Pregnant women in India often ‘eat for two’ – this is mistakenly interpreted as consuming the diet of two people.
The nutrition a mother provides to her unborn child, helps the foetus grow healthily in the womb. The right balance of nutrition and moderate exercise can help the baby develop a healthy weight with less risk of disease.
But in India, pregnant mothers are advised to eat more while they are expecting, since they are ‘eating for two people’. While it is true that a pregnant woman needs nutrition for two – herself and her unborn child – it does not mean that she must consume the diet of two people. Overeating, indeed, may have serious repercussions on the health of the baby, and the mother.
On the occasion of National Nutrition Week, we examine three reasons why expectant mothers must watch their calorie intake and portion sizes:
Weight gain: Eating more than normal meal sizes can cause her weight to rise. Doctors normally advise pregnancy-related weight gain only for thin women with a low BMI (20 or lower). If the woman has a BMI of 40 or more at the start of the pregnancy, there is no further need to gain weight. Gaining weight at this juncture can cause back and knee pain, varicose veins and heart disease.
Overeating linked to child’s future obesity: Research conducted in the US in 2013 shows that the higher the mother’s weight gain during pregnancy, the higher the chances that the child will be overweight at age 12. This also means that overeating or consuming large portions for every meal has a direct bearing on the weight of the foetus. “A growing baby needs the right amount of nutrients so that it may grow into a healthy infant,” says Dr Manjusha Birje, paediatrician. “The mother should exercise portion control and stay away from fattening food. Giving in to a craving is fine occasionally, but it should not become a habit.”
Difficulty giving birth: Dr Biplab Majumdar, a gynaecologist, recalls a patient whose in-laws plied her with a lot of food at every meal. “When I saw her in her second trimester, she had put on a tremendous amount of weight. I inquired about her meals and calculated her estimated calorie intake. Finally, I explained to her that her baby might be larger than normal. This would cause problems during labour, as the baby would expand the birth canal beyond safe limits. In some cases, the baby might be underweight. An overweight mother may develop diabetes and blood pressure, which can further complicate the birth process.”
What should be eaten?
Home cooked meals that include fresh vegetables are recommended. When the mother feels hungry, she may snack on fruit, nuts, or whole wheat crackers with a cup of green tea. The intake of coffee, fizzy drinks and sweetened fruit juices should be avoided. Alcohol, cigarettes and self-medication are a strict ‘no’ during this period. Consulting a nutritionist for a pregnancy diet chart is a prudent move. However, a general diet rule to follow is: less sugar, less salt and less oil. The diet should be balanced with moderate exercise and recommended pre-natal vitamins.
 Corleone, Jill, ‘The effects of over-eating during pregnancy’, www.livestrong.com, July 1, 2015
Barclay, Rachel, ‘Overeating During Pregnancy Predicts a Lifetime of Obesity for Children, Research Shows’, October 1, 2013.