If you struggle or have a history of struggling with an eating disorder, pregnancy can present a multitude of triggers and complications. The impending weight gain and body changes that are necessary to nourish your growing baby can be extremely problematic and disconcerting for someone who has spent so much time and energy avoiding weight gain.
Over 30 million people in the United States’ general population will struggle with an eating disorder and body image issues at some point in their lives. People with an active eating disorder or those in recovery often use behaviors such as restricting, binging, purging or over-exercising to numb or avoid intense emotions and regain a sense of control over perceived chaos and unpredictability. Many people wonder if things like anorexia nervosa can cause infertility, or how they will cope with their disordered eating once they get pregnant. This is normal and it’s important to speak with your healthcare provider about these feelings and eating disorder behaviors.
Post Eating Disorder, Pregnancy and The Scale
For many of my clients, pregnancy and the postpartum period can be a time of immense stress. Not only due to drastic body changes, but also as they grapple with fears about parenthood and the uncertainty that awaits. The weigh-ins at the doctor’s office might be the first time a woman in recovery has seen her body weight in numbers in years. I talk to my clients about preparing for body image concerns ahead of time. The scale will be going up, and that is OK. Speak with your OBGYN, obstetrician or healthcare professional about how you want to communicate your body weight. You may prefer to do blind weigh-ins and opt to just be informed of your general weight trends—weight gain or weight loss.
The weigh-ins at the doctor’s office might be the first time a woman in recovery has been on the scale in years.
For others post-eating disorder, pregnancy and postpartum are times of healing and change. You may find the strength to let go of the eating disorder when you realize the way you manage your eating behaviors and food intake and your own body is not congruent with the messages you want to pass along to your baby. For some pregnant women, pregnancy is a much-needed shift away from the mental health state of “How does my body look?” It is a time they shift to a mindset of “Look at what my body can do!” After recovery from eating disorders, like bulimia nervosa, pregnancy can be challenging. I encourage you to embrace the later mentality and work to accept your changing body shape, even if it’s just a little bit.
Self-care During Pregnancy and Postpartum
There are many ways to mother yourself through pregnancy and postpartum. Especially if you struggle or have struggled with an eating disorder. Here are my top strategies:
- Get help with your eating disorder pre pregnancy. Having some time in recovery prior to getting pregnant is the best way to set yourself up for a successful healthy pregnancy. Ensuring you gain weight and change your eating habits also helps with your baby being healthy and avoiding low birth weight and being high risk.
- Have a postpartum support plan. This may look like a team of health care professionals who have experience treating eating disorders, binge eating disorders and dieting including a therapist, dietitian, and physician. By doing so, you may be able to avoid postpartum depression.
- Be open and honest with your support system about your struggles. Bring them into the conversation so they know what to look out for and how to best support you and your mental illness with treatment options if necessary.
- Find time for self-care. Set aside time to eat regular meals, stay connected to friends and family members and find ways to get your own needs met.
Weight gain and physical changes can feel uncomfortable for all women and affect their self esteem, even those who haven’t struggled with an eating disorder. It’s important to be at a healthy weight while TTC. Being underweight can be a contributor to fertility issues, and gaining body weight can boost fertility. Additionally, gaining weight throughout pregnancy is essential to your baby’s development. So, enlist your support team, and talk about your eating disorder symptoms, struggles and concerns. Make a plan and mother yourself.