A question that many women ask is if they are experiencing eating disorders (ED), or have had one in the past, how will my fertility be affected?
Unfortunately, studies show that if you have anorexia, bulimia, or compulsive overeating you may not easily be able to get pregnant. The main reason for this is that eating disorders can affect your menstrual and ovulation cycle.
Women who are over or underweight have a lower chance of conceiving than women who are at their ideal weight.
To complicate things even further, fertility specialists believe that the psychological issues that accompany eating disorders, such as depression, can adversely affect a woman’s fertility.
Health Problems and Eating Disorders
Further studies into eating disorders and into fertility indicate that about 20 per cent of women who seek treatment for infertility have a current problem or history of an eating disorder.
This is a clear indication of how widespread the issue of eating disorders really is.
Over a period of time, eating disorders can cause some serious problems that not only affect a woman’s fertility but her chances of having a safe pregnancy as well.
These health problems include heart disease, osteoporosis, anaemia, depression, a weakened immune system, kidney failure, and even death. Even without an ED any of these health issues can negatively affect a woman’s ability to conceive.
Risks of ED
Ultimately women with eating disorders may experience the following: irregular periods, no period at all, abnormalities with the lining of the uterus, and low-quality eggs.
Even if pregnancy is achieved when there is an eating disorder many women miscarry or give birth to low weight babies.
Babies need to grow and thrive while in the womb and most women with eating disorders are unable to provide adequate nutrition for themselves or their growing baby simply because they aren’t eating right.
Women with eating disorders often give birth prematurely or by cesarean section.
The risks and side effects of an ED are such that women considering pregnancy should seek treatment for their eating disorder prior to conception to avoid many of the problems associated with malnutrition.
Types of Eating Disorders
Many women aren’t even aware of their eating disorder having an effect on their fertility until they try to become pregnant. It’s only after trying to conceive for several months that they may seek infertility treatment.
The main types of eating disorders include the following:
- Anorexia Nervosa: Women with this ED deny themselves often to the point of starvation because they see themselves as overweight. They often over-exercise to burn up any calories that they consume. Many of the health issues linked to anorexia can also affect fertility, such as damage to the heart and kidneys. The main concern of anorexia when it comes to fertility is that this ED usually causes a condition known as amenorrhea (loss of the menstrual cycle). Amenorrhea can become permanent depending on how long a woman has been suffering from anorexia. The reason amenorrhea happens is because for ovulation to occur there needs to be an adequate supply of hormones. These hormones are dependent on a certain amount of body fat which is denied in anorexia.
- Bulimia: Women with Bulimia typically binge eat and then purge what they’ve eaten. Bulimia is often hidden as women are able to maintain their body weight. They consume huge numbers of calories and then vomit or use laxatives to get rid of the food they’ve eaten. This ED affects fertility by depriving the body of important minerals such as potassium. As well, bulimia can disturb and damage the body’s electrolytes.
If you’re not having regular periods, your chances of getting pregnant are significantly reduced. The absence of your menstrual cycle is caused by eating fewer calories, over-exercising, and psychological depression and stress.
Hope for Pregnancy and Eating Disorders
The good news is that while eating disorders can have a negative effect on your fertility, seeking treatment can increase your chances of getting pregnant.
Up to 75 per cent of those women whose ED was treated go on to conceive naturally and have a safe pregnancy and birth. Taking care of yourself and treating the eating disorder is your first step to getting pregnant.
You should try to achieve and then maintain a healthy weight. If you’re bulimic you need to stop purging and damaging the hormone balances in your body. Talk to a nutritionist about what a healthy diet is.
Eating disorders such as anorexia and bulimia can be hard to overcome on your own. It’s important that you see an ED specialist who will be able to work with you as you battle through the many emotions you’re going through.
For many women who have overcome an ED, pregnancy and the thought of gaining weight can bring back some very negative feelings. This can bring on psychological reasons why you’re having trouble getting pregnant.
If you’ve had an ED taking care of yourself both physically and mentally is essential for you to conceive naturally.