Wait, Now It's OK For Pregnant Women To "Eat For Two"?

In 2010 we heard nothing but stories about the dangers of too much pregnancy weight gain. Recommendations have been tweaked. Pregnancy weigh-ins have become tense affairs along the lines of The Biggest Loser.

Women who thought that pregnancy might offer 40 wonderful weeks during which they could finally associate food with growth and happiness, have been told to keep counting those calories. Obesity is the issue d’jour. Michelle Obama has a task force.

So imagine my surprise when I read this headline: “Eating For Two”: Pregnancy Diet Important To Fetal Brain Development.The pendulum appears to be swinging.

In a study of baboons, scientists found that the brains of primate fetuses whose mothers had nutrition deficiency in early pregnancy were not as well-developed midway through pregnancy as those whose mothers were fed a normal diet.

Lead researcher physiologist Thomas McDonald, Ph.D.from the U.T. Health Science Center said, “I would go so far as to say if you’re planning to have a child, that when you’re in the planning stages, the mom should be thinking about nutrition…. We’re not trying to scare people. We’re not trying to make people feel guilty. Don’t worry about your figure so much.”

Here’s what I want to know: Why would we have evolved so that the *majority* of women would have serious food aversions and morning sickness in the first trimester if eating early in pregnancy was such a big deal?

Also, women frequently don’t gain much weight in the first trimester. Weight gain often depends on your weight when you conceived. Underweight women tend to gain more weight in the beginning of pregnancy that women who are average or above average weight at conception. In general, we all need to be eating well–or as well as we can under the barfy circumstances–during early pregnancy, but not necessarily a lot. The healthy baboons were not eating a diet for two, but a normal diet. It was the malnourished that didn’t fare so well.

We know that serious maternal malnutrition has lasting effects on human offspring: in some studies women who were starved in pregnancy had children who were more likely to suffer any number of health issues later in life from obesity to heart disease to depression. However, we also know that gaining excessive weight in pregnancy can also predispose children for obesity and health problems later in life.  This new research seems to support the notion that too few nutrients do not provide an optimal environment for the fetus.

Here’s what I’m getting out of all this:

  • Avoid crappy food because it’s not good for you.
  • Talk to your care-provider if cravings, aversions and nausea are preventing you from eating well.
  • See if there are supplements that can help (there probably are).
  • Steer clear of headlines telling you to eat for one or for two. These are useless comparisons.
  • Try to enjoy food because it’s what keeps us alive.
  • Don’t diet during pregnancy, especially if you’re normal or under weight.

photo: Old Shoe Woman/Flickr

Article Posted 5 years Ago
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