Psychological Medicine

Original Articles

Infant growth in the context of maternal eating disorders and maternal depression: a comparative study

A. Steina1 c1, L. Murraya1, P. Coopera1 and C. G. Fairburna1

a1 Section of Child Psychiatry and Department of Psychiatry, University of Oxford; and Winnicott Research Unit, Department of Psychiatry, University of Cambridge


There is evidence of growth faltering in infants of mothers with eating disorders. The aim of the current study was to examine whether this is a specific relationship. Thus, the infants of mothers with eating disorders were compared with infants of mothers with post-natal depression and a large comparison group. This study also aimed to explore possible mechanisms whereby growth disturbance comes about.

It was found that the infants of mothers with eating disorders were smaller, both in terms of weight for length and weight for age, than either comparison group infants or infants of mothers with post-natal depression. There was little evidence, however, that mothers with eating disorders preferred smaller children or were dissatisfied with their children's shape or that they misperceived their children's size. On the contrary these mothers seemed highly sensitive to their children's shape and, compared with the other two groups, were more likely to judge their children's size accurately. None of these maternal measures significantly predicted the child's growth.

The mechanism whereby growth disturbance arises in the context of eating disorders does not appear to be by means of a direct extension of the maternal psychopathology to the infant.


c1 Address for correspondence: Professor Alan Stein, Leopold Muller University Department of Child and Family Mental Health, Royal Free Hospital School of Medicine and Tavistock Clinic, 120 Belsize Lane, London NW3 5BA.