Treading the tightrope between motherhood and an eating disorder: A qualitative study

S. Tierney, J. R E Fox, C. Butterfield, E. Stringer, C. Furber

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


    Background: Pregnancy is a life event that involves a change in appearance, during which the eating behaviour and body of childbearing women is scrutinised by others. The impact this has on the thoughts and behaviours of individuals who have or have had an eating disorder has been little investigated. Objectives: A qualitative project to provide a deeper understanding of the views of women with an eating disorder history about pregnancy and the early stages of motherhood. Methods: Semi-structured interviews were conducted with eight women who were or had recently been pregnant. All had an eating disorder history. It explored how becoming a mother impacted on thoughts and practices relating to weight, using framework analysis. Results: Interviews lasted approximately 80. min. The overriding concept identified through analysis was the divided loyalties participants experienced between putting their child first and disregarding the eating disorder. Interpretation of data resulted in the identification by the research team of four main themes: fear of failure, transforming body and eating, uncertainties about child's shape and emotional regulation. Conclusions: Three types of women were identified among interviewees; those that seemed to be 'cured' of their eating disorder through motherhood, those that seemed able to put their condition on hold during pregnancy and those that seemed unable to relinquish dangerous behaviours. Issues relating to control, identity and perfectionism may impede some women's ability to enjoy pregnancy and motherhood if they have an eating disorder history. © 2010 Elsevier Ltd.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)1223-1233
    Number of pages10
    JournalInternational Journal of Nursing Studies
    Issue number10
    Publication statusPublished - Oct 2011


    • Breast-feeding
    • Eating disorders
    • Motherhood
    • Pregnancy
    • Qualitative research


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