• chronic illness;
  • eating problems;
  • feeding;
  • infant;
  • nursing;
  • qualitative approaches

Aim.  This paper seeks to explain how bulimic mothers accommodated infant feeding demands in conjunction with managing their disordered eating practices.

Background.  Eating disorders are chronic and disabling illnesses primarily affecting women. There are few qualitative studies describing bulimia in the context of motherhood.

Design.  The study employed an inductive qualitative approach.

Methods.  A purposive sample of childbearing women (n = 16), who self-defined as living with an eating disorder, were recruited. Data were generated from one-to-one interviews; a thematic analysis identified key issues.

Results.  Participants were primarily responsible for ensuring child/ren’s socialisation processes, including modelling appropriate dietary behaviours and these demands often conflicted with their personal needs for food restraint. Pressures to participate in social activities with children were widely experienced as stressful especially when these events focused on food. Participants viewed early and repeated exposure to ‘healthy’ eating as protective against their children acquiring an eating disorder and in this respect commercial child-care facilities provided alternative environments for children to explore food-related activities.

Conclusions.  Participants employed a variety of strategies to ensure children’s exposure to normalising influences and socialising processes. Concerns about personal competencies with respect to food preparation and storage were articulated by all participants.

Relevance to clinical practice.  Professionals involved with providing care to mothers and their infants are well placed to support bulimic clients and to foster confidence in their mothering skills. Early and appropriate intervention is key to effecting positive changes in bulimic patterns, with potential benefits to women’s future health and well-being and that of their children.