Understanding how eating disorders affect pregnant women

Our researchers have been finding out how common eating disorders are among 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.
  • Authors list

    Professor Louise Howard, Dr Amanda Bye

    Start date: 2019
    End date: 2019

  • Research centre

  • Research status

    Completed projects

This project took place at our London centre which operated between 1995 and 2021.

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 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 the effects that eating disorders can have on pregnant women in order to make sure 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 many of them had an eating disorder. The team found that just over 15% of women 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 need.

What difference will this project make?

By raising awareness of eating disorders during pregnancy, this study has the potential to help healthcare professionals better identify the women who need support. This could lead to an improvement in the wellbeing of these women, which also has the potential to improve the health of 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.