When I got pregnant with Big Girl I saw three medical professionals: my midwife, a psychologist, and a nutritionist. As I have mentioned before, I have struggled with food issues all my life and I wanted to make sure I was eating enough and not getting too crazy.
The nutritionist spend about an hour or so with me during our first meeting. We discussed the food I liked, the food I didn’t, and what the growing baby inside of me needed. Not just calories, but also calcium, vitamins, protein, and essential nutrients. Then, based on my height and weight, she gave me a target calorie goal. I would be journaling my food intake every day, writing down exactly how much iron, for example, I was taking in, how much protein, how much fiber (to help ward off constipation), how much folic acid, how much good fat. I was charged with a huge responsibility: Take in enough good stuff to help that little baby grow. I took it very seriously.
I ate real, whole food. Lots of lean meat, cheeses, vegetables. I ate a protein bar every day. (They were super-yummy chocolate raspberry bars.) I ate yogurt. Almost everything was organic. If I ate something sweet it was made with real sugar — no artificial anything. At the end of my pregnancy I had only gained 19 pounds. It seemed to be the right prescription, though. Big Girl was born a week late at 8 pounds, 5 ounces. I went home with only ten pounds to lose. It came off that first month. So what’s the point of this story? Who cares?
Well, according to a recent study by Janet Currie, a health economist at Columbia University, and Dr. David S. Ludwig of Children’s Hospital Boston, women who gain too much weight during pregnancy may be setting their kids up for obesity in adulthood. A scary thought — that overeating during pregnancy can make your kid fat. The New York Times has a great story about this study and others. It talks about the recommended guidelines for weight gain — typically much less than most people gain. It’s not happening, though. Very few people stay within the recommended range. Pregnancy is now a free-for-all, with many women eating hot fudge sundaes every night and chocolate chip muffins for breakfast with snacks of candy in between. (And many end up with too-large babies and gestational diabetes and all sorts of health complications.)
It could be so easy to say women are just selfish gluttons. But that would be too easy, and not the real reason, I think, that women are getting so fat during pregnancy. I think the problem stems from our society’s ideals that say people — women in particular — should be super-skinny. Most aren’t, of course, but most of us try to get or stay slim. When you’re pregnant and this no longer applies, your mindset shifts. I have several friends who were size 2 before they got pregnant and who gained 40, 50, or even 60 pounds over the course of 10 months. They have been subsiding on next to nothing pre-baby and so when they were told, “Make sure you’re eating enough for the baby,” they went nuts. Who wouldn’t want to eat everything you’ve been denied for months and years? Heck, if I didn’t go into pregnancy with a nutritionist in my corner who knows how much I would have gained?
For me, though, I couldn’t eat all those “bad” foods because I was so focused on the nutrition. In fact, I think my healthy gain can be linked back to the protein and iron goals I had. Sure, I could meet my caloric needs eating five bowls of ice cream, but in order to hit 40 grams of protein, I had to be eating enough meat, hummus, beans, and soynut butter to make that number. Same went for iron. I have always been slightly anemic because I am not a red meat eater. So every morning I started my day with a big bowl of Cream of Wheat. I also ate broccoli, beans, and spinach. I am not exaggerating when I say after hitting all my nutrient goals some nights I felt quite literally stuffed. I couldn’t have chowed down on brownies if I wanted to. I didn’t have the room in my stomach.
I’m not sure why pregnancy isn’t seen as more of a collaborative health condition. I don’t know why, for example, every woman doesn’t get to meet with a nutritionist and a therapist after seeing their doctor or midwife. I can tell you that, as someone who went through it not once but twice, it was really nice having lots of different supporters in my corner. And that cream of wheat really is a great way to start the day.
How much weight did you or your spouse gain during pregnancy? Were you happy with your gain? Would you do anything differently? BTW: This post is how I am participating this week in Real Food Wednesdays and Fight Back Fridays — two awesome campaigns to get people eating real food again.