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Eating Habits and Attitudes in the Postpartum Period

Stein, Alan MB, MRCPsych; Fairburn, Christopher G. DM, FRCPsych

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The object of this study was to examine the changes in women's eating habits and attitudes in the 6 months after childbirth, focusing particularly on eating-disorder psychopathology. A general population sample of 97 primigravid women originally studied during pregnancy were followed for 6 months postpartum to describe their changes in eating and weight after childbirth with particular reference to the behaviors and attitudes characteristic of clinical eating disorders. Assessment was by standardized interview. It was found that eating disorder symptoms increased markedly in the 3 months postpartum and then plateaued over the next 6 months. This overall plateauing masked substantial variation in different domains; in particular, weight concern continued to increase to the 6-month assessment, although shape concern decreased. Concern about residual weight gain after the birth of a child was described by many mothers as particularly distressing and seemed to precipitate a clinical eating disorder in a few cases. Many women would have welcomed educational advice about how to deal with changes in eating, weight, and shape after pregnancy. It was concluded, therefore, that overall, there is evidence of an increase in eating-disorder psychopathology in the 6 months after childbirth. It is argued that education about how to deal with the changes in weight and shape after pregnancy might decrease the risk of developing frank eating disorder psychopathology.

From the Leopold Muller University Department of Child and Family Mental Health, The Royal Free Hospital School of Medicine, and the Tavistock Centre, London (A.S.), and Department of Psychiatry, University of Oxford, Warneford Hospital, Oxford, (C.F.) United Kingdom.

Address reprint requests to: Alan Stein, MB, MRCPsych, Leopold Muller University, Department of Child & Family Mental Health, The Royal Free Hospital School of Medicine & The Tavistock Centre, 120 Belsize Lane, London, NW3 5BA, U.K.

Received for publication April 6, 1995; revision received August 30, 1995.

Copyright © 1996 by American Psychosomatic Society
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