Understanding how eating disorders affect pregnant women

Ms Amanda Bye, Prof Louise Howard, Dr Selina Nath, Dr Elizabeth G Ryan, Prof Debra Bick, Dr Abigail Easter, Ms Nadia Micali

Our researchers have studied how common eating disorders are in pregnant women. This work highlights the need to raise awareness among healthcare professionals of eating disorders during pregnancy, so that we can ensure good health and wellbeing for every woman.

This project is now complete.

Why do we need this research?

Eating disorders, such as anorexia, bulimia, and binge-eating, can severely affect the wellbeing of women during pregnancy. Some women with eating disorders can find that their symptoms get better during pregnancy, but then get worse after they have given birth. What’s more, eating disorders can lead to health problems for the baby during and after pregnancy, including premature birth, low birthweight, and difficulty with breastfeeding.

We need to learn more about how eating disorders affect pregnant women, so we can ensure that women get the support they need to have a health pregnancy and baby.

What happened in this project?

Our researchers analysed data from a large group of pregnant women to understand how common different types of eating disorders are. The found that just over 15% of women had had an eating disorder at some point in their lives, with anorexia being the most common. Nearly 1.5%, or about 1 in 70 women, had an eating disorder while they were pregnant.

Other mental health problems, such as depression, anxiety, and a history of self-harm or suicide attempts, were more common among pregnant women with eating disorders. Eating disorders were often left undiagnosed by doctors and midwives during antenatal care, which suggests many women aren’t being offered the support they might need.

What difference will this project make?

This research has revealed how often pregnant women are affected by eating disorders. Raising awareness of eating disorders during pregnancy will help healthcare professionals to provide the best support possible for these women, to improve wellbeing for them and their babies.

Thanks for your interest in our research

Tommy's funds research across the UK investigating the reasons for miscarriage, stillbirth and premature birth. We can keep you updated on ways you can support our work. If you would like to join our fight against baby loss and premature birth, click here.

More research projects

Help us find out how things go wrong in pregnancy

Read Tommy's new and views

  • Picture of Jennie Agg


    A personal meaning of motherhood and Mother's Day

    We asked our lovely friend and supporter, Jennie Agg, what motherhood and Mother's Day means to her. In this piece, she speaks of her difficult past experiences of Mother's Day, how she has grappled with a sense of being in limbo, and the ultimate purity of her feeling of mother love.

  • Collage of photos showing six women who have experienced baby loss, miscarriage and infertility


    Advice to help you cope on Mother’s Day

    In the lead up to Mother's Day, you might find yourself thinking about how to process your emotions and what to do on the day itself. The anticipation can often feel scary or daunting, and finding ways to look after yourself is important. In this blog, you'll find advice from a few of our lovely supporters who understand how you're feeling.

  • Mother holding newborn baby


    Giving some pregnant women progesterone could prevent 8,450 miscarriages a year, say experts

    New research has revealed the benefits of giving progesterone to women with early pregnancy bleeding and a history of miscarriage.

  • Tim Draycott, Clinical Director of Tommy’s National Centre for Maternity Improvement, giving a presentation to audience at the 'Portraying Pregnancy' event


    Tommy's hosts breakfast morning at the Foundling Museum

    Tommy’s spent yesterday morning at the charming Foundling Museum in London, celebrating the work of Tommy’s National Centre for Maternity Improvement alongside the opening of the museum’s new exhibition, ‘Portraying Pregnancy’.

    Was this information useful?

    Yes No