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Infertility and eating disorders

It is perhaps not surprising that women who have an eating disorder, or a history of one, may face difficulty conceiving. Eating disorders have long been associated with infertility, due to the drastic weight changes and hormonal imbalances associated with the disorder. Researchers from King’s College and the University College London have examined data from surveys of more than 11,000 pregnant women, including about 500 with a history of anorexia, bulimia or both conditions. This is the largest study of its kind in the UK and findings show that not only did women with a current or historical eating disorder have more fertility problems, but they are also subject to higher incidences of unplanned pregnancies along with negative feelings about having a child. It is therefore important that these women are offered extra support during the antenatal stage.

The changing body

Experiencing the bodily changes that occur during pregnancy can prove difficult for most of us. It can feel very out of control and some might even experience their body as no longer belonging to them. However, the study found that women with a history of, or a current eating disorder, were twice as likely to report dissatisfaction around being pregnant. While many women with a history of an eating disorder often feel unable to inform healthcare professionals of their illness, women are strongly encouraged to do so in order to prevent a resurgence of the disorder.

Eating disorders as a form of control

Where issues around eating disorders are not shared with healthcare professionals, many women are left to tackle these difficult feelings alone. Weight control, whether in the form of restricting, over-exercising or purging, can pose serious harm to the unborn baby. However, for the (recovering) anorexic or bulimic, the urge to control and stifle bodily changes during pregnancy are likely to outweigh the inherent danger of these harmful behaviours. Naturally, matters are not helped by the trend among celebrities to be 'yummy mummies' by snapping back to their pre-pregnancy weight in a matter of months post childbirth.

Realistic expectations

Whether in recovery from an eating disorder or addiction, the prospect of bearing a child can provoke feelings that would otherwise not surface. Having these difficult feelings is not wrong or something to feel ashamed about. What matters is that this experience is shared and that you do not isolate. Informing healthcare professionals of a history of eating disorders allows you to receive the help and support that you need. This way, having a child might come to mark the beginning of a new and healthier relationship with your body - one that rests on a sense of appreciation of what the human body is capable of producing. For someone with a history of an eating disorder, this is not a small feat, but something that is achievable through open communication and a willingness to share.

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To discuss how the Life Works team can help to support individuals and families dealing with an eating disorder, and for further information on treatment and rehabilitation programmes, please call: 01483 745 066.   

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