Pregnant women with eating disorders could be better supported if midwives and health visitors were better equipped to tackle such issues, researchers have said.
Pregnancy has been identified as a unique opportunity to engage with women with eating disorders because it is a life stage during which they may be motivated to change behaviours and when they will have regular contact with health professionals, according to analysts at King’s College London (KCL).
KCL worked with women who have lived with this experienced, the Institute of Health Visiting, NCT (National Childbirth Trust) and charities Beat and Tommy’s, to translate research on eating disorders into practical resources for midwives and health visitors to learn how to better support the 7.5% of women suffer from an eating disorder during pregnancy.
“Women with eating disorders are often reluctant to disclose their illness to healthcare professionals, possibly due to a fear of stigma, and healthcare professionals may be unsure about how to identify women with eating disorders or what support they need,” said Dr Abigail Easter, senior postdoctoral fellow in improvement science at King’s College London.
Launching at the start of Eating Disorders Awareness Week 2018, the resources include the above animation.
Guidance from the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE, 2017) includes recommendations for enhanced monitoring and support for women with eating disorders before, during and after pregnancy. However, barriers can exist which prevent healthcare professionals from implementing current NICE guidelines in practice. The resources compiled by the team at KCL are intended to rectify that.
“Having these resources available will help fill the current gap, enabling healthcare professionals to be more aware of eating disorders and understand how to work in partnership with mothers to ensure they get the right help at the right time,” added Melita Walker, from the Institute of Health Visiting.
The animation aims to raise awareness that eating disorders are serious mental illnesses, which can impact on pregnancy and beyond, and it highlights the importance of a trusting relationship between women suffering from eating disorders and healthcare professionals. It includes sketches of women discussing how they felt during their pregnancies, with real voices. “I loved being pregnant but I didn’t like what I saw in the mirror,” one woman said.
Another expressed her gratitude at how her midwife dealt with her feelings of her eating disorder during pregnancy: “She was sensitive, she gave me time to talk about how I was feeling. I felt like a normal mum with normal fears and concerns about my baby,” she said.
“She didn’t deny or ignore I had an eating disorder, but she wasn’t fixating on it. She was seeing the whole of me and talking to me as a human being. There is so much anger in my own head, that if I get a whiff of it from someone else, the shutters close down. ”
The animation shares research stating that all pregnant women with eating disorders should have a dedicated professional helping them during their pregnancy and postnatal period.
Caroline Price, director of services at the charity Beat, said: “Pregnancy is often a difficult time for someone suffering with an eating disorder. However, being pregnant also provides an opportunity for a positive impact on recovery, so it is vital that both women and their midwives are aware of the signs and symptoms of eating disorders.”
The animation, plus other online resources to support pregnant women can be found at eatingdisordersandpregnancy.co.uk. For support surrounding eating disorders during pregnancy, contact your midwife.