Eating disorders during pregnancy directly threaten the health of pregnant women and fetuses. This condition can cause many health problems during pregnancy and increase obstetric complications, experts say. The only way to prevent the consequences of the disease is early detection and treatment.
What is an eating disorder during pregnancy?
Pregnancy is a very special period for every woman. The physical and mental transformations create new experiences that have never existed before. During pregnancy, mothers can feel the changes of the fetus and the extremely close bond between mother and baby.
Weight gain is one of the most common changes in pregnant women. However, for pregnant women with eating disorders, weight gain can cause excessive fear and anxiety. An eating disorder is not simply an unscientific eating habit but a mental illness. It is characterized by disturbances in emotions, thoughts (thoughts) and behaviors related to eating, body shape and weight.
Eating disorders can affect anyone from children to adults. In particular, the risk of disease is higher in women and especially high during pregnancy. A Karolinska Institute study of 1.2 million mothers who gave birth between 2003 and 2014 showed that there were about 3,400 people with unspecified eating disorders (ENDOS), 1,400 with bulimia and 2,800 with bulimia. mental anorexia. Some other studies done also show that about 5-8% of pregnant women face eating disorders.
Eating disorders significantly affect physical and mental health. In pregnant women, this disease also causes many other serious effects such as severe morning sickness, babies born with microcephaly, premature birth, etc. In addition, eating disorders during pregnancy also increase complications. obstetric complications and cause many health problems for pregnant women.
Signs of eating disorders during pregnancy
Eating disorders have many different manifestations and are divided into many different types. Pregnant women often experience forms of eating disorders such as anorexia nervosa, bulimia, Pica syndrome, and other eating disorders.
Warning signs of eating disorders in pregnant women:
- Tolerating too much or too little food results in high or low weight.
- Excessive worry about appearance, fear of gaining weight and constantly looking at yourself in the mirror. Pregnant women with eating disorders always think that they are overweight and need to lose weight to not become ugly in the eyes of others.
- Constantly asking questions about your weight and body shape with people around you (usually close people).
- Uncomfortable eating with other people.
- Unstable health, often morning sickness, fatigue and lack of vitality throughout pregnancy.
Most patients with eating disorders try to hide their abnormalities and have a habit of eating alone so that others around do not notice their extreme eating behavior. In addition to the warning signs above, pregnant women with an eating disorder may experience other symptoms depending on the type of eating disorder.
Anorexia nervosa during pregnancy:
- Characterized by extreme thinking about appearance and weight. People with this disease always yearn for themselves to have a slim, slim body and are very afraid of gaining weight.
- Limit the maximum amount of food tolerable during the day to the point that the body has severe weight loss and is pale and weak.
- Carefully calculate the calories in each food to minimize weight gain. Usually, people with anorexia nervosa eat only a very small amount of food and the food is mainly vegetables, very rarely use foods containing a lot of sugar and starch.
- Some people with anorexia nervosa have food-rejection behaviors such as self-induced vomiting, dieting, or excessive exercise. This condition occurs in about 30-50% of cases.
- Pregnant women with anorexia nervosa often worry about weight gain and obesity. If left untreated, these negative emotions can develop into many psychological problems such as anxiety disorders, depression, stress, etc.
Binge eating disorder:
- In contrast to anorexia nervosa, bulimia is characterized by repeated episodes of bulimia. Binge eating is a condition in which large amounts of food are tolerated in a short period of time, even though there is no extreme hunger. During bulimia, the person feels out of control and cannot stop his or her eating behavior.
- People with binge eating disorder do not perform elimination behaviors such as dieting, excessive exercise, self-induced vomiting, etc., so their weight is usually higher than average.
- Binge eating disorder can cause many health problems for pregnant women such as gestational diabetes, high blood pressure, etc. These health problems can increase obstetric complications and significantly affect the health of the fetus. fetal development.
- People with binge eating disorder are also often overly concerned with body shape and weight. After bouts of bulimia, people feel ashamed, depressed, and guilty about their eating behavior.
Bulimia (Bulimia bulimia):
- Binge eating disorder is similar to binge eating disorder.
- The patient also exhibits bulimia, tolerates large amounts of food in a short time, and cannot control his or her behavior.
- However, people with this condition often engage in elimination behaviors following episodes of bulimia such as self-induced vomiting, use of laxatives, diuretics, diet, and excessive exercise.
- Due to the elimination behavior in parallel with the binge eating, the patient has an average or just above average weight.
- Similar to other eating disorders, people with bulimia worry a lot about their appearance and weight. Patients always think that they need to lose weight even though the weight is not really high.
- Patients always feel ashamed, miserable and depressed before unhealthy eating habits. However, during bulimia episodes, the patient has almost no control over his own eating behavior.
Pica syndrome (bad eating syndrome):
- Pica syndrome is an eating disorder that occurs mainly in pregnant women and children.
- People with this disease have cravings for things that are not food such as hair, dirt, peeling paint, buttons, chalk, clay, etc.
- Cravings urge pregnant women to eat things other than food, despite being aware that this behavior can put themselves at risk.
In addition to the above common eating disorders, some pregnant women may experience other forms such as:
- Night eating syndrome
- Elimination (purification) disorder
- Other atypical eating disorders
Causes of eating disorders during pregnancy
Eating disorders are one of the most common mental disorders. The prevalence of this disease is always high, ranging from 5 to 10% of the world population. Although it has been studied for a long time, experts still have not found the exact cause of eating disorders.
During pregnancy, hormonal changes and nutritional deficiencies are factors that increase the risk of eating disorders. In addition, a history of eating disorders or other psychological or psychiatric disorders also increases the likelihood of the disease.
Several factors can increase the risk of an eating disorder:
- Nutritional deficiencies: During pregnancy, nutritional needs increase, causing pregnant women to have to add a variety of foods to provide adequate nutrients for the body and fetus. Malnutrition can promote binge eating and binge eating. In addition, zinc and iron deficiency during pregnancy has also been shown to increase the risk of Pica syndrome.
- Heredity: Heredity is one of the factors that are associated with eating disorders, but the role is not really clear. However, experts found that the risk increased significantly if the mother and sister had an eating disorder during pregnancy.
- Hormonal changes: The physical changes during pregnancy can cause a certain amount of stress for the expectant mother. In addition, sensitive psychology also makes pregnant women face stress and anxiety. This will increase levels of the stress hormone cortisol. The increase of cortisol is considered a favorable factor leading to unhealthy eating behaviors such as overeating, anorexia, self-rejection behavior, bad eating, etc.
- History of eating disorders: Eating disorders often have a onset in adolescence and early adulthood. People with a history of this disease are more likely to relapse during pregnancy due to the influence of hormones. If you have ever had an eating disorder, you should talk to your doctor for close monitoring and timely intervention.
- There are psychological and mental problems: Extreme eating behaviors, distorted thinking about beauty, body shape, etc. in eating disorders stem from mental stress and related disorders. psychologically concerned. Therefore, the risk of disease will increase significantly in pregnant women with depression, anxiety disorders, bipolar disorder.
- Negative experiences in the past: Psychologists say that negative experiences in the past can be a driving factor leading to extreme eating behavior in the present. Pregnant women are at high risk of developing an eating disorder if they have ever been obese, ostracized, talked about their looks, betrayed by their fat body after giving birth, etc.
The factors mentioned above are the causes leading to abnormalities in eating behavior, distorted thinking about beauty and body shape. In addition, there are also cases of eating disorders that are pre-existing and persist until pregnancy. To ensure a healthy pregnancy, experts recommend getting this condition under control before deciding to have a baby.
Effects of eating disorders during pregnancy
Eating disorders are one of the most serious and life-threatening mental illnesses. In fact, most psychological and psychiatric disorders increase suicidal behavior. People with moderate eating disorders face negative mental and physical effects. Therefore, the risk of death and disability due to this disease is often higher than that of common psychological disorders.
It can be said that nutrition during pregnancy directly affects the health of pregnant women and fetuses. If you maintain extreme eating behaviors, both mother and baby will face severe consequences. After excluding factors such as pregnancy at an advanced age, smoking, drug use, etc., experts found that eating disorders increase health problems in the fetus. period.
Serious effects and complications related to eating disorders during pregnancy:
- Increased risk of preterm birth: Eating disorders increase the risk of preterm birth and the rates are different for each type of eating disorder. Among them, the risk of preterm birth increased by 60% due to anorexia nervosa, 30% due to bulimia nervosa, and 40% due to other eating disorders.
- Causes health problems for pregnant women: Extreme eating behavior during pregnancy increases the risk of problems such as anemia, overweight, high blood pressure, gestational diabetes and depression. In addition, eating disorders also aggravate morning sickness and cause sleep problems.
- Effects on the health of the fetus: Pregnant mothers with eating disorders cause fetal growth retardation, increasing the risk of congenital malformations, abnormalities in neurological development, etc. Research shows that children born to mothers with mental disorders will have many problems in the development process.
- Increased pregnancy complications: Eating disorders during pregnancy can increase pregnancy complications such as premature birth, miscarriage, abnormal bleeding, etc. In addition, the risk of obstetric complications also increases. significantly with an eating disorder.
- Suicidal behavior: Eating disorders are accompanied by emotional abnormalities such as guilt, pessimism, anxiety, and fear about weight gain. If left untreated, these negative emotions can develop into depression and anxiety disorders. In the worst case, pregnant women can commit suicide.
It can be seen that eating disorders during pregnancy cause extremely serious effects. Therefore, families need to pay special attention to pregnant women to promptly detect abnormal signs. Early detection will help pregnant women be examined, treated and can correct their own extreme eating behavior.
Treatments for eating disorders during pregnancy
Pregnancy is a time of many changes in the body – especially rapid weight gain. If you find yourself worrying too much about your weight, body shape and having unhealthy eating habits, you should seek help as soon as possible.
Changing extreme eating habits is not easy – especially when the behavior is rooted in emotional stress and trauma. However, some of the following measures will help pregnant women adjust negative habits and have a healthier diet.
Measures to be considered during the treatment of eating disorders during pregnancy:
Psychotherapy is the preferred treatment for eating disorders during pregnancy. This therapy does not use drugs and does not interfere with the body, so it is highly appreciated for its safety. Moreover, through psychotherapy, experts can change negative thoughts and behaviors in pregnant women. Thereby strengthening the correct perception of appearance, weight and helping pregnant women maintain a healthy diet for a long time.
For eating disorders, cognitive behavioral therapy is considered the most effective therapy. This therapy focuses on changing the perception (thoughts) of the patient, thereby helping to correct extreme behaviors such as anorexia, bulimia, and self-rejection.
In cognitive behavioral therapy, experts will also help pregnant women change distorted thinking about body shape. At the same time, accept the need to gain weight during pregnancy to ensure the health of yourself and the fetus. Pregnant women will also be instructed in emotional release skills and mental stability to be able to pass the pregnancy smoothly.
2. Drug use
Medication is not the first choice in the treatment of eating disorders in general and eating disorders during pregnancy in particular. However, this method will be considered if the pregnant mother shows signs of anxiety, stress, fear and depression.
Depending on the specific situation of each patient, the doctor may prescribe a number of antidepressants. Pregnant women with anorexia nervosa or Pica syndrome may have to take additional supplements, functional foods to provide nutrition to the body. In addition, a number of other medications are used to manage physical problems associated with eating disorders.
3. Support measures
To change extreme eating behaviors and distorted perceptions of body shape and weight is not easy. During pregnancy, treatment options are often very limited due to the potential risks to the fetus. For this reason, pregnant women should take additional supportive measures to control eating disorders during pregnancy.
Supportive measures to help manage eating disorders during pregnancy:
- Join groups of pregnant women who have had an eating disorder to gain more experience in the treatment process. More than anyone else, only those who have faced this disease really deeply understand the negative emotions that pregnant women are going through. Participating in these groups will give pregnant women the opportunity to share and talk.
- Equip knowledge about pregnancy, childbirth and child-rearing to be more proactive in taking care of yourself. In addition, useful knowledge will also help pregnant women reduce stress and anxiety. This can somewhat limit extreme eating behaviors – especially binge eating and binge eating.
- Talk to a nutritionist for advice on a scientific diet that provides enough nutrients for mother and baby but does not cause excessive weight gain.
- Try to maintain a healthy lifestyle throughout your pregnancy. Start with a balanced diet, make sure you sleep on time, get enough sleep, limit overwork, and exercise gently for 20-30 minutes a day.
- Pregnant women can participate in social activities, volunteering, or spend time on personal hobbies to relieve negative emotions related to eating disorders.
Prevention of eating disorders during pregnancy
As mentioned, the cause of eating disorders during pregnancy is unknown. Therefore, there is no way to completely prevent this disease. However, some of the following measures can minimize the risk of disease.
Measures to help prevent eating disorders during pregnancy:
- It is advisable to treat physical and mental health problems before becoming pregnant.
- Learn about the body’s changes during pregnancy before deciding to have children. Careful psychological preparation will help pregnant women reduce anxiety and worry about weight gain.
- Should build a scientific lifestyle before pregnancy to have a healthy pregnancy.
- Talk to your doctor if you or your family have had an eating disorder.
- Periodic antenatal check-ups and informing the doctor about changes in body shape, weight, thoughts, feelings, etc. to promptly detect abnormal problems.
Eating disorder during pregnancy is a serious mental disorder that directly affects the health of the pregnant mother and the fetus. If you suspect you have the disease, you should see a doctor as soon as possible. The support of a psychologist and nutritionist will help pregnant women overcome this disease to have a healthy pregnancy.