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EATING DISORDERS AND PREGNANCY-RELATED DEPRESSION

Pregnancy and Eating DisordersThe experience of pregnancy varies from woman-to-woman. Bringing a new life into the world is a major life-changing experience; both physically and emotionally.  For many women, their changing bodies, increased weight and altered hormone levels are a source of fascination, concern and even anxiety.

Ideally, mothers-to-be will take better care of themselves to ensure the well-being of their fetuses, and will make every effort to support the health and viability of their pregnancy.  However, over the years, obstetrician-gynecologists, and mental health professionals have observed that approximately 1-in-10 women experience depression during and/or following pregnancy. Despite the relative commonality of this condition, experts have not definitively determined the reasons for pregnancy-related depression.  However, new research may allow health care professionals to provide vulnerable patients with early treatment for depression associated with pregnancy.

A study conducted at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill School of Medicine used a sample population of nearly 160 pregnant and post-partum patients receiving care for depression at the university’s Clinic of Perinatal Psychiatry.  The researchers discovered that over one third of the women revealed a history of eating disorders. Additionally, many of these patients reported having experienced sexual or physical abuse in their past. This information led the researchers to conclude that prior emotional trauma and other psychological factors could be responsible for a woman’s depression during or following her pregnancy.

The lead author of the study, Dr. Samantha Meltzer-Brody, M.D., suggests that the research indicates the necessity of routinely incorporating screening questions related to a patient’s history of eating disorders, sexual and physical abuse and additional psychological factors into prenatal care.  Meltzer-Brody cautions that when post-partum depression goes undiagnosed and without treatment, the repercussions can be devastating for the mother, her child and the family.

Historically, it’s been observed that the children of mother’s struggling with depression have developed their own mental health issues. Additionally, there is a high incidence of eating disorders in individuals whose mothers actively exhibit eating disordered behavior. Meltzer-Brody further suggests that, to break the cycle of generational eating disorders, early intervention and treatment of mental health problems in pregnant women is essential. She adds that pregnancy is an ideal time for individuals to receive treatment, since pregnant women are often more open to making positive changes that will benefit themselves and their children.

If you are pregnant and are experiencing depression or other mental health problems such as an eating disorder, it is critical that you receive adequate care and therapy as soon as possible. Your health and well-being and that of your child depend on it.

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