Just once…

…I would like to have a study done on maternal diet that did not look solely at the numbers — of calories consumed and/or weight gained. What about actual, you know, nutrition? Once again, new guidelines have been released about maternal weight gain, stressing that women who are already over their ideal or “normal” weight should gain fewer pounds, while women under it should gain more pounds. Actually, the guidelines look like what I’ve seen all along, so I’m not sure what is “new” about them, except maybe it’s now official that overweight women should only gain 11-20 pounds.

Ok, so if I’m already fat due to eating too many doughnuts, then telling me not to gain weight while not telling me what to eat isn’t going to help. I may not “eat doughnuts for two”, but unless I get some actual nutrients in my body, then my baby is going to suffer. These guidelines don’t look at nutrition, though — only weight gained. Sorry, but that’s garbage. In my opinion.

I remember when I was first pregnant, the midwife told me that some of her clients gained 50 pounds eating “fruits and vegetables” (I don’t think she was saying they were strict vegetarians, but rather she was emphasizing that they ate a lot of nutritious, healthy, “whole” foods); while others gained much less weight, but ate “macaroni and cheese” (i.e., junk food, empty calories). The context was in losing weight after the baby was born — saying that if you gain weight on healthy foods, you’ll lose it faster — in her example, the “fruit & veggie” people lost their weight quickly, while the “junk food” people kept their weight, even after the baby was born. That’s interesting from that angle, too.

You can’t make me believe that a baby will be better off if the mother eats junk food but doesn’t gain weight, than if the mother eats loads of fresh fruits and vegetables and gains a lot of weight.

In the article I linked to, it said, “Not too many years ago it was rare to see a 9-pound, or larger, newborn.” Yeah, and not too many years ago, normal-weight women were advised to take diuretics to make sure they didn’t gain more than 10-15 pounds during pregnancy. So, maybe they were giving birth to starved and scrawny babies, which is not normal. Maybe? Yet now we’re comparing babies of today to them as if they were normal? And I’m pretty sure there is some research showing that babies who do not get enough nutrients and/or calories as fetuses also turn out to be calorie-hogs when they’re born — making up for lost time, perhaps?

Yeah, I understand that overweight women are more likely to have larger babies (perhaps partially due to sub-clinical diabetes?); and it’s not too big of a stretch of the imagination to guess that children pick up on the habits of their parents, so if mom is sedentary and/or eats too much, infant-toddler-kindergartner may also follow that trend. But I and all of my siblings had at least one child who was 9 pounds or more, and we all had at least one child who was less than 9 pounds, and I would be greatly surprised if you could look at any of the children (ranging in age from 3-11) and tell which children were over and which were under 9 pounds. In fact, I would challenge anyone to look at their pictures at any stage of life after the first 6 months or so and tell which were “macrosomic” at birth.

However, some women who are overweight will very easily not gain much if any weight during pregnancy, but many times (perhaps every time) this has to do with them paying attention to what they are eating and making positive dietary changes. My older sister was this way, for both of her pregnancies. Both pregnancies she only gained about 10 pounds total, and gave birth to babies weighing 8 and 9 pounds. Both times, leading up to getting pregnant, she had a pretty crummy diet — lots of fast food and daily soft drinks, with few if any vegetables. When she found out she was pregnant, she did an about-face. She limited her Mountain Dew consumption to either once a day (whereas before it was 2-3), or else even cut it down to once or a few times a week. She cut out the french fries, and added vegetables. She wouldn’t do this for herself, but she would do it for her babies. Although she had no morning sickness to speak of, she dropped weight — both pregnancies — in the first trimester, simply by eating well and cutting out the garbage. Then as she continued her pregnancy, she gained back weight she had lost (but this would be healthy(er) weight, since it was generally good food instead of junk), and then gained more. I would guestimate that her total weight gain from her lowest to her weight at birth was in the neighborhood of 20-25 pounds, simply because of her rapid weight loss when she started paying attention to her diet (much of that probably shedding excess fluid). But if she had just continued on the same garbage diet that she had been on before, she may not have gained much weight (if she didn’t eat any more), or may have gained well in excess of the “recommendations” for overweight people. And neither of those would have been beneficial for her babies. However, the course of action she took was.

Also, there may be genetic factors involved. My younger son was born weighing 9 lb, yet he is a normal-weight three-year-old, and many of his 3T clothes are still a bit too big for him. Some friends adopted a newborn a few weeks after my son was born, and he has outgrown many 4T clothes (although they are too long for him, they just don’t fit his girth) — he looks like a miniature linebacker. His biological mother hid her pregnancy from all of her friends and family, and I think she was larger to start with, so I believe she didn’t gain much if any weight. He weighed in the 8-lb range, although if he had been born on his natural due date instead of by elective Cesarean (so the biological mother didn’t have to worry about her secret being found out with her water breaking or going into labor), he may have weighed more. His adoptive parents are trim and even athletic people; his mom was very picky about what he ate (no meat for the first full year, perhaps even until he was two; lots of vegetables, etc.). He’s just a big kid.

There’s a lot to be said for nutrition, but it’s easier to quantify and count numbers — of calories and pounds, rather than carrots and pineapples.

4 Responses

  1. One of the things that I’m really peeved at my current doctor about right now is the lack of support on nutrition/weight gain. I’ve lost weight since getting pregnant (went from being 5-6 lbs over my “ideal” down to just around where I wanted to be pre-baby), and all they will say is, “Oh, don’t worry, you’ll start gaining soon” and then when I ask about nutrition, they say “Oh, just eat a normal healthy diet.” I live in Mississippi, where, quite frankly, there is no wide-spread understanding of a “normal, healthy diet.” I’ve had super-mommies telling me to up my veggie intake to 10 servings a day and do all sorts of other health nut things, but we’re on a very much rice/beans/ground beef/chicken/frozen veggies kind of food budget and I just don’t know how to maximize my healthy food with such a teeny budget.

  2. A “normal, healthy diet” here in Mississippi is balancing fried chicken with fried okra and mashed potatoes and gravy. {rolling eyes} I’ve heard one person say that she overheard a young pregnant woman say that since she had a lettuce leaf on her hamburger, that that counted for a serving of vegetables.

    I’m in the same food-budget situation as you, so I understand where you’re coming from. However, you’re probably getting much better nutrition from that than the average person, simply because you’re making all your own food from scratch, rather than buying a lot of convenience food with lots of additives and extra sugar and sodium. If you look at the cost of food per unit of nutrition, then what you outline above is going to get you the most bang for your buck. Look at the “serving size” of vegetables — you may be pleasantly surprised to find out that you’re actually eating 2-3 servings of a veggie when you thought you were only eating one. But if you want tips on maximizing your food budget, you’ve got to check out “The Complete Tightwad Gazette” — it is a treasure of frugal tips, particularly when it comes to food! [Or you can buy each of the 3 editions of The Tightwad Gazette books, if that turns out to be cheaper — used, of course — Amazon has them pretty low; and if you can combine shipping, it may be cheaper to get them separately than in one unit.] And frozen food can be very healthy, considering that it usually goes from being picked to frozen within hours, locking in the nutrients, whereas “fresh” foods are usually several days old and may be even several weeks old by the time you eat them, and their nutrients are degrading with every passing day.

  3. I have noticed a trend in my area. Pregnant women used to be a max weight of 200lbs. Now 300 is the new 200. It is not uncommon to have super heavy weight patients.

    One woman was drinking ice tea all day long instead of water. Did you know that ice tea can have a lot of calories in it? I didn’t know that. But this lady was drinking a lot of it and wondering why she was heavy. She just didn’t know.

    • I dislike tea, so didn’t know about the calories. Of course, here in the South, just about everybody drinks tea. Lots of it. Sweetened. Which means lots of calories from the sugar, even though the tea itself is non-caloric.

      I used to work with a woman who drank nearly a full 3-liter Diet Coke every day during working hours; during the course of our working together, she cut it down to a 2-liter per day. She was very large, and probably thought that drinking the nearly no-calorie Diet Coke didn’t affect her weight, but I don’t see how it couldn’t. There has to be more to weight gain or loss than strictly calories, although I know that has a lot to do with it. I’ve read that drinking diet drinks tends to make a person crave sweets more, because they get the flavor of sweetness on their tongues, which sets their bodies into motion to expect sugar in the stomach, and then when it doesn’t come, the body sends out signals to want sweets. (And of course, many people act like the calories of a candy bar are canceled out by the no calories of the soft drink, so tend to overindulge on the sweets or other fattening food as well.) Also, it’s possible that the ingredients in soft drinks make a person retain water, so that is where some of the weight gain comes in.

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