• Renee

How a History of Eating Disorders can Resurface During Pregnancy & Postpartum

Pregnancy and postpartum can be an incredibly difficult time for women who have a history of disordered eating, orthorexia, or body image issues.

For example, a new mother faces rapid changes in body shape, hormone levels, and weight, as well as an overall lifestyle change after giving birth and bringing a new baby into the world. The combination of these stressors can be difficult to cope with, triggering some new moms to fall back on eating disorder behaviors that create a sense of control.


It often isn’t discussed in your visits to the OB, in fact, mental health is often neglected all together during pregnancy itself, I was never asked once if I had a history of eating disorders, body image issues etc. A simple screening question that may help to support a pregnant Mama in this season of her journey.


PHYSICAL CHANGES

A woman’s body has to change in order to accommodate a growing baby. These changes can be overwhelming, especially for a mama with an eating disorder past. Weight can become a focal point during pregnancy, and many women will see their weight escalate to places they have never experienced before.

After birthing a baby, a woman is also adjusting to a body that has been transformed from pregnancy, and these body changes can be triggering for a mother with an eating disorder past.


EMOTIONAL STRESSORS

The combination of hormones with the many stressors of pregnancy and postpartum can trigger a variety of intense emotions, including everything from overwhelm, confusion, sadness, grief, anger, happiness, and more.

The emotional rollercoaster of pregnancy can be taxing on anyone, and it’s no wonder that eating disorder behaviors may feel like a comfortable way to self-soothe and control.


MENTAL HEALTH CHALLENGES

Mood disorders, like anxiety and depression, often co-occur with eating disorders. Perinatal mental health is an important area that is often neglected during both pregnancy and postpartum. Women with a history of an eating disorder may be more at risk for perinatal mental health conditions, including prenatal and postpartum depression and anxiety.


CHANGING SUPPORT SYSTEM

Having a baby means moving into a different season of life. Many women may experience their core support system changing as they begin having children and growing a family. This can put added strain on relationships, which can be triggering for a woman during pregnancy and postpartum. Growing and birthing a baby also changes the dynamic of marriage/partnerships, and close family and friends. A woman can feel isolated during this season of her life, especially in postpartum, where the majority of her time and focus centers around her baby.


BODY IMAGE STRUGGLES

The changes a woman experiences in her body can be difficult to cope with. Some women may find that pregnancy and postpartum have helped them better embrace and celebrate their bodies; other women may find that the changes they are experiencing in their own bodies are scary and hard to adapt to. Either way, pregnancy and birth are transformative: physical, emotionally, and mentally, though the physical changes are what may feel most apparent. This can be challenging for a mother in eating disorder recovery.


WHO TO TALK TO

Pregnancy and postpartum can be a very vulnerable time for a woman and it is quite often that she may feel like there are few people to talk to during this time. I know when I was struggling with weight gain during pregnancy it was often dismissed, and people would say things like “of course you are gaining weight, you are supposed to gain weight, it’s for the baby, don’t you want a healthy baby”. Never in a million years would I want to harm my baby, but the thoughts are still hard, and the sudden body changes can be hard to accept after years of disordered thinking. Mindset shifts are not easy to do on a dime just because you are pregnant.

If you are able to talk to a close friend, counsellor or therapist who can hold space for your thoughts it can really help to ease the anxiety and mental heaviness.

If you would like some help to find a specialist in your area, please do not hesitate to reach out.


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