Dieting During Pregnancy

Almost all medical experts condemn dieting during pregnancy. That’s because dieting can affect the quality of nutrition a baby receives. However, obese women have traditionally been encouraged to lose some weight or at least maintain their weight while pregnant. Is this wise advice?

Normal-Weight Women and Dieting
Women who are not obese are not encouraged to go on a pregnancy diet in order to avoid having a negative impact on their baby cause by a lack of nutrition during pregnancy.

A study at the University of Southampton found that lower nutrition levels in pregnant women of average weight were linked to a greater thickness of their children’s arteries later in life. The children of women who had the lowest calorie intake had the thickest arteries, regardless of their mother’s weight, health, whether they smoked or whether they exercised during pregnancy. Also not important was whether the majority of calories came from fat, carbohydrates or protein.

Birth defects have also been linked to pregnancy diets. Dieting during pregnancy increases the risk of neural tube defects (NTDs), in which the spinal cord and brain don’t fully develop.

Obese Women and Dieting
In the past, obese women were often advised to either reduce their weight during pregnancy or to maintain their pre-pregnancy weight, even though they tend not to gain as much weight during pregnancy as smaller women.

However, obese pregnant women are more likely to experience complications during pregnancy, including hypertension and gestational diabetes, and are more likely to require C-sections. Experts recommend obese women consider reducing their weight before trying to conceive, and not while they are pregnant.

While some doctors still encourage obese pregnant women to diet, most feel that it’s an old-fashioned practice that is moreover dangerous. Undernourished babies are more likely to be born prematurely and are often underweight, making them susceptible to serious health problems. Pregnancy diets also increase the risk of infant mortality.

Doctors recommend cutting out sugars and simple carbohydrates. Meals should be small and frequent in order to maintain a consistent energy level.

Lifestyle Diets and Pregnancy
Most doctors agree that lifestyle or fad diets should not be followed while pregnant. Diets that stress a high protein intake and a low caloric intake, such as Atkins, have been linked to high levels of stress in offspring in their adult years. This raises the risk of high blood pressure and diabetes due to the increased level of the stress hormone, cortisol. However, some studies have found that a low carb, high protein diet increased good fat metabolism in babies and lowered levels of triglyceride, fatty acids found in the liver. If you are currently on the Atkins Diet, speak to your health car provider about whether you should maintain this diet during pregnancy.

Diets that recommend cutting down on caloric intake, like the Zone diet, are generally not recommended for pregnant women because they compromise nutrition during pregnancy.

Phase two of the South Beach Diet—in which healthy carbs, like fruit and whole wheat pasta, are reintroduced to the diet, centered on cutting out unhealthy carbs, like processed foods—should only be followed by a pregnant woman if approved by her doctor.

Dietary Supplements
Eating a well-balanced meal is key to staying healthy during pregnancy and ensuring that your baby develops properly. Vitamins are encouraged in order to supplement a healthy diet. A prenatal multivitamin plus a daily mineral supplement are encouraged. Folic acid supplements are also important.

Food for Thought
Women of all sizes are encouraged to eat a healthy, balanced diet while pregnant. This goal can be achieved by adding about 300-500 calories a day to their regular diet. However many doctors stress the importance of the quality of these calories, as opposed to the number of calories themselves; foods high in fat and sugar as well as caffeine should be avoided. Fruits and vegetables, like spinach, carrots, oranges and tomatoes, are excellent for the immune system. Snacks should be nutritious as well.

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