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What Is Mommyrexia and How Does It Affect Pregnancy?

DrSugar Discusses Mommyrexia

DrSugar is in the house! This week she's discussing mommyrexia and the implications of eating disorders during and after pregnancy.

I recently read an article from the New York Post on "mommyrexia," a phenomenon garnering a lot of public attention recently. Mommyrexia describes pregnant women obsessed with staying skinny during pregnancy and then doing whatever they can to get back, as quickly as possible, to their prepregnancy weight/size after delivery. According to the article, these women count calories, exercise excessively while pregnant, and sometimes even forgo breastfeeding after delivery to free their schedules for tons of personal training and exercise. Society today is so obsessed with celebrities and body image, and in my opinion, is placing unwarranted pressure on women to maintain their slim physique during pregnancy, like Victoria Beckham and Rachel Zoe, and to be bikini-ready three weeks after delivery like Bethenny Frankel. As if there isn’t already enough pressure on the general population to be ridiculously skinny, this pressure now extends to the sacred time of pregnancy?

I feel compelled to write about eating disorders and their potential implications in pregnant women. However, I must add that there is a large spectrum of what can be considered normal regarding weight gain and activity during pregnancy. Every woman is different and will gain differing amounts of weight. Both activity and weight gain in pregnant women depend on multiple factors and should be determined on a case-by-case basis between a woman and her OB-GYN. By no means am I here to judge anyone on how they behave during their pregnancy. The purpose of this week's DrSugar column is to provide information on how eating disorders can affect pregnancy. To learn more, keep reading.

According to the American Pregnancy Association (APA), eating disorders affect approximately seven million American women each year and tend to peak during childbearing years. Two of the most common eating disorders are anorexia nervosa and bulimia. Anorexia nervosa typically involves obsessive dieting or starvation to control weight gain. Bulimia usually involves binge eating and vomiting as well as using laxatives to rid the body of excess water and calories. There can be a lot of overlap between the behaviors in these types of eating disorders, and some people have both anorexia nervosa and bulimia at the same time.

The British Medical Journal (BMJ) reports that weight gain and change in body shape that accompany pregnancy can possibly worsen or lead to a recurrence of eating disorders in affected women. However, the journal also reports that some women's eating disorders actually improve due to the woman's concerns for the adverse effects of the eating disorder on the developing fetus. Both the APA and the BMJ report the following adverse effects of eating disorders (anorexia nervosa and/or bulimia) on pregnancy: higher rates of miscarriage, premature labor, low birth weight, stillbirth or fetal death, delayed fetal growth, respiratory problems, gestational diabetes, maternal hypertension, depression (especially postpartum), fetal abnormalities, and preeclampsia. Both the APA and the BMJ articles recommend education, counseling, and nutrition services for women with eating disorders during the entire perinatal timeline.

To end on a personal note, I struggled with and am still struggling with body image issues that accompanied the weight gain and changes to my body as a result of pregnancy. My own feeling, however, is that above all, the growing and developing baby is the most important reason to gain the appropriate amount of weight and stay active in a healthy way. I fully surrendered myself to the changes my body needed to grow a healthy baby boy, both in utero and postpartum as I am breastfeeding. I did everything in moderation during my pregnancy, ate a healthy diet, and stayed active at the level my body could handle. That being said, I indulged every now and then, and I do not regret it!

Have a question for DrSugar? You can send it to me via private message here, and I will forward it to the good doctor.

DrSugar's posts are for informational purposes only and should not be considered medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment recommendations. Click here for more details.

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