Pregnancy is a beautiful, blissful adventure full of miraculous changes and growth.
At least, that’s the story, right? The way it’s “supposed to be?”
For many moms-to-be, it can sometimes feel more like a harrowing journey toward finally holding your new little one. From vitamin regimens, structured diets, and unusual sleeping positions, the myths and expectations piled on pregnant women can become overwhelming.
I hope to address some of those worries so you can rest easier and enjoy more of your pregnancy. Despite the ups and downs, this is a wondrous time in a woman’s life.
Food and cravings are common topics of discussion and jokes when it comes to pregnancy. But contrary to old wives tales, food doesn’t quite play the part in a baby’s development most people have come to expect.
The baby doesn’t just eat when you do
Many pet owners know the stress and fear of forgetting to feed a pet dinner. Without you to pour the kibble, Fido would have a hard time eating.
Fortunately those same worries need not apply to a developing baby, even if you skip lunch.
The baby doesn’t eat exactly what you eat. If you had some organic free-range chicken for dinner, the baby doesn’t only get the nutrients contained in the chicken. Instead, the baby pulls all of the nutrients from you, even if they’re not in the food you eat. Even patients who experience severe morning sickness and struggle from significant weight loss can have healthy, well-grown babies.
The baby is like a needy shopper, and your body is the 24-hour grocery store.
The same misconception extends to prenatal vitamins. Many believe that without them, the developing baby could be vitamin-deficient. Actually, most of those vitamins are important to prevent vitamin deficiency in the mom, not the baby. Although folic acid may be somewhat helpful to the baby in the first trimester, the baby will take what it needs from mom (at her expense) with or without supplements.
Don’t worry – the baby’s not hungry
While “eating for two” is a common refrain around the lunch and dinner table, the baby doesn’t actually experience hunger. The placenta delivers all the nutrition the developing baby needs. That nutrition comes from the mom’s blood and goes right into the baby’s blood, not its stomach. A baby doesn’t use its stomach or intestines at all during the entire 9 months!
A woman’s body is extremely busy during pregnancy, so it’s reasonable if the mom-to-be is extra hungry. That being said, there’s no reason to force yourself to eat more than you need or to eat something just because someone said it is nutritious. The baby is taking the nutrition it needs from you, so you can focus on caring for yourself.
Cravings are real – but some are red flags
While science is still unclear on the exact origin of cravings, they definitely exist. Frequently, cravings are an indication of some dietary deficiency that the body is attempting to remedy. Pregnancy comes with heavy physiologic needs that call for a large menu of electrolytes, nutrients, and biochemicals. While it may seem odd to crave pickles, ice cream, or non-stop burritos, there’s most likely a biological reason behind it.
Pregnancy can also create strange cravings for things that aren’t usually considered food, like ice, clay, powdered starch or chalk. The craving for non-food items like that is called “pica” and it can often be a sign of a iron deficiency or other problem. If you start craving a side of something usually considered inedible with your hamburger, you should consult your doctor.
Food is a source of energy, and that stays true during pregnancy. While a your lunch plate isn’t directly nourishing a developing baby, it’s still important to eat regularly. Low blood sugar and an empty stomach for prolonged periods can lead to other symptoms in pregnancy. Remember, don’t feel pressured to eat more than you can handle because of the baby – the baby isn’t hungry. Give into those cravings, unless they start to become unusual.
Always speak with your doctor if you have any questions or concerns. No pregnancy is perfect, but I hope your pregnancy is the very best it can be.
Be safe, be well and have fun!
David L. Berry, M.D.
Founder and Staff Physician
Austin Perinatal Associates