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  • Writer's pictureChardá Bell, IBCLC, CBE, CD

Eating Disorders : Pregnancy, Postpartum and Baby Feeding

Updated: Mar 2, 2023



It's National Eating Disorders Awareness week. Disordered eating is common amongst females. Eating disorders are also very common during pregnancy. In the postpartum phase, us moms often forget to feed ourselves. We take care of our family first and then sometimes we are just too tired to even eat.

I recall my mother cooking/serving dinner and then standing up in the kitchen cleaning it up the entire time we ate. I now wonder did she eat before or after us? I don't know. But either way, I know for sure there were times when she just skipped meals completely.


As a mother myself, I did this quite a bit while my children were younger. I was a stay at home mom for about 10 years (2008 - 2018). People frequently believe SAHM/WAHM (stay at home / work at home moms) means we have all the time in the world and can eat whenever we so please. That is the furthest thing from the truth. Stay at home moms ain't all living a Peg Bundy life OK y'all!



Just because there is food doesn't mean it's getting eaten by us, the kids yes, the parents errr...

But we eat when we can and we usually become more balanced & efficient in our eating habits over time on our journey through parenthood.



And I would also say while not totally "healthy" this is all within the realm of normal life for new parents as we adjust to parenthood or even second time parenthood, which is a completely different and unique experience. For this reason, I wish meal prep services were readily affordable and available to parents. One day I'll work on this, free meals for all the parents!


However, what if we continued this pattern of not eating and it then leads to an eating disorder? OR...


What if we grew up with disordered eating behaviors and they improved--or didn't--and worsened in the pregnancy stage which is very common and without proper treatment suddenly went off the rails during postpartum phase?


It happens and there is help if you or someone you know is experiencing this. Even if you aren't sure if you have an eating disorder, it's worth finding out for the health, safety and well being of you and family.


At some point in their lives, most people have heard that they should “eat healthy.” But this means different things to different people. For some, it means eating less junk food and more nutrient-rich foods; for others, it could mean making dietary changes to reduce sodium intake or to eat foods that help lower levels of bad cholesterol.




What is an eating disorder? An eating disorder is a psychological disorder that results in serious disturbances of eating behavior. There are several different eating disorders. Some of the common ones include anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, binge eating disorder, and pica. Each disorder has its own symptoms and effects.

  • Anorexia nervosa – severely restricting the amount of food eaten, resulting in very low body weight.

  • Bulimia nervosa – binge eating (eating large amounts of food in a short time and feeling loss of control over eating) and then purging (vomiting, not eating, over-exercising, misusing laxatives or diuretics)

  • Binge-eating disorder - binge eating without purging.

  • Pica – a craving for and eating of substances without any nutritional value (such as ice, clay, paper, or dirt) for at least one month. Pica, non-food items may contain something potentially harmful to the baby, such as lead.

Eating disorders are serious but treatable mental and physical illnesses that can affect people of all genders, ages, races, religions, ethnicities, sexual orientations, body shapes, and weights. In the United States, 28.8 million Americans will suffer from an eating disorder at some point in their lives.


While no one knows for sure what causes eating disorders, a growing consensus suggests that it is a range of biological, psychological, and sociocultural factors.


Eating disorders are related to anxiety and depression and can lead to cesarean, miscarriages or premature births.


In the postpartum period, dissatisfaction with body weight and shape are the normative, even in women without eating disorders.


In the first month after delivery, 75% of women are concerned with weight gain.

By four months postpartum 70% of women are attempting to lose weight.


During this time, women report an increasing food restraint, such as food avoidance and/or adherence to specific food rules.


Waiting until your 6 week check up is a good time to consider exercise with healthcare provider recommendation. Additionally, losing weight up to 1 pound per week is acceptable. More than that could potentially be dangerous to your health and your milk supply.


The "snatch back" is not as important as you being well for yourself and your family. Social media, society and even "loved ones" tell us that we should look a certain way, be back to our pre-pregnancy weight by a certain time or even eat certain diets. This is simply parental psychological warfare and I'm not here for it. What I am here for is, healthy habits, healthy goals and healthy minds. No need to rush, take things slow...it took 9 months to grow your baby and it may take that same time or longer to "ungrow" that weight. If you feel sad about it, therapy does work wonders and mindset is everything when it comes to body image.



Common Concerns Amongst Parents with Eating Disorders:


  • Mothers with eating disorders often fear their breast milk will not have enough nutrients for the child.

  • For mothers with eating disorders this can be difficult causing them distress which can be projected onto the baby.

  • The pressure of the infant becoming accustomed to a specific feeding schedule can also cause anxiety when they signal hunger outside of the window for feeding.

  • There are also psychological reasons behind why mothers with eating disorders shorten or do not breastfeed, usually less than 6 months.


Getting sufficient “high quality” calories is important for all moms. Women who do not get enough calories (if less than 1500 - 1700 calories per day) may have trouble establishing a full milk supply which at a maintained rate is on average about 25 -35oz per day for a baby over 2-3 months old.



Finding Support & Getting Help


Remember that even if you have to take medications to manage your eating disorder, you can still more than likely breastfeed. Don't let that deter you if it is your goal, you can do both--get the help you need and still feed your baby your milk.


The key to success is finding support, which you can get from healthcare providers (doctors, nurses, lactation consultants), family, friends, and support groups (online, over-the-phone, and in person)

You are not alone. There are resources available to help you and your baby.


There are also many resources to help on supportive food choices. The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) has a website: https://www.choosemyplate.gov/moms-pregnancy-breastfeeding.


There is also information on appropriate amount of weight to gain, loss and the recommended amount of exercise.


Sources & Citations:








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