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.

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