I feel like I am constantly surrounded by pregnant women; many of the ladies around here seem like they are in a state of perpetual pregnancy. While I have as of yet refused to join their ranks I do have a few words of wisdom to offer them, not as mother but as a food scientist.
Pregnant women seem to have a lot of misconceptions about their condition. I’m not sure if these erroneous beliefs originate from incorrect information passed down from mothers and grandmothers or if they simply blossom out of women’s desires to take advantage of their situation. But I do know that I’ve listened to far too many mothers-to-be talk about how hungry they are when they are only 5 or 6 weeks along and I’ve heard lots of ladies justify eating ridiculously unhealthy and calorie laden meals by stating that old adage “I’m not eating for one; I’m eating for two.” I’ve held my tongue loads of times when expecting women have told me that they can’t exercise because they are pregnant but I can keep my big mouth shut no longer.
Okay ladies, it’s time to get your information straight. Disregard the phony-bologna you heard from your Aunt Gertrude and forget your longing to just have one time in your life when you can eat whatever the heck you want without consequence. Despite all that wishful thinking pregnancy isn’t actually a good excuse to be a lazy piggy. Let me tell you the facts so the next time one of you pregos try to give me the rundown on why you need to consume 4,000 calories a day and do nothing but watch TV you will understand why I’m not buying it.
As a food scientist, and someone with years of experience in the dietary supplement field, I understand nutritional needs during pregnancy very well. I’ve even developed prenatal supplement formulas for companies I’ve worked for. So don’t discount what I’m telling you now simply because I haven’t experienced pregnancy myself. I’m guessing most of your OBGYN doctors are men and therefore have never been, nor will ever be, pregnant. Yet you take their advice. Why? Because reason and science do not require firsthand experience; if they did, life would be our only teacher and text books would be completely obsolete. The facts are the facts and I know the fact so let’s go through the basics of caloric needs during pregnancy and how they relate to nutrient needs and then let’s cover what is a healthy amount of exercise when you are expecting.
First a reminder: pregnancy is composed of three trimesters – if that is news to any of you we have bigger problems than you eating too many Doritos. Nutrient and caloric needs vary from trimester to trimester so I’m going to break it all down for you.
Let’s start with the first trimester. Nutrition is absolutely critical during the first trimester of pregnancy because this is when many of the baby’s organs and body parts form. The nutrient status of a mother during this period can have lifelong ramifications for her offspring. That’s why it is imperative that all women in their childbearing years supplement with folic acid and that any woman attempting to get pregnant take a daily prenatal vitamin. In a woman that is nutrient deficient by the time she realizes she is pregnant, and takes steps to correct those deficiencies, irreversible damage may have already been done to her baby. It’s not worth the risk ladies. Be responsible and make sure you are getting adequate nutrients whether you see a baby in your near future or not. After all, life is full of surprises.
Despite the extra nutrients necessary in the first trimester women need virtually NO extra calories during this time. Yes, that is correct. So if you are 5 weeks along, and just found out you were expecting, don’t come crying to me about how you’re hungry constantly because you don’t need any additional calories yet – it’s all in your head. The mind truly must be a powerful thing because countless barely pregnant women have told me their hunger woes. Yes, I am rolling my eyes just thinking about it.
Since you don’t need any extra food during the first few months of pregnancy you should only gain 2 to 4 pounds and no, that 2 does not have a 0 after it. By the beginning of the second trimester the fetus only weighs about 1 oz. Yeah, not exactly what one would call a calorie demanding mass.
In the second trimester the fetus bulks up from 1 ounce to about 2 or 3 pounds and then, during the third trimester, it does the majority of its growing and weight accumulation. Surely, since the baby is rapidly expanding women need extra calories during their second and third trimesters, right? Absolutely, but only about 300 additional calories a day are required. This may sound substantial but it’s really not. You can get 300 calories from 2 cups of low-fat milk and a slice of bread …or a microscopic potato chip crumb. Pregnant women should put on approximately 0.75-1.0 pound a week in their second and third trimesters bringing the grand total of weight gain for the entire pregnancy to about 25-35 pounds. It should be noted that while additional weight gain is generally not healthy it is better than not enough weight gain. The wellbeing of your baby should always be your top priority so skimping on your food because you are trying to watch your figure is an absolutely ridiculous thing to do during pregnancy.
Unlike energy needs, which don’t change too much during pregnancy, nutrient needs increase by quite a bit: 20-100% depending on the nutrient. This means that pregnant women need to be more conscientious about what they’re eating, not less so, in order to fulfill their nutrient requirements. Translation: consume more nutrient dense foods not more calorie dense foods. Say no to the French fries but yes to the fruits and veggies.
Also, you poor women that suffer from morning sickness when you are expecting have my condolences. Obviously, for those in the vomitous clutches of this obnoxious condition whatever can be kept down should be consumed. And of course, getting too much food is not an issue for the gagging.
Now that we have covered the fundamentals concerning pregos and calories how about exercise? If you’re pregnant exercise is bad, right? While pregnancy is not the time to start up a new exercise routine, the rule of thumb is that you can continue to do just about any exercise that you could do beforehand without difficulty. So if you were in good shape and regularly went running before you were expecting you will most likely be able to continue that regiment to some degree. There are exceptions certainly. Contact sports are out as are things like deep leg bends and weight lifting. And of course some women, due to possible complications, are told to keep their exercise to a minimum. Any exercise program should be discussed with your doctor to ensure that it will be safe given your specific circumstances. With that said, I know plenty of pregos that use pregnancy as an excuse not to exercise at all even though there is no reason for it in their particular case.
In conclusion, while some women have problems with excessive weight gain during pregnancy due to genetic or hormonal causes beyond their control this is not the case with most pregnancies. Just like everyone else, pregnant women gain too much weight because they eat too much, exercise too little, or a combination of both. As much as a mother-to-be might wish that pregnancy would somehow be a loophole to that cardinal rule, it’s just not the case. So remember ladies, when you are 5 weeks along you aren’t eating for two; you are eating for you and a pea-sized mass of replicating cells. And when you are further along you only need 300 extra calories a day but a substantial amount of added nutrients. So make sure you get highly nutritious foods and take a nice walk. The exercise and healthy eating will do both of you good. And if you recall nothing else from this post remember this: pregnant women may need extra love and support to cope with the changes they are going through but they don’t need an extra cheeseburger. Your post-pregnancy body will thank you for keeping that in mind.