Source: Vanderbilt University
EATING DISORDERED MOTHERS AND THEIR CHILDREN
Mothers tend to have greater effects on their children’s eating patterns and self image of themselves, especially for girls. The psychiatric disorders of parents may influence their child rearing methods and may contribute to a risk factor for the development of disorders in their children. Mothers with eating disorders may have a difficult time feeding their infants and young children and will further effect the child’s eating behaviors over the years. Often the family environment will be less cohesive, more conflicted, and less supportive.
In a study by Agras, Hammer, and McNicholas ( 1999) 216 newborns and their parents were recruited for a study from birth to 5 years of age of the offspring of eating disordered and non-eating disordered mothers. The mothers were asked to complete the Eating Disorders Inventory, looking at Body Dissatisfaction, Bulimia, and Drive for Thinness. They also completed a questionnaire which measured hunger, dietary restraint, and disinhibition, as well as a questionnaire concerning purging, weight loss attempts, and binge eating. Data on infant feeding behaviors were collected in the laboratory at 2 and 4 weeks of age using a suckometer; 24 hour infant intake was assessed at 4 weeks of age using a sensitive electronic weighing scale; and for 3 days each month infant feeding practices were collected using the Infant Feeding Report by the mothers. Also infant heights and weights were obtained in the laboratory at 2 and 4 weeks, 6 months, and at 6-month intervals thereafter. Data on aspects of the mother-child relationships were collected annually by questionnaire from the mother on the child’s birthday from 2 to 5 years of age.
The findings from this study suggest that mothers with eating disorders and their children, particularly their daughters, interact differently that non-eating disordered mothers and their children in the areas of feeding, food uses, and weight concerns. The daughters of eating disordered mothers appeared to have a greater avidity for feeding early in their development. Eating disordered mothers also noted more difficulty weaning their daughters from the bottle. These findings may be due in part to the mother’s attitudes and behaviors associated with her eating disorder. The report of higher rates of vomiting in the daughters of the eating disordered mothers is interesting to highlight given that vomiting is so frequently found as a symptomatic behavior associated with eating disorders. Beginning at 2 years of age, the eating disordered mother expressed a much greater concern over their daughter’s weight that they did for their sons or as compared to non-eating disordered mothers. Finally, eating disordered mothers perceived their children to have greater negative affectivity that do non-eating disordered mothers. Limitations to this study include the overall rate of the past and present eating disorders found in this study was high, compared with community sample rates, the study should also follow these children into the early school years to determine whether the interactions in this study do in fact lead to eating disorders in children.
Lunt, Carosella, and Yager (1989) also conducted a study focusing on mothers with anorexia nervosa and instead of looking at young children, this study observed the mothers’ of adolescent daughters. However, before the study even started, the researchers had a difficult time finding potentially suitable mothers because they refused to participate, fearing deleterious effects of the interviews on their relationship with their daughters. The researchers felt that adolescent daughters of women with anorexia nervosa might be expected to have some trouble in dealing with their own maturational processes, tendencies to deny problems, and possibly an increased likelihood of developing eating disorders.
Only three anorexic mothers and their adolescent daughters agreed to be interviewed. The results of the interviews showed that all three mothers avoided talking about their illnesses with their daughters and tended to minimize its effects on their relationships with their daughters. A tendency on the part of both the mothers and daughters to minimize and deny problems was found. Some of the daughters tended to closely watch their mother’s food intake and worry about their mother’s physical health. All three daughters felt that they and their mothers were very close, more like good friends. This may be because while the mothers were ill the daughters treated them more like peers or some role reversal may have occurred. Also, none of the daughters reported any fears of developing anorexia nervosa nor any fears of adolescence or maturity. It is important to note that all of the daughters were at least six years old before their mothers developed anorexia nervosa. By this age much of their basic personalities had developed when their mothers were not ill. It can be concluded that having a mother who has had anorexia does not necessarily predict that the daughter will have major psychological problems later in life. However, in future studies it is important to look at anorexic mothers when their children are infants, the father’s role, and the influence of a quality marriage.
Full article can be found here.
p.s. First time I've seen the word "suckometer." Will come in handy, surely.