The Experience of Pregnancy for Women With a History of Anorexia or Bulimia Nervosa

Sara E. Shaffer, RN, MSN Lauren P Hunter, CNM, PhD, FACNM Gwen Anderson, RN, PhD

Using descriptive phenomenology, we explored the experiences of women who have an eating disorder prior to, or during pregnancy. Eating disorders often go untreated during pregnancy despite an association with miscarriage, low infant birth weight, hypertension, and postpartum depression. A purposive sample of ten Caucasian women aged 18 or older, who self-reported a history of an eating disorder during a pregnancy, was interviewed. Essential textual phrases were highlighted based on van Manen's approach to thematic analysis. Most women use eating as a means to cope with a distorted body image which was established early in their lives and continued to some extent during and after pregnancy. Five themes, emerged from the text which describe the phenomenon of eating disordered behavior: 1) a constant mental struggle to prevent loss of control, 2) a distorted body image, 3) scale-induced trauma, 4) hiding the lived experience, and 5) postpartum fear and panic. By understanding the subjective experience, healthcare providers may be able to provide more sensitive care to women with eating disorder behaviors.

pregnancy, body image, eating disorders, anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, personal knowing, weight gain


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