Finding Healing From An Eating Disorder Through Pregnancy, Labor, and Breastfeeding

pregnancy, labor, breastfeeding eating disorder recovery

After listening to my baby’s heartbeat, my OB settled on his stool, set his elbows on his knees, and leaned in. “Do you have any questions about your pregnancy?” he asked.

I was thirteen weeks and four days pregnant. I squirmed in my seat. “I’m kind of concerned about weight gain.”

He jumped right in. “Don’t believe what people say about eating for two. You’re really eating for one plus like ten percent. You only need about XXX* extra calories a day. Most of the weight will go straight to baby, placenta, fluids, and uterus.”

“Boobs,” I quipped.

I could see his eyes smile above his mask. “Yes,” he said. 

Before becoming pregnant I’d been in recovery from anorexia for over twelve years. I was diagnosed with anorexia at fourteen and was weight restored and in active recovery shortly after turning sixteen. While that may seem like a short time, my recovery took much longer. In fact, now, at age thirty, I feel more recovered than ever and that is thanks to pregnancy, childbirth, and breastfeeding.

Recovery and Family Planning 

Before we were married, my husband and I decided we would adopt because of a medical condition he has that had a 50/50 chance of being passed on to the baby. The part of me that wasn’t fully recovered from the eating disorder jumped at this idea.

I could marry a man who wanted to adopt and I would never have to put my body through the terrors of pregnancy and childbirth? Perfect! 

But four years into marriage I began to wonder what it would be like to have a biological child. What would it feel like to have a tiny human growing inside of me? Was it wrong of me to deny my body this miracle of creating life if I was physically capable of doing it? What if I wanted to have a baby and adopt?

It wasn’t until we moved and then a global pandemic hit that my husband and I decided to try having a biological child. (It’s hard to adopt when you are moving and don’t know when you’ll move again. And remember–pandemic.) 

For years I had scoured the internet for real-life stories of how pregnancy affected eating disorder recovery but those stories were hard to find. 

I knew I wasn’t fully recovered before I became pregnant because I still wasn’t eating stress-free. Sometimes I would flip out when my husband asked me where I wanted to eat for dinner because I couldn’t decide how, and what kind, of calories I wanted to consume. 

I was healthy, but not recovered. 

Then, after five months of trying, we found out we were pregnant! 

The few scant articles I had read about pregnancy and recovery came back to mind. I remembered reading about how pregnancy could trigger a dormant eating disorder and I didn’t want to relapse, especially while pregnant. I wanted to take care of my baby as best I could. From the second I saw the Yes+ on a stick I loved my baby. At this point, he was no larger than a poppy seed. I wanted to protect and care for the life inside of me. 

Recovery Tip for Family Planning

Be honest with yourself about what pregnancy might look like for you while in recovery. Explore your fears (or expectations) for pregnancy with your spouse, a counselor, mentor, friend, or all of the above! If there is any part of pregnancy that seems scary or that you think might trigger the eating disorder, think about how you might handle that fear. Make a plan. But girl, please don’t give up your dream of having a child because you are scared. Seek help–professional help if needed–and dare to dream of being a momma!

Recovery and Pregnancy

Morning sickness hit me two weeks after finding out I was pregnant. Not since my active eating disorder did I feel so out of control with food and I wondered if maybe I would relapse. I had to eat and eat and eat to keep nausea at bay. I felt out of control with food but also at a loss of how to feel healthy without eating a steady stream of calories all day–and even at night. 

When my OB appointments started I stood on the scale backward and told my doctor my concerns about recovery and pregnancy. He was nothing but supportive and helpful even assuring me that he had worked with other recoverees. 

I knew my mindset needed to change when he told me I needed approximately XXX* extra calories a day. I didn’t keep a record of my caloric intake before I was pregnant and I didn’t during either. Instead, I tried to learn how to listen intuitively to my body and lean into its needs rather than tie myself to a number. I knew how damaging that could be. 

As the weeks passed, something strange happened. Rather than fall back into the eating disorder I found myself embracing my growing body. Rather than hate the way it swelled with my son, I dreamed of stretch marks. I wanted the reality of what my body was doing, creating, accomplishing, forever tattooed on my skin in the form of wiggly pregnancy-induced lines. 

Each week was filled with ways to fall more in love with the boy growing inside of me and in the process, I fell in love with my body in a way I never had before. 

I read about how my body grew the placenta and then used it to feed my baby. I read about how my baby’s organs were forming and I read about how woman’s bodies labor to deliver their babies. 

My awe changed my perspective of my body and I began to appreciate it in ways I couldn’t before becoming pregnant. I’d spent over a decade trying to like my body, wishing it into a different size, not feeding it as well as I could have, but pregnancy changed that. My body no longer belonged to only me, it belonged to my miracle baby.

Recovery Tip for Pregnancy

Lean into the absolute miracle of a woman’s body! Study pregnancy and learn about how you are actively growing and stretching to create your baby from their hearing to their fingertips. If you find it hard to connect and love your body, then think about the little baby growing inside of you and how your health is growing them into a little being that will someday look at you with adoring eyes and call you, Momma. They won’t care what your body looks like. They will–and already do–love you unconditionally. Your body is their home.

Recovery and Breastfeeding

On a dark evening in March of 2021, just before midnight, I delivered my baby boy into the world after seventeen hours of labor. Labor was exhausting and intense but completely amazing and beautiful at the same time. The moment your baby is placed on your chest is indescribable. It’s a beauty that makes you want to laugh and cry with relief and love. 

I worried that maybe I wouldn’t like my sagging and fragile postpartum body but then I began to breastfeed.

Pregnancy was miraculous in the way my body created an actual human life. Labor and delivery showed me the strength women have to press a soul into the world. But breastfeeding . . . breastfeeding was a gentle beauty. 

Never before had my body been used to nourish another person. The fact that years ago I could starve my body and then later use that same body to feed another was amazing. 

During pregnancy, I ate to feed my baby. However, afterward, I found I needed to eat differently to keep my milk supply up. My concern for calories diminished as I learned to eat for myself and my baby. I learned to genuinely love my raw body fully for the first time in years. 

Pregnancy, birth, and breasting have changed the way I view my body, and in the process, helped heal me of my eating disorder. I have found that it’s hard to dislike something you are grateful for and I am both in awe of and grateful for my body in ways I never knew were possible. 

Recovery Tip for Postpartum

There is nothing quite like the love of a Momma and you will feel this strongly after birth. Maybe not right away, but there will be a bond between you and your baby. When old thoughts try to sneak in and convince you that your body will never be or look the same, take a deep breath, look at your baby, and remember how strong you are. You are a warrior! You beat an eating disorder and then created a tiny human inside of your own body! That’s amazing and beautiful. Let the sight of your baby remind you daily how strong you are. Let that be a reason for you to embrace every new inch and stretch mark. 

*The number of calories my doctor recommended to me is omitted. I believe each woman has different needs and different doctors may have different opinions.

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