Any kind of eating disorder and body image concerns before or during pregnancy can be associated with long-term depression risk for mothers, recent findings suggest.
"We found that women who have had an eating disorder at any point before childbirth, even if it was years earlier in adolescence, were more likely to experience depressive symptoms during pregnancy and up to 18 years after the birth of their child," said the study's lead author Francesca Solmi.
According to the researchers, this finding suggests that many people with eating disorders might not fully recover since we know that eating disorders and depression often happen at the same time.
Previous studies had suggested that depressive symptoms among mothers with eating disorders might improve after the perinatal period, but those studies didn't have such a long follow-up time to confirm that the increased risk of depressive symptoms does, in fact, persist for women who have had an eating disorder.
The research team found that women who had ever had anorexia nervosa or bulimia nervosa experienced more depressive symptoms over an 18-year follow-up than those who had never had an eating disorder.
"Depressive symptoms in mothers have been shown to be associated with a number of negative outcomes for their children, such as emotional and behavioural problems. It is therefore important, to identify and treat eating disorders early, as these could be one potential cause of the depressive symptoms. We should also identify pregnant women with an eating disorder so that they can be provided with mental health support. This could benefit both mother and child in the long run," Solmi explained.
Abigail Easter, one of the authors of the paper who developed training materials to help identify eating disorders in pregnancy, added: "There is a need for more training for practitioners and midwives on how to recognise eating disorders in pregnancy, which could help to reduce the long-term impact of mental ill-health.