It’s a fair question: If a woman has anorexia and has not yet had children, should she postpone parenthood until she absolutely feels she has conquered her eating disorder?
Anorexia nervosa is a form of mental illness, but it’s a very unique psychiatric disorder, hardly comparable to schizophrenia or even bipolar disorder.
Is it ethical for a woman who knows she has anorexia nervosa to willingly have a child?
This isn’t about the medical aspects of pregnancy to the expectant mother and unborn child.
It’s about raising children in an “anorexic environment.” And what about anorexic women who already have kids; should they not have any more until they have overcome their eating disorder?
Good News for Anorexics Who’d Like to Have Children
“It is not necessary for a woman with anorexia to wait to start a family until they have recovered,” says Mehri Moore, MD, medical director/founder of THIRA Health in Washington which offers programs for women and girls facing depression and anxiety.
Again, the issue here is after the fact: the actual raising of kids. And here is what Dr. Moore says about that:
“Typically their anorexia does not affect how they nourish their children. Most anorexics are perfectionists and as mothers try to do their best in raising and nourishing their children.”
On the other hand, being a perfectionist can backfire, in that the perfectionistic parent may push their kids too hard to be perfect or excel.
Of course, a non-anorexic mother can be a perfectionist as well. Perfectionists, whether they have an eating disorder or not, need to be acutely aware of the effect this trait has on their kids.
Dr. Moore adds that children, especially girls in their developmental years, can be especially adversely influenced by the anorexic mother’s body image issues and negative self-talk.
Is there ever a perfect time to become a mother? For many women, there doesn’t seem to be.
Dr. Moore says, “It is really not optimal for women with anorexia to start a family while they are still suffering from the eating disorder, but we have seen mothers with anorexia raise perfectly healthy, well-adjusted children.”
The other end of the continuum, says Dr. Moore, is that she has seen anorexia extend three generations, with this illness being “passed down” from mother to child.
Thus, the recommendation by Dr. Moore is that anorexic women be in full recovery before starting their families, yet it’s also true that a woman with this eating disorder is still capable of raising well-adjusted, healthy kids.