If you’re considering getting pregnant or are experiencing fertility issues, it is important to become informed on how eating disorders can affect your body’s reproductive functions. First off, the female body is designed to store fat as a crucial energy source during the child-bearing years. This is something to consider seriously if one thinks the images of rail-thin supermodels and celebrities represent an ideal weight to strive for. They are anything but ideal. Nowadays, a typical fashion model weighs 23% less than the average woman and would likely be considered anorexic based on a Body Mass Index (BMI) analysis. Nonetheless, our culture’s obsession with being excessively thin persists and has had major negative repercussions on a large number of women’s reproductive health.
Over the years, physicians have identified the correlation between anorexia nervosa and an absence of menstruation. In cases where the anorexia nervosa has developed before the onset of puberty a young woman may not begin her menstrual cycles. If the disorder develops after menstrual cycles have been established then we typically see irregular periods or the complete cessation of menstruation. In the last two decades, it has been noted that women who diet excessively or suffer from bulimia experience pathological problems with menstruation similar to anorexics. However, once adequate weight has been achieved and normal eating habits are restored, almost all women resume regular menstruation.
Although it is now considered common knowledge that an anorexic female is likely to have difficulty conceiving a child, recent data suggests that there are growing numbers of women with undisclosed eating disorders, who binge and purge or who diet excessively that also have problems with conception. Once these women reach an adequate weight, resume eating normally and their menstruation becomes more regular, chances of successfully conceiving has been demonstrated to increase by nearly 75%.
As you can probably guess from the facts above, eating disorders can drastically affect pregnancy. Women with active eating disorders at the time of their pregnancy endanger both their own lives and those of their unborn children. These women tend to gain less weight during pregnancy, have smaller babies (or give birth prematurely) and, generally, suffer many post-partum issues both psychological and physical. On the other hand, women who have resolved their eating disorders prior to pregnancy are much better equipped emotionally and physically to handle childbearing.
In addition to seeking help in dealing with an existing eating disorder, I advise all women to inform their obstetricians and gynecologists whether they have anorexia, bulimia, over-eating disorder or are dieting excessively. Fertility issues and pregnancy concerns are quite stress-inducing and it would better serve your health and well-being to receive appropriate and informed care.