Eating Disorders Affect Fertility

November 12, 2012

Eating Disorders Affect Fertility

A new study from King’s College London and University College London has been published online this week in the international obstetrics and gynecology journal BJOG. It is stated to be the biggest study of its kind in the UK and was a self-reported, survey-based study. It has investigated the effects of eating disorders and attitudes dealing with pregnancy. The study identified that fertility problems, unplanned pregnancies and negative feelings about being a mother affect women who have or have had bulimia or anorexia and that these issues are more common in this group than in women without a history of eating disorders.

The study investigated data from more than 11,000 pregnant women. About 500 had a history of eating problems with them either having anorexia, bulimia or both. It was found that women with a history of eating disorders matched other women in the likelihood of taking more than a year to fall pregnant. But the eating disorder group had more women take more than 6 months to conceive, 39% of those surveyed compared to 25% of those from the group with no history of eating disorders.

If a woman had a history of eating disorders she was more likely to require treatment to aid conception, 6% against 2.7% in the other group.

It was also found that 28% of women with no history of eating disorder had an unplanned pregnancy, whereas 41% of women with a past or present eating disorder conceived accidentally. This group also had a higher incidence of feeling unhappy because of pregnancy, 10% being unhappy against 4% in the group with no history of disorder.

A researcher commented that these feelings indicate that more support is needed for females with past or present eating disorders and more discussion with their doctors and health care professionals is needed. Women in this group were also twice as likely to think of motherhood as a ‘personal sacrifice’ with 10% thinking this way in comparison to 4% in the other group. This may have serious implications because it has already been identified that women with past or present eating disorders often feel unable to discuss their illness. And because many of these women are intelligent and successful it is easy for the health professionals to miss the warning signs that they may need additional care and attention throughout the pregnancy and childbirth. Being pregnant and having a past or present eating disorder does increase the challenges a pregnant woman must face.

Higher than Expected Unplanned Pregnancies

Because women with eating disorders often have no periods or have very irregular periods it was unexpected to find that the number of unplanned pregnancies was at such a high rate. Conceiving can be more difficult for these women but as the facts show it is possible to fall pregnant. It is thought that because the women had no periods or highly irregular periods they felt that the need for contraception was done away with. It is also believed that if a woman has bulimia and self induces sickness then perhaps an oral contraceptive pill could be less effective.

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