Pregnancy is viewed as a sacred experience by many women across the globe. In fact, when discussing her pregnancy with Australia’s “Sunday Night,” the widely known and adored singer, Beyoncé Knowles-Carter said, “I’m very grateful that God has blessed me with the biggest gift any human being can have.” However, not every woman shares the same experience or perspective on pregnancy. For eating disorders specialist and trauma therapist, Maggie Baumann, pregnancy was a dangerous battle against weight gain, a condition known as pregorexia.
In recounting her struggle with pregorexia, Baumann said, “Getting on the scale at the doctor’s office was very triggering for me…I was just like, I am not doing that again, I am not getting that big. I am not getting that out of control,” (Wallace, 2013). As most women with pregorexia, Baumann tried to control her weight by engaging in “extreme” workouts and by tightly monitoring her caloric intake, which led to complications such as uterine bleeding and concerns about fetal growth restriction (“a condition in which a fetus is unable to achieve its genetically determined potential size”), during her pregnancy.
Baumann isn’t alone in her struggle with pregorexia. According to estimations by Dr. Ovidio Bermudez, the chief medical officer at the Eating Recovery Center in Denver, Colorado, approximately 30% of women in the United States fail to meet minimum weight requirements (Wallace, 2013). However, Bermudez also states that of the 30% of expecting mothers who struggle with weight gain, not everyone has pregorexia (Wallace, 2013).
As stated in the review, “Maternal Nutrition and Birth Outcomes,” by Kathleen Abu-Saad and Drora Fraser, nutrition is one of the most essential parts of an expecting mother’s life, because of its long term effects on her baby. Additionally, Abu-Saad and Fraser connect poor maternal nutrition and resulting low infant birth weight to neonatal death; “increased risks of disorders/disruptions of child growth and development (e.g., neurologic disorders, learning disabilities, childhood psychiatric disorders, mental retardation)”; and increased vulnerability to type 2 diabetes, coronary heart disease, and hypertension in later life (Abu-Saad & Fraser, 2010). In line with this review, Baumann revealed that in the initial months after her birth, her daughter experienced seizures (Wallace, 2013).
Pregorexia is attributed to two major factors in the article, “Pregorexia: Extreme dieting while pregnant,” by Kelly Wallace: a preexisting eating disorder (it is important to note that not every expecting mother who has struggled with an eating disorder will develop pregorexia) and media coverage of celebrities’ post-baby bodies. Claire Mysko, the spokeswoman for the National Eating Disorders Association says, “it’s almost become an expectation now that if a celebrity is pregnant, there will be a mention of her body during pregnancy and then there’s the countdown to how fast she’s going to get the weight off,” (Wallace, 2013). This is demonstrated by People Magazine’s article, “Kim Kardashian Says She’s Lost Nearly 70 Lbs. Since Giving Birth and Khloé Is Her Body Idol,” by Stephanie Petit and Jeffrey Slonim, which discusses reality television personality Kim Kardashian’s seven-month journey to weight loss after giving birth.
Many moms (including my own) like to bring up the topic of post-pregnancy stretch marks when their children aren’t on their behavior. While this makes for a humorous (and sometimes, groan-worthy) mother-child interaction, the obsession with weight-gain experienced by women with pregorexia, is extremely deadly for the expecting mother and her baby. The prevalence of pregorexia in our society, as shown by Dr. Bermudez’s estimations, demonstrates the need for an increased awareness on the issue of eating disorders and maternal nutrition. An effective method of raising such awareness would be to push for a focus on maternal wellbeing in social media (as opposed to articles about ideal pregnancy bodies) and for the increased availability of resources for expecting mothers who express concerns regarding weight gain.
Abu-Saad, K., Fraser, D. (2010, April 1). Maternal Nutrition and Birth Outcomes. Epidemiologic Reviews. Volume 32, Issue 1, Pages 5–25, https://doi.org/10.1093/epirev/mxq001
Lopez, K. (n.d.) Beyonce’s baby due in February, singer talks pregnancy. ABC 7. Retrieved February 11, 2018, from http://abc7.com/archive/8385953/
Petit, S., Slonim, J. (2016, July 17). Kim Kardashian Says She’s Lost Nearly 70 Lbs. Since Giving Birth and Khloé Is Her ‘Body Idol.’ People. Retrieved February 11, 2018, from http://people.com/bodies/kim-kardashian-weight-loss-plan-how-she-dropped-70-lbs-after-baby/?obref=obinsite
Ross, M.G. (2015, November 10). Fetal Growth Restriction. Medscape. Retrieved February 11, 2018, from https://emedicine.medscape.com/article/261226-overview.
Wallace, K. (2013, November 20). ‘Pregorexia’: Extreme dieting while pregnant. CNN. Retrieved February 4, 2018, from https://www.cnn.com/2013/11/20/living/pregnant-dieting-pregorexia-moms/index.html
Photo credit: https://pixabay.com/en/woman-pregnant-mother-female-belly-1209322/