While it appears that many women with eating disorders may experience a remission of their symptoms during pregnancy, a new study from researchers at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill and the University of Oslo, Norway suggests that binge eating disorder may be triggered during pregnancy.

The study included 41,157 women who self-reported eating disorder symptoms at a median of 18 weeks gestation.

Binge eating was the most commonly reported eating disorder: 1,856 (4.8%) acknowledged bingeing during pregnancy. While 39% of the women with binge eating disorder prior to pregnancy stopped binging during pregnancy, 711 new cases of binge eating disorder were reported.

Of the women who reported having bulimia nervosa before pregnancy, about 40% reported that they did not binge and/or purge during pregnancy.

This study suggests that while many women with eating disorders may experience remission of their symptoms while pregnant, it appears that a significant number of women with bulimia nervosa and binge eating disorder continue to have symptoms during pregnancy and that the prevalence of binge eating disorder increases during pregnancy.

How bulimia and binge eating may affect the pregnancy and fetal well-being has not been well studied; this is a topic this team of researchers will next explore. What may be of concern, however, is that binge eating may be associated with excessive weight gain in pregnancy and several recent reports have demonstrated that women who are overweight or obese are at greater risk for poor pregnancy outcomes, including birth defects and stillbirth.

Ruta Nonacs, MD PhD

Bulik CM et al. Patterns of remission, continuation and incidence of broadly defined eating disorders during early pregnancy in the Norwegian Mother and Child Cohort Study (MoBa). Psychol Med 2007; 37:1109.

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WebMD: Pregnancy Triggers Binge Eating in Some