People like to help pregnant women.
On buses it is routine to give up one’s seat for a pregnant woman. In Boston, drivers try less hard to run over pregnant women in crosswalks. And so on. But sometimes good intentions can lead to bad advice.
First, I’d like to point out that there is reasonably good evidence that obesity has negative health effects, and obesity in relationship to pregnancy is probably worse. So women who are planning on getting pregnant should probably trim down a bit if they need to. Also, exercise is good for many many reasons, so women who are planning on getting pregnant should look at their own exercise and activity routines and see if some adjustment can be made in those areas. And certainly, activity levels and patterns of diet and fat storage are all related, so in making these considerations do remember that this is all an interconnected complex whole.
And then, if you do actually get pregnant, don’t listen to anyone.
Or at least, think about the advice you are getting when people are yammering at you.
In particular, cast off and ignore the following pieces of advice that you will receive again and again and again:
1) Forget about healthy eating, just shove whatever food is in front of you into your mouth, preferably focusing on saturated fats; and
2) Stop all forms of exercise for the next several months as your brood develops inside you.
Now, you might be thinking “I’ve never heard anyone say those things to a pregnant woman” but if you are thinking that, then you are just not listening. You hear it all the time. Maybe not in exactly those words, but this is what people are telling the pregnant women.
You, the pregnant woman, are NOT eating for two. You are one person, you weigh somehwere between 90 and 160 pounds (leaving lots of room for variation) and for the first third of your pregnancy, the unit of additional biomass that you are also eating for will reach a whopping two pounds or so. So for your first trimester you need to increase your intake by about one percent to make up the difference. In the last trimester, you’ll have a lot more extra tissue that you are feeding via your blood supply, but still, imagine a 7 pound baby and add 7 pounds overhead (because for some reason we never weigh the placenta as part of the baby, even though it is, and there’s the expanded uterus) and you get 14 pounds. Maybe, maybe, the additional tissue that you are feeding will be about 8-15 percent.
If you were eating for two you’d be eating 200% of your normal diet, and to do that in terms of calories, you are going to have to eat a LOT of fatty foods because there is just not enough time in the day to double your caloric intake by eating leaves and other low-quality “diet” food.
In terms of activity levels, I would say that a pregnant woman should start, by the end of the first trimester, to avoid activities in which you have an elevated risk of injury. Motorcycle racing, water skiing, that sort of thing. This is because of the significant added medical complications of combining trauma with pregnancy. Later, activity levels will also have to be modulated in certain ways because of balance issues, and the simple fact that certain activities could damage the offspring directly. So no fencing or boxing.
But activity levels need to be maintained just to keep healthy for a reasonable amount of time, adjusting as needed for all those common issues that happen late in pregnancy.
In other words, when it comes to activity levels and types, as well as diet, follow the advice of:
- Mainstream books and possibly web sites
- Your doctor and/or
- Your certified midwife
Ignore the advice of
- Everybody else that you know, especially
- Anyone who has had a baby but not in the last five years or more; and especially especially
- Anyone who has not had a baby
…. when they tell you to sit quietly on the couch and eat ice cream for six months. As much as that sounds like it might be fun.
And take your prenatal/pregnancy vitamins, of course.