Past Eating Disorders and Depression During Pregnancy: Is There a Link?

By Carol Church, Writer, Family Album
Reviewed by Heidi Radunovich, PhD, Department of Family, Youth, and Community Sciences, University of Florida
This post is part of a series recognizing National Eating Disorders Awareness Week. Learn more about eating disorders and find out how you can raise awareness and educate others at the National Eating Disorders Association.

When I was pregnant with my second child, I gained a bit more weight than with my first, and the baby “dropped” early. As a result, I got several comments from strangers and friends alike about how “big” I looked when I wasn’t quite ready to deliver. Though people surely don’t mean anything negative by these remarks, most mothers will tell you that they have been on the receiving end of one or two.

Of course, weight gain “comes with the package” of pregnancy for the vast majority of pregnant women. However, this natural and expected process can be difficult for some expectant mothers, particularly those with a history of eating disorders.

Indeed, evidence suggests that for this and other, more complex reasons, pregnant women and new moms who have previously suffered from anorexia, bulimia, or another eating disorder may be at higher risk for depression during pregnancy. In a recent study of 158 women being treated for depression in pregnancy, more than one-third of the patients had had an eating disorder at some time in their lives. By comparison, only about 6 to 8% of women overall have had such a disorder.

These startling numbers suggest that women with a history of these problems may have a significantly greater chance of developing depression in pregnancy. This condition may continue after birth. Some women with eating disorder histories may also engage in disordered eating during their pregnancies, which can be dangerous for both mother and baby.

Being depressed while pregnant is hard on women, and has been tied to poor childbirth outcomes. It can interfere with mother-child bonding and strain marriages. For these reasons, the authors of this study strongly suggest screening all pregnant women for histories of eating disorders and other mental health concerns. This will help protect the health and well-being of mothers and children.

Finally, if you are pregnant and struggling with issues related to disordered eating, be honest with your health care professionals about the issue. They can help you get the support you need for a healthy pregnancy.

(Photo Credit: Schwangerschaft by Thomas Pompernigg. CC License 2.0.)

Further Reading

Pregnancy and Eating Disorders (Information from the National Eating Disorders Association)

Postpartum Support International (Support and help for women affected by postpartum depression and anxiety and depression and anxiety during pregnancy)


Meltzer-Brody et al. (2011). Eating disorders and trauma history in women with perinatal depression. Journal of Women’s Health, 20(6), 863-870.


Posted: February 28, 2014

Category: Relationships & Family, Work & Life
Tags: Health And Wellness, Mental Health, Nutrition And Food Systems

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