There are many things a woman should avoid while pregnant, but the dinner table is not one of them.
Despite a national obsession with dieting, pregnant women need more calories and nutrients than non-pregnant women and should not try to restrict normal weight gain, said Barbara Whedon, a dietitian for the maternity and infant care program at Thomas Jefferson University Hospital.
"We see people who are very, very concerned about weight gain," Whedon said in a recent interview. "They don't want to gain weight when they're pregnant so they try to restrict their weight gain and, as a result, some of them consume pretty inadequate diets."
Low Birth Weight
And those inadequate diets can lead to infants with potentially low birth weights, which doctors know have more health problems than infants of normal weights, she said.
One of the ways Whedon persuades pregnant women to gain at least 25 to 30 pounds is to discuss where the added pounds go. In many cases, pregnant women assume that because the average baby weighs about 7 1/2 pounds, that is all the weight they must gain, she said.
But the dietitian tells the women that in addition to the baby's weight, they need to gain an extra pound in their breasts, 1 1/2 pounds in placenta or afterbirth, 2 pounds in the uterus, 8 1/2 pounds in blood and other body fluids and 3 1/2 pounds in nutrient stores.
"Once in a while, there's someone who can't acknowledge the fact that they need to gain 25 pounds," Whedon said. "That just is not acceptable to them."
To gain the recommended weight, Whedon said pregnant women should eat a "nutrient-dense" diet--high in carbohydrates, moderate in protein and low in fat.
Pregnant women should be eating a well-balanced diet of about 2,100 calories--about 300 more than what the average non-pregnant woman requires, she said.
A woman can also plan before conception to get her body in the right condition nutritionally to help her and the infant, the dietitian said.
The woman should first get herself to an ideal body weight for her frame and be eating an adequate diet for a non-pregnant woman to build up the level of "nutrition stores" in her body.
"Everybody stores nutrients, vitamins and minerals in their body, and if those storages are filled the woman will have more to draw on when she's pregnant," Whedon said.
If a woman is planning a pregnancy, some doctors will give her a prenatal vitamin and mineral supplement for a few months prior to conception, she said.
Whedon also advises women on their nutritional needs after delivery. Women should lose their added weight gradually--about two pounds a week after the initial weight loss from delivery.
But breast-feeding women need to eat about 500 more calories per day than non-breast-feeding women, she said.
"If a woman is breast-feeding a baby it's important she continue to eat well so that she will continue to produce adequate milk and keep herself healthy," she said. "Most breast-feeding women will say they have the appetite to do it."
Whedon, a member of the Philadelphia Dietetic Assn., said there was a time earlier in the century when pregnant women were instructed to restrict weight gain.
Because of possible vitamin and calcium deficiencies, women had a smaller pelvis, she said. A smaller baby, therefore, was easier to deliver.
"Many of these women who would try to deliver these large or even normal-sized babies through the birth canal would have difficulties, leading to distress for both the mother and the baby," Whedon said.
As medical science progressed and doctors learned the hazards that low birth weight babies face, women were told not to restrict weight gain.
But, Whedon said, it took time for medical thought to catch up with common beliefs about dieting and pregnancy.