What is the effect of maternal eating disorders on pregnancy outcome, birth defects and developmental delays?

Thumbnail Image
Issue Date
Embargo End Date
Neuhalfen, Kristle E.
Bunton, Patricia A.

The prenatal period is critical in determining the quality of fetal development and how the infant responds outside of the womb. Many known teratogens exist, but the medical literature evaluating fetal outcome in the presence of maternal eating disorders shows conflicting data.

Methodology: The purpose of this study was to compare the prevalence of birth defects, developmental delays and adverse pregnancy outcomes in infants born to mothers with eating disorders to those without eating disorders. This was an evidence-based literature review using the following inclusion criteria; women meeting DSM-IV criteria for anorexia nervosa, bulimia or eating disorders not otherwise specified; studies must have made an attempt to eliminate confounding factors such as cigarette smoking or chronic disease; all articles were published in peer reviewed journals from 1980 to present.

Results: Seventeen articles met the inclusion criteria as stated above. The evidence was not found to establish a relationship between maternal eating disorders and the occurrence of fetal birth defects or delays in developmental milestones. Evidence did support a relationship between the occurrence of adverse pregnancy outcomes in women with eating disorders.

Conclusion: To avoid adverse fetal outcomes, including therapeutic and spontaneous abortions, clinicians should screen patients for eating disorders prior to conception and educate women on the possible effects of eating disorders on pregnancy outcome.

Table of Content
A project presented to the Department of Physician Assistant of Wichita State University in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of Master of Physician Assistant.