There's now a term to describe the trend of pregnant women with eating disorders - pregorexia.
'Pregorexics' go to such extremes in their quest to remain trim that they put their baby's health in jeopardy.
This week, the New York Times featured a pregorexic woman whose secret obsession caused her child to be born premature and suffer seizures and attention deficit problems.
Dr Tan Hak Koon, a senior consultant with Singapore General Hospital's department of obstetrics & gynaecology, said severe dieting during pregnancy has dangerous consequences for both mother and child.
The baby could be premature, suffer from IUGR, have low blood oxygen levels, hypoglycemia, and may suffer foetal anomalies. In severe cases, it may develop brain and spine defects like spinal bifida.
The mother may suffer dehydration, hypotension, fainting spells, electrolyte imbalances, and anaemia, all of which impact foetal development.
Dr Tan added that malnourished mums are less able to stand the stressful process of labour and loss of blood. They may even suffer hypotension and heart failure during labour.
Those with underlying eating disorders, particularly anorexia nervosa, are most at risk. These are women who have recovered from anorexia, and regained their fertility, but continue to struggle with weight and body-image issues.
A King's College London study last year involving more than 12,000 British women who recently suffered an eating disorder showed that a significant proportion continued to diet, use laxatives, exercise excessively and practise self-induced vomiting throughout pregnancy, with more than a quarter of women admitting to making themselves throw up during the first trimester.
This is a disturbing trend and one which needs greater awareness. Gynaecologists and obstetricians need to be vigilant with regards to how their patients are coping with weight gain, especially if they have previously suffered eating issues. If in doubt about the mental health of their patient, early intervention is the only way to preserve the health and wellbeing of both mother and child.
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