplanned pregnancy among women with eating disorders could be an increased participation in risk-taking behaviors. Women with eating disorders may be more likely to engage in risky sexual behaviors such as a lack of using contraceptives such as condoms (Tabler & Geist, 2016). This coupled with an assumption of infertility can lead to greater risk for unplanned pregnancy.
        Eating disorders during pregnancy already pose health risks to both the mother and baby, and many women will often not disclose their ED status with healthcare providers. Therefore, it is necessary to become more aware not only of the signs of eating disorders in pregnant women but also how best to approach things like weight and weighing processes during visits in order to better support patients who may have an eating disorder. This is one of the reasons for establishing Healing Bodies Healthy Babies, to help provide resources to the women affected, clinicians, and even family members of women with eating disorders.

References

Amenorrhea. (2019, July 25). Retrieved from https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/amenorrhea/symptoms-causes/syc-20369299

Tabler, J., & Geist, C. (2016). Young Women with Eating Disorders or Disordered Eating Behaviors: Delinquency, Risky Sexual Behaviors, and Number of Children in Early Adulthood. SOCIUS, 2, 1-14. https://doi.org/10.1177/2378023116648706

Easter A, Treasure J, Micali N. Fertility and prenatal attitudes towards pregnancy in women with eating disorders: results from the Avon longitudinal study of parents and children. BJOG. 2011;118(12):149–8. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1471-0528.2011.03077.x.

A Toxic Relationship: Eating Disorders and Violence

A Toxic Relationship: Eating Disorders and Violence

A Toxic Relationship: Eating Disorders and Violence

By Hattie Rowe

West Virginia University

*Trigger Warning. Discussions of Intimate Partner Violence, Sexual Assault, and Eating Disorders*

You may have heard of the nature vs. nurture debate. Some people say that our genetics and biology are what make us who we are. Others say that our environment shapes us to create the person we are. Researchers have applied this theory to the development of eating disorders.

The roots and causes of eating disorders are a widely debated and researched subject. While there is evidence that a person’s genes can predispose them to an eating disorder, there is also evidence that shows how disordered eating problems could occur as a response to sexual abuse (Chen, et al., 2010).   

What is sexual violence? And what does it have to do with eating disorders?

Sexual violence means that “someone forces or manipulates someone else into unwanted sexual activity without their consent,” as defined by The Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN) (rainn.org).

Studies have shown a relationship of eating disorders forming as a result of sexual violence. Sexual violence can happen to anyone, but most frequently occurs to women between the ages of 18 to 34 (rainn.org). This is a similar age bracket to the average population of people with eating disorders, which typically affects women in their early teens into young adulthood (National Institute of Mental Health, 2016).

What is Intimate Partner Violence (IPV)?

Intimate partner violence (IPV), sometimes known as domestic violence, is a common

threat to men and women. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in the United States defines Intimate Partner Violence as: “abuse or aggression that occurs in a close relationship.” An intimate partner refers to both current and former spouses and dating partners (CDC, 2019). IPV can vary in how often it happens and how severe it is. “It can range from one episode of violence that could have lasting impact to chronic and severe episodes over multiple years.” (CDC, 2019)

Crimes committed by intimate partners often go unreported. As for the information that has been contributed to our base of knowledge over the years, the statistics offer alarming insights. Over half of reported female rape victims said that an intimate partner was responsible (CDC, 2011). Nine percent of homicides are committed by intimate partners (NCRJS, 2018). The psychological and behavioral consequences of these experiences are numerous. One of these consequences is that victims of IPV have reported experiencing disordered eating patterns (Wong et al., 2016).

Eating Disorder Effects

Use of food is a common coping mechanism used by victims of sexual violence. Strictly managing food intake is a way that a victim can feel in control over their body. Or possibly bingeing on large amounts of food falsely eases psychological burdens for a brief moment. Obsessions with food and body become a problem that impedes on the everyday life of a victim. 

Victims of sexual violence often undergo a process of healing physically and mentally. Due to the physical toll that eating disorders take on the body, eating disorders may cause a disruption in the healing process. 

Physical consequences of eating disorders include, but are not limited to:

  • Tooth decay
  • Sore throat
  • Sleep problems
  • Lowered sex hormones
  • Dropped body temperature
  • Constipation
  • Stomach rupture
  • Esophagus rupture
  • Bone loss
  • Decrease in white blood cell count 

The mental effects of sexual violence and IPV can include:

  • Eating disorders
  • Trauma
  • Depression
  • Dissociation 
  • Sleep disorders 
  • And more 

Getting professional care for the psychological effects of abuse is just as important as

healing from physical abuse. This can help prevent the onset of eating disorders and other mental health problems that occur as a result of sexual abuse. Seeking helpful services can include receiving trauma informed care/practice and becoming aware of resources for eating disorders, IPV, and sexual violence available in your area.

Pregnancy and Abuse

A 2015 study found that women who have eating disorders are at an increased risk for IPV during pregnancy (Kothari, 2015). Further research is needed on this subject, but it is important to note that rates of perinatal IPV range from 3.7% to 9% and are associated with mental and physical problems for both the parent and child (Hahn, Gilmore, Aguayo, and Rheingold, 2019). Sometimes pregnancy may occur from reproductive coercion. For instance, if one partner wants to have a child and the other does not. Pregnancy can also occur as a result of sexual assault.

Whether it was an isolated event, or if your partner is currently or has a history of being abusive, it is important to have a plan moving forward. Making a plan for maintaining good physical and mental health during pregnancy is crucial. The changes happening to the body and healing after sexual violence are a lot to handle at once. Preparing helps keep you focused on your goals throughout and after your pregnancy and also can help keep you and your baby safe. 

Visit https://www.thehotline.org/is-this-abuse/pregnancy-abuse/ for detailed information on safety plans during pregnancy.

Resources for help: 

  • National Sexual Assault Hotline: 1 (800) 656-HOPE (4673)
  • National Domestic Violence Hotline: 1 (800) 799-7233
  • National Eating Disorder Helpline: 1 (800) 931-2237

References

Black, M. C., Basile, K. C., Breiding, M. J., Smith, S .G., Walters, M. L., Merrick, M. T., Stevens, M.

  1. (2011). The National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey (NISVS): 2010 

summary report. Retrieved from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 

National Center for Injury Prevention and Control:

http://www.cdc.gov/ViolencePrevention/pdf/NISVS_Report2010-a.pdf

Brewerton, T.D., Alexander, J., Schaefer, J. (2018). Trauma-informed care and practice for eating disorders: Personal and professional perspectives of lived experiences. Eating and Weight Disorders, epub ahead of print.

https://www.cdc.gov/violenceprevention/intimatepartnerviolence/fastfact.html

Chen, L.P., Murad, H., Paras, M.L., Colbenson, K.M., Sattler, A.L., Goranson, E.N., … Zirakzadeh, A. (2010). Sexual abuse and lifetime diagnosis of psychiatric disorders: Systematic review and meta-analysis. Mayo Clinic Proceedings, 85(7), 618-629. 

Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, Bureau of Justice Statistics, National Crime

Victimization Survey, 2018 (2019).

https://www.thehotline.org/is-this-abuse/pregnancy-abuse/

Christine K Hahn, Amanda K. Gilmore, Rosaura Orengo Aguayo, Alyssa A. Rheingold. (2018). 

Perinatal Intimate Partner Violence. Obstetrics and Gynecology Clinics of North America,

45(3): 535–547. doi: 10.1016/j.ogc.2018.04.008

https://www.nationaleatingdisorders.org/health-consequences

https://www.nationaleatingdisorders.org/help-support/contact-helpline

https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/topics/eating-disorders/index.shtml

https://www.rainn.org/about-rainns-statistics

https://www.rainn.org/articles/eating-disorders

Breastfeeding While in Recovery

Breastfeeding While in Recovery

Breastfeeding While in Recovery

By Hattie Rowe
West Virginia University

Breastfeeding is a unique and personal choice for every woman. The decision whether or not to breastfeed should be made by the mother, and not by her eating disorder. Research has shown that women who experience eating disorders and body image issues are less likely to initiate breastfeeding and more likely to wean their child sooner than average (Micali et al., 2009; Zerwas & Claydon, 2014; Claydon et al., 2014). (more…)

Recognizing Body Shame & Fat Talk

Recognizing Body Shame & Fat Talk

Recognizing Body Shame & Fat Talk

By Elizabeth Claydon

Body shame comes in so many forms and can manifest itself internally or externally. With the many nuances involved in body shame, I thought it time that it was broken down into a more easily-understood graphic depicted above. (more…)

How to tell your doctor

How to tell your doctor

How to tell your Doctor

Telling your doctor, nurse, or other healthcare professional about your eating disorder (whether past or present) can feel overwhelming. Often, it might have been a secret that you have kept from even those closest to you. However, it is important that your clinicians have all the information about your medical history so that they can help you during and after your pregnancy. (more…)

Options for Weighing

Options for Weighing

Options for Weighing

Since weight and body image concerns are areas of concern for pregnant and postpartum women with eating disorders, it’s important to know the options around weighing whether you’re a patient or a clinician. Clinicians make these decisions around weighing on a case-by-case basis or have a conversation about weighing preferences at an early prenatal appointment. Patients may want to review this list to determine what options they feel most comfortable with and then engage their clinician in a conversation about their preference. (more…)

Weight Gain Distribution

Weight Gain Distribution

Weight Gain Distribution

Weight gain and body shape changes can be very daunting during pregnancy especially for women who have an eating disorder or eating disorder history. However, it can be helpful to understand how the weight is attributed to the baby and how it is distributed. Being able to connect that weight gain specifically to the baby or pregnancy components can help the woman reframe the weight gain positively. (more…)

Creating a healthy relationship with food for your child

Creating a healthy relationship with food for your child

Creating a healthy relationship with food for your child

Many women who are recovering from an eating disorder or still have an eating disorder are very concerned about their children picking up on their behaviors or modeling their eating. Additionally, given the complicated relationship that someone has with food whether they have an eating disorder or are recovered from one, it is challenging to figure out how best to talk about eating and weight with children. (more…)

Coping strategies from women who have been there

Coping strategies from women who have been there

Coping Strategies from Women who have been there

Adjusting to all the changes that come with pregnancy can be a challenging process even for women without an eating disorder or history of an eating disorder. Women who have had eating disorders identified a few areas that helped them better cope with pregnancy so that they could improve the process for themselves and their baby. (more…)

Patient Quotes (all names are pseudonyms to protect the women’s real identities)

I’m a very instinct and driven person, so like once that whole like mama bear instinct took over, it was sort of like an inner fight between eating disorder and mama bear mindset. ~ Amelia, mother of one

You have to keep telling yourself over and over you know … this isn’t about you anymore like it’s never going to be about you again; it’s about this child. ~ Amelia, mother of one

I used to take like days off eating if I had a bad day … But it was like, you can’t do that anymore because it’s gonna, it’s gonna hurt your child and like to me like, that was super, super important … I was doing something I didn’t want to do for what is considered the greater good. ~ Amelia, mother of one

As a woman with an eating disorder, I don’t think that you can go into pregnancy and have them be two mutually exclusive things. Like one is going to impact the other. ~ Melissa

She was just very much loved and wanted and even though I couldn’t help but go through the exact same pattern. ~ Charlotte, mother of three

Although again, you know, when you’re gaining weight in pregnancy, it feels like it’s for a positive reason. ~ Rose

You don’t want to not eat because if you don’t eat then your baby’s not getting nutrition. It’s more than just about you at that stage. ~ Ruby