In order for a woman to conceive, she must have a certain percentage of body fat. Body fat not only controls the monthly cycle; it also controls the onset of menstruation.
Extreme dieting means a serious loss of body fat which puts the body into a state of preservation to conserve energy in any way it can. An anorexic doesn't eat enough calories for her body to support its own needs so certain functions shut down in order to conserve energy. One such function is menstruation.
When amenorrhea happens it is virtually impossible for a woman to conceive. Women who have suffered with anorexia for a long period of time may not ever have periods again due to the permanent damage done to their bodies.
Additional fertility problems arise in the form of low libido, reduced egg quality, ovarian failure and poor uterine environment. Any of these problems contribute to infertility, making any function - from fertilization of the egg through carrying a pregnancy to term - at best difficult and at worst impossible.
How a Pregnancy is Impacted
Should a woman with an eating disorder manage to conceive, her pregnancy is high risk. The complications associated with eating disorders during pregnancy are serious and dangerous to both mother and baby. Delayed fetal growth, miscarriage, stillbirth, low birth weight and birth defects (especially blindness and mental retardation) are all possible issues for the baby.
Gestational diabetes, preeclampsia, low amniotic fluid, placental separation and premature labor are but a few things that can impact the pregnancy. Additionally, taking laxatives, diuretics or other medications can harm a developing baby, causing malnourishment for both mother and child. If she is able to carry the baby to term, the mother will likely have problems breastfeeding and may have to deal with serious post-partum depression.
Is there Hope?
As dark as it all looks, there is hope. Treatment is available for eating disorders and, once treated and under managements, 75 to 80 percent of women who have overcome their eating disorder go on to conceive and carry a pregnancy to birth.
Often, a successful pregnancy is the best help for a woman to gain mastery over the disorder. However, pregnancy risks don't disappear with treatment.