Study Links Pregnant Women with Eating Disorder to Premature Babies


A recent study from Karolinska Institutet in Sweden, has recently suggested that pregnant women battling eating disorders are more likely to have children with high risk of complications.

According to the study published in the journal JAMA Psychiatry, the researchers were able to show that children born to mothers with eating disorders had an increased risk of premature birth and being born with small head circumference.

The study added that pregnant women with eating disorders should undergo extended pregnancy screenings considering their increased risk of complications.

Several studies have shown that eating disorders affect millions of people around the world, often women in childbearing age. The limited studies have also examined potential complications for children born to mothers with eating disorders.

In order to comprehend the analogy, the researchers studied all the 1.2 million mothers who gave birth in Sweden between 2003 and 2014, of whom nearly 2,800 had eating disorder, 1,400 had binge eating syndrome and 3,400 had an unspecified eating disorder.

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They also compared whether the risk varied between these different types of eating disorders and whether the mother had an active or previous eating disorder.

A pregnant woman

The study showed that all types of eating disorders increased the risk of premature birth, microcephaly (small head circumference for gestational age) and hyperemesis during pregnancy, a severe form of nausea and vomiting affecting the mother.

The risk of anemia was twice as high for women with active eating disorder or unspecified eating disorder as for mothers without eating disorders. Active anorexia was also associated with an increased risk of antepartum hemorrhage.

The majority of the risk increases were more pronounced during active disease, but women who hadn’t been treated for an eating disorder in more than a year before conception were also at higher risk of complications compared to mothers who had never been diagnosed with an eating disorder.

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Ängela Mantel, researcher at the Department of Medicine in the university and corresponding author of the study said “Women with eating disorder should be recognized as a high-risk group among pregnant women. From a clinical point of view, this means that care providers need to develop better routines to identify women with active or previous eating disorders and consider extended pregnancy screenings to meet their needs.

According to the researchers, there are several possible explanations for the associations. An inadequate diet with subsequent nutritional deficiencies may limit fetal growth. The stress hormone cortisol tends to be high in women with anorexia and bulimia and has previously been associated with microcephaly. Both stress and some nutritional deficiencies in the mother have previously been connected to premature birth. Vitamin and mineral deficiencies have also been associated with placental abruption, which could explain the increased risk of bleeding during pregnancy.

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When it comes to hyperemesis, the researcher noticed that part of the association to eating disorders disappeared when they adjusted for psychiatric conditions such as anxiety and depression. Other outcomes remained largely the same after adjustment for variables such as age, smoking and birth year.




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