Pregorexia: eating disorders in pregnant women

SEATTLE -- Many pregnant women delight in watching their baby bump grow. But for some women, that bulging belly is a source of stress and shame, and they take no joy in the extra calories needed to support a growing baby. For some, it can lead to an eating disorder, dubbed pregorexia. Pregorexia isn't a real medical term, but it is a real problem.

Dr. Neeru Bakshi is the associate medical director at the Moore Center, an eating disorder treatment center in Bellevue. Dr. Bakshi says in our media driven culture, women see stars' bodies bounce back almost unrealistically.

Whether it's Kate Middleton when she was pregnant with the future King of England or Kate Hudson who walked the red carpet in a Versace maternity gown, there is a focus on how much weight celebrities gain and how quickly they shed the pounds. Health experts say that obsession with image can carry over into pregorexia.

"It's something that's come about in the last couple of years to describe any kind of eating disorder or eating disorder behavior in someone who's pregnant," Dr. Bakshi said.

Generally, doctors recommend pregnant women gain between 25 to 35 pounds. While most mothers-to-be know they need to eat plenty of healthy foods, gaining the weight and losing control over changes in the body can trigger pregorexia in some.

"When somebody's engaged in an eating disorder in pregnancy, this is not a conscious decision they're making," said Dr. Bakshi. "This is something they're doing because they feel this drive and can't logically think through what the consequences are going to be."

Those consequences can hit mother and child. Babies born to an undernourished mother might have issues with Attention Deficit Disorder, irritability and seizures. Mothers can miscarry or suffer seizures and uterine bleeding. And women who put themselves through extreme dieting during pregnancy, likely feel extreme anguish about it.

"There's already shame in having an eating disorder and being pregnant at the same time," said Dr. Bakshi. "What the person is really needing is support and love from the people in their lives and concern about what's happening."

Dr. Bakshi said nearly a third of women don't gain enough weight during pregnancy, but that alone doesn't indicate an eating disorder. She recommends looking out for depression and fears about body changes. If you have concerns, consult a doctor or mental health professional. Dr. Bakshi says more studies are needed to help better understand the causes and consequences of eating disorders during pregnancy.

Soon, women with pregorexia will be able to join an online support group. Certified eating disorders specialist Maggie Baumann is a psychotherapist based in Newport Beach, CA.

"I've run other support groups for nearly six years and recognized the needs of a mom or a pregnant woman with an eating disorder are much different than those who struggle as teens or college-age group members," Baumann wrote in a news release about the group. "There is also a huge shame factor that moms and pregnant women with eating disorders hold because they know, if they are not in denial, that their unhealthy behaviors directly affect their children or unborn babies."

Baumann said she struggled with an eating disorder while pregnant with her second child, 27 years ago.

"We titled this first of a kind web-based group, 'Lift the Shame,' so moms and pregnant women could seek eating disorder support and resources in a safe, confidential and non-judging environment with a community of women who share the same struggles. Shaming anyone with an eating disorder is only going to push that person to isolate and struggle in silence," she said.

The group will be open to English speaking women anywhere in the world. It launches live on the web Sunday, March 9, 2014, from 4-5 p.m. PST and will continue the 2nd Sunday of each month. It will be held in conjunction with Timberline Knolls, a residential treatment center in Chicago. Women in need of help can also contact the Moore Center.