We all know those women who subsided on cheetos and ding dongs, throwing back diet cokes their whole pregnancy, only to birth a perfectly healthy, happy little baby. We also know those women who maintained a fairly healthy pregnancy diet, and STILL ended up with complications (like myself, last time around). So does healthy eating during pregnancy really matter? Doesn't your body just take care of the baby on it's own? After all, our bodies are made to be pregnant and give birth... right?
Well, the long and short of it is yes... and no. Let's dig in a little deeper.
Yes, our bodies are perfectly designed by our Creator to grow and birth babies. Simple as that. And really, for many of us, just eating is enough to sustain a pregnancy and grow a healthy baby. But is just growing a healthy full-term baby enough, long-term? Maintaining a healthy pregnancy diet has far more benefits than just a healthy baby.
Healthy eating during pregnancy makes for a healthier mama. Medical literature describes growing fetuses (babies!) as glucose-dependent parasites. Endearing, isn't it? But it is true. Babies, as parasites do, will readily take what they need from mama, often to the detriment of mom. This includes both glucose (stored carbohydrates for energy) as well as other macronutrients (protein and fat) and micronutrients (vitamins and minerals, like iron- which moms often become deficient in). They're not doing it on purpose- they're just trying to grow! Healthy eating during pregnancy helps top off YOUR stores so you don't end up depleted and exhausted when it comes to the end of your pregnancy, and especially during labor and delivery and those crucial early weeks. Eating healthy and taking your prenatal as 'insurance' helps to ensure you do not become too depleted to be the best mama you can be.
Healthy eating during pregnancy can help avoid complications such as gestational diabetes, pregnancy-induced hypertension and pre-eclampsia. This seems obvious, but it's often not taken into consideration how important an effect the maternal diet can have on pregnancy complications. Sometimes it has absolutely nothing to do with it-- hormonal changes as they can be, some women simply develop these conditions with incredibly healthy, balanced diets. But studies have proven maternal diet to reduce risks of complications significantly (1).
Healthy eating during pregnancy helps mama gain both an adequate and healthy amount of weight for her body. We should all know by now, our weight is not a significant indicator of health. However, weight gain during pregnancy- whether too little or too much, has been shown to be linked to adverse health problems, such as pre-term or low birthweight babies (which has been linked to cardiovascular problems as well as other chronic conditions), as well as macrosomic (too-large) babies and adverse effects in babies long-term metabolic health. An article published in the US National Library of Medicine states, Both epidemiology and animal studies now highlight that undernutrition, overnutrition, and diet composition negatively impact fetoplacental growth and metabolic patterns, having adverse later life metabolic effects for the offspring. (2) Both maintaining a generally healthy pregnancy diet as well as practicing intuitive, mindful eating throughout pregnancy can help you achieve a weight that is optimal for your body and your baby's needs during pregnancy.
Healthy eating during pregnancy can help your baby in the future. The relatively new study of epigenetics (3), including the popular developmental origins of health hypothesis (4), link prenatal nutrition not only to fetal outcome (a healthy baby) but to health long-term. And this doesn't just apply to your baby- it also applies to your baby's babies. That's right- if you're having a baby girl, did you know she is already born with all of the eggs she will release in her lifetime? You're not just creating one sweet baby in that belly of yours- you're also taking part in creating your potential grandchildren. So while this area of science is still emerging, it's evidence shows promising links between maternal nutrition and the future of our babies, for generations to come.
So do we need to go crazy ensuring our diets are PERFECT... or else? Absolutely not. Maintaining a generally healthy diet, getting in lots of vegetables, healthy fats and protein, taking our prenatals, listening to our bodies and indulging from time to time is more often than not more than sufficient (barring specific health concerns). In fact, I'll go further into what a healthy pregnancy diet really looks like, in a couple days (and even deeper in my upcoming e-book, Healthy Mama Bun In The Oven- coming later this fall!). Meanwhile, if you want a sneak peek at my 5-day pregnancy meal plan and top 10 foods list, click the link below!
Abrams B, Altman SL, Pickett KE. Pregnancy weight gain: still controversial. Am J Clin Nutr 2000; 71(suppl):1233S-1241S. Phillips DIW. External influences on the fetus and their long-term consequences. Lupus 2006;15(11):794-800.
Ramakrishnan et al. Micronutrients and pregnancy outcome: a review of the literature. Nutr Res 1999;19:103-59.