It’s estimated that around 13% of expectant or new mums are living with an eating disorder.
In 2019, I was pregnant with my second child, feeling delighted, excited, and… utterly terrified. Why? Because since the birth of my first son, I had been battling an undiagnosed eating disorder that dominated every aspect of my life.
I remember thinking that because I was pregnant, my body and mind might somehow reset; that I’d manage to eat properly again and stop over-exercising. But, as the weeks passed and my baby grew inside me, that was far from the reality. I felt possessed, paralysed, and like the worst mother in the world.
A terrifying eating disorder
From early on in my pregnancy, I would tell my midwife at each appointment that it felt like a huge mental battle to eat enough and stop exercising too much. At six months pregnant, I was very clearly and firmly told by a consultant obstetrician that I had an eating disorder and needed help.
The responses I got from these healthcare professionals, as well as others, were totally inadequate, even detrimental. Not because of individual fault or a lack of dedication, but rather because of a complete lack of awareness, education and understanding. Eating disorders are simply not on the radar of most perinatal professionals.
Eventually, when I was nearly eight months pregnant, I reached a breaking point. I went to my GP and begged for help, having previously had my concerns dismissed. She weighed me, asked me what help I thought I needed, and since my weight and mental symptoms were clearly concerning, she referred me urgently to eating disorder services.
The treatment which followed was undoubtedly lifesaving, but juggling it with raising a newborn baby and an older child took its toll. So much so that when my baby was eight months old, I was admitted to a mother and baby unit (MBU) in a psychiatric crisis.
Making sure mums are supported
My baby is three now, and I’m in a much-improved place – both physically and mentally – thanks to my eating disorder team, family and friends. I’ve started delivering lived experience perinatal mental health and eating disorder training to healthcare professionals, on behalf of an eating disorders charity called Wednesday’s Child.
For professionals, we provide a wealth of practical guidance, resources and lived-experience insight to help them support a new or expectant parent who has an eating disorder. We’ve also developed e-learning modules and a free befriending programme to help expectant mums and new parents suffering from an eating disorder.
Eating disorders thrive in secrecy and shame, and it is vital that mums going through what I did receive specialist and compassionate support. It is high time that eating disorders during the perinatal period are brought out of the shadows, once and for all.
For more information, read Abi’s guest blog for Eating Disorders Awareness Week: ‘Eating disorders and the perinatal period’
If the content of this story causes you to think of anything that has happened to you or someone you know and you feel upset, worried or uncomfortable, please see our support page for a list of services that may be able to help.