Eating Disorders & Pregnancy
Pregnancy is a time where a woman is much more in tune with her body, and with the immense changes that occur over 9 short months, there can be a multitude of accompanying feelings and thoughts. If you are a woman who is recovering from an eating disorder or has struggled with body image issues, then this time of joy may also be filled with anxiety and fears. Not only are your hormones running the show, but your body has taken on the role of housing and nourishing your growing baby. Letting go of the sense of control the eating disorder provides can be even more challenging.
The delicate balance between recovery and new motherhood is one to be navigated through with compassion, recovery tools and embracing imperfection. These concepts are wonderfully represented through Clinical Psychologist Dr. Linda Shanti McCabe’s book, Eating Disorder Recovery in Pregnancy and Postpartum.
Postpartum Depression and Eating Disorders
The intensity of the identity transformation that occurs during pregnancy and early motherhood comes with fears and anxieties that have been stigmatized or downplayed as simply being the “baby blues.” According to the American Psychological Association, one in seven women suffer from PPD (postpartum depression), and up to 50% of individuals with PPD are never detected. Whether you are a woman who is pregnant or in the early phase of new motherhood, coping with the lack of sleep, body transformation and hormonal shifts may easily lead one down the road of disordered eating as a coping mechanism. Eating disorders serve a purpose, one in which is to “medicate”, or regulate one’s mood and during the postpartum phase, the temptation to engage in disordered eating may be quite strong. Considering the symptoms of PPD, it makes total sense that the urges to engage in your eating disorder may intensify.
Signs and Symptoms of Postpartum Depression:
- Poor concentration
- Loss of pleasure
- Fatigue and difficulty sleeping
- Low self-esteem
- Eating too much or too little
- Feeling disconnected with baby
- Sudden mood changes
- A preference for solitude
Dr. McCabe delves into the various ways in which a woman can get support and discover tools in which she may better navigate the journey of motherhood and eating disorder recovery.
- Get the right kind of support.
This can be done through psychotherapy or medication when necessary, as well as seeing your ObGyn or a nutritionist in balancing hormones and food planning. Ask for help when you need, either from a spouse or family member. And remember, it is OK to set boundaries.
- Make sleep a priority.
Get support from your partner, friends or family to help replenish your sleep. The link between PPD and lack of sleep is huge, so try to develop a bedtime ritual, such as no caffeine or screen time before bedtime.
- Get out of the house.
Celebrate the little wins, such as going for a short walk to check the mail, taking out the dog for a walk or meeting up with other moms and their babies. Fresh air and sunshine dissolves the claustrophobia or being indoors with a newborn.
- Be discerning about what you expose yourself to.
Staying away from depressing or scary books, movies, or news is vital to a new mom. This also includes social media, which could easily bring about feelings of compassion and inadequacy amongst other moms. Engage in uplifting conversation, movies, and books that shift your perspective and mood.
The most important thing to realize amid the transformative body changes taking place during pregnancy and postpartum is this, there is hope, and you are not alone.
Written by Emily Bachmeier, MA