History of Eating Disorders Linked to Depression in Mothers

Pregnancy and childbirth are typically joyful times. But when you have a mental health disorder, it can keep you from truly experiencing that joy.

For some women, a history of eating disorders may increase their risk for developing depression after having a child — even years down the road.

Research Finds New Link

Researchers from the University College of London analyzed data from a study of more than 9,000 pregnant women to evaluate the long-term link between eating disorders and depression.

“We found that women who have had an eating disorder at any point before childbirth, even if it was years earlier in adolescence, were more likely to experience depressive symptoms during pregnancy and up to 18 years after the birth of their child,” said Francesca Solmi, the study’s lead author.

This is a change from previous studies, the researchers said, which suggested that mothers who have an eating disorder typically experience improved depression symptoms after their children are born compared with mothers who have never had an eating disorder.

But the researchers said that this is the first study to follow up with women on their mental health status so long after they gave birth. This allowed the researchers to see how the women were doing well beyond the postpartum period.

Mental Health and Motherhood

It is not uncommon for women to struggle with their mental health during and shortly after pregnancy. Some women have a previous mental health condition before becoming pregnant, while others develop a mental health condition during or after pregnancy.

In fact, about 20% of women suffer from depression during pregnancy, known clinically as perinatal depression, and about 1 in 8 women across the country have met the criteria for postpartum depression.

In the first month after giving birth, or the postpartum period, 75% of women worry about the weight they gained during pregnancy, and 70% of women actively try to lose weight within four months postpartum.

Meanwhile, about 7.5% of pregnant women struggle with an eating disorder such as anorexia nervosa or bulimia nervosa.

When a mother is suffering from an eating disorder and depression at the same time, or a co-occurring disorder, it can be devastating for her and her child. The effects can touch every aspect of their lives, keeping her from caring for herself and her baby.

“Depressive symptoms in mothers have been shown to be associated with a number of negative outcomes for their children, such as emotional and behavioural [sic] problems,” Solmi said. “It is, therefore, important to identify and treat eating disorders early, as these could be one potential cause of the depressive symptoms.”

Importance of Early Screening

Imagine spending decades living with depression and an eating disorder without the tools or support to manage these conditions.

A staggering number of mothers are doing just that, and it doesn’t have to be this way.

“We should […] identify pregnant women [who have] an eating disorder, [sic] so that they can be provided with mental health support,” Solmi said in a press release. “This could benefit both mother and child in the long run.”

Depression and eating disorders usually don’t get better on their own. In fact, these conditions usually worsen over time in the absence of professional treatment.

If you think that you might have an eating disorder, please get a professional assessment. Seeking treatment can keep you from developing other mental health concerns and ensure that you experience more joy in every aspect of your life.