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Why Eating Disorders are Particularly Harmful to Pregnant Women

eating disorders and pregnancyOne aspect of eating disorders that’s often overlooked is how they can affect women’s reproductive health. A study conducted in the United Kingdom showed that women who have a history of eating disorders like anorexia nervosa and bulimia have more fertility problems, unplanned pregnancies, and general negative feelings toward having a child.

The study, which was conducted at King’s College London and University College, involved over 11,000 women, 500 of which had a history of eating disorders. One of the most startling discoveries was that 39% of women with a history of anorexia or bulimia took longer than six months to conceive, which is much higher than the 25% of women without eating disorders in their medical history. The study, which was the largest study of eating disorders and their relation to fertility, was published in BJOG, an international journal that focuses on obstetrics and gynecology.

Other notable findings in the study included the fact that women with eating disorders were more than twice as likely to have sought medical assistance in conceiving, showing that infertility is higher in women who have reported having eating disorders. Also, 41% of women with eating disorders reported their pregnancies as unplanned compared to the 28% of women without. This was surprising because women with eating disorders often go months without their periods or lose their periods altogether, making conception difficult, but not impossible.

Another surprising aspect of the study showed that while most women felt happy to be pregnant, the number of women with anorexia and bulimia who felt unhappy was over twice as high as women without, at 10% vs. 4%. The findings of the study suggest that women with a history of eating disorders may require more support psychologically when it comes to pregnancy and childbirth. Not only does the study show that there could be complications in conceiving a baby, but also that after childbirth, these women could require additional help with psychological challenges following pregnancy.

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