Pregnancy and Eating Disorders

Pregnancy and Eating Disorders

Eating disorders affect approximately seven million American women

each year and tend to peak during childbearing years. Pregnancy is

a time when body image concerns are more prevalent, and for those

who are struggling with an eating disorder, the nine months of pregnancy

can cause disorders to become more serious.

Two of the most common types of eating disorders are anorexia and

bulimia. Anorexia involves obsessive dieting or starvation to control

weight gain. Bulimia involves binge eating and vomiting or using laxatives

to rid the body of excess calories. Both types of eating disorders

may negatively affect the reproductive process and pregnancy.


a Nutritionist for healthy eating habits

How do eating disorders affect fertility?

Eating disorders, particularly anorexia, affect fertility by reducing

your chances of conceiving. Most women with anorexia do not have menstrual

cycles, and approximately 50% of women struggling with bulimia do

not have regular menstrual cycles. The absence of menstruation is caused

by reduced calorie intake, excessive exercise, and/or psychological

stress. If a woman is not having regular periods, getting pregnant

can be very challenging.

How do eating disorders affect pregnancy?

Eating disorders affect pregnancy in a number of ways.

The following complications are associated with eating disorders during


  • Premature labor
  • Low birth weight
  • Stillbirth or fetal death
  • Increased risk of cesarean birth
  • Delayed fetal growth
  • Respiratory problems
  • Gestational diabetes
  • Complications during labor
  • Depression
  • Miscarriage
  •  Preeclampsia

Women who are struggling with bulimia will often gain excess weight,

which places them at risk for hypertension. Women with eating disorders

have higher rates of postpartum depression and are more likely to

have problems with breastfeeding.

The laxatives, diuretics, and other medications taken may be harmful

to the developing baby. These substances take away nutrients and fluids

before they are able to feed and nourish the baby. It is possible

they may lead to fetal abnormalities as well, particularly if they

are used on a regular basis.

Reproductive Recommendations for Women With Eating Disorders:

If you are struggling with an eating disorder, getting help to overcome it is the best thing

you can do for your reproductive and pregnancy health. The majority of

women with eating disorders can have healthy babies if they have

normal weight gain throughout pregnancy.

Here are some suggested guidelines for women with eating disorders

who are trying to conceive or have discovered that they are pregnant:

  • Prior to Pregnancy:
    • Achieve and maintain a healthy weight.
    • Avoid purging.
    • Consult your health care provider fora pre-conception appointment.
    • Meet with a nutritionist and start ahealthy pregnancy diet, which may include prenatal vitamins.
    • Seek counseling to address your eatingdisorder and any underlying concerns; seek both individual andgroup therapy.
  • During Pregnancy:
    • Schedule a prenatal visit early in yourpregnancy and inform your health care provider that you havebeen struggling with an eating disorder.
    • Strive for healthy weight gain.
    • Eat well-balanced meals with all theappropriate nutrients.
    • Finda nutritionistwho can help you with healthy and appropraiteeating.
    • Avoid purging.
    • Seek counseling to address your eating disorder and any underlyingconcerns; seek both individual and group therapy.
  • After Pregnancy:
    • Continue counseling to improve physicaland mental health.
    • Inform your safe network (health careprovider, spouse, and friends) of your eating disorder and theincreased risk of postpartum depression; ask them to be available

      after the birth.

    • Contact a lactation consultant to helpwith early breastfeeding.
    • Finda nutritionistwho can help work with you to stay healthy,manage your weight, and invest in your baby.


Last Updated: 05/2011

Compiled using information from the following sources:

National Eating Disorders Association,


Eating Disorder Referral and Information Center,