Here is what every reader should know about nutrition in pregnancy.
YOU'RE GOING to have a baby! You're proud, and so happy. You congratulate each other on your mutual creative ingenuity. What a threesome you will make. The grandparents are ecstatic. And suddenly, it begins to sink in. There's no turning back. You are committed to a responsibility that will affect you as an individual and as a family for the remainder of your life. What parent hasn't asked: What if the baby doesn't turn out to be the beautiful, healthy child everyone expects? What if the baby is one of the thousands born each year with a birth defect? What can we do to prevent such a tragedy?
Going to the Doctor
You talk to friends and acquaintances and find who the best obstetrician in town is. After talking to your doctor, you begin to feel more reassured. Here's someone knowledgeable who will share, even carry, a major burden of responsibility for you. What a relief. All you have to do is follow his directions to the letter and you will have fulfilled your obligations. Who could blame you then if anything went wrong? But, can you really shift your responsibilities so easily? No, it's not that simple. An obstetrician may be educated and trained to guide you through your pregnancy to the delivery of your child. He can check your progress and advise you, but no amount of sophisticated monitoring and testing can assure you a healthy baby. If complications do arise and you or your child is adversely affected, it is not the doctor who will suffer the emotional and physical trauma for years to come. But again, what can you do? Many factors are involved in whether the outcome of your pregnancy is favorable or not-genetic, biological, social and psychological. You do not have control over all the elements necessary to ensure a successful pregnancy and an alert, healthy baby. But in one vitally important area the majority of you do have control. That area is nutrition.
Importance of Nutrition
You may respond, "Oh yes, my doctor did mention something about being careful to eat a balanced diet, but my mom has been nagging me about that for years. Besides, right now I don't feel like eating anything. And when I do regain my appetite, I'm certainly not going to gain a lot of extra weight and ruin my figure. My husband doesn't like me over weight." There is overwhelming evidence that poorly nourished women with poor diets during pregnancy have more complications than do well nourished women with good, well balanced diets. "Learning how to eat well to provide the best possible nutrition for your growing baby — as well as knowing what substances to avoid — is the single most important thing you can do. "As your pregnancy progresses, your body adapts to supply nourishment to the fetus through increased blood volume and blood flow to your uterus and placenta. If your nutrition is poor, even for a few weeks, fewer nutrients will be available to your baby, and its growth rate in the womb will be slower. What this means, of course, is that the infant will be smaller at birth" ("Should You Really Be Eating for Two?" Redbook. January, 1982, excerpted from Growing Up Healthy — A Parent's Guide to Good Nutrition by Myron Winick, M.D., director of the U.S. Institute of Human Nutrition). Pregnancy is not the time to worry about gaining weight. You and your husband must be more concerned about the health and well-being of that new addition to your family than about temporary weight gain. Listen to the facts, "Low birth weight is well established as an antecedent of excessive mortality in infants. Data from the United States and England indicate that infant death rates rise dramatically among newborns weighing 2,500 grams [about 5½ pounds] or less" (Nutritional Impacts on Women Throughout Life with Emphasis on Reproduction, page 143). Low birth weight is the major cause of infant mortality in the world. Even the well-fed United States is ranked 13th in infant mortality rates, according to 1981 statistics from the U.S. Census Bureau. Living in some of the. so-called developed countries does not automatically ensure that you are well nourished. Yet maternal nutrition is the single most important factor influencing the baby's birth weight. Tragically, it has also been demonstrated that mental deficiency in newborns is related to low birth weight and prematurity rates. "Cell division is most rapid and, therefore, most vulnerable from one month before birth until five months after. Never again will the baby's brain experience such an incredible proliferation of new cells. All of the eleven billion neurons, the cells which process and analyze information, are formed before birth. Inadequate nutrition during gestation results in permanent, irreversible deficits in the number of cells which make up the baby's brain" (from page 95, What Every Pregnant Woman Should Know, The Truth About Diets and Drugs in Pregnancy by Gail Sforza Brewer, director of instructor training and certification for the Metropolitan New York Childbirth Education Association, and Tom Brewer, M.D., president of the Society for the Protection of the Unborn through Nutrition [SPUN]). You are responsible for the good nutrition that will enable your child to reach his or her maximum genetic potential. You can give your baby a head start that no one else can. Your baby is what you eat.
Smoking and Drinking
Your baby is also 'what you drink, smoke and otherwise ingest into, your system. "The [U.S.] Surgeon General reports that smoking during pregnancy also results in a significantly greater number of spontaneous abortions, stillbirths, and neonatal deaths. "As to long-term effects on the children of women who smoke during pregnancy, N.R. Butler, in his study 'of prenatal hazards concluded,... a follow-up at age seven of the babies studied in the British Prenatal Study of 1958... found that the children of mothers who were 'heavy' smokers during pregnancy showed significantly decreased height, retardation of reading ability, and lower ratings on 'social adjustment' than the children of non-smoking mothers" (Positively Pregnant by Madeleine Kenefick, pages 128, 129). As well as smoking, the decision by a pregnant mother to drink alcoholic beverages should be arrived at by taking into consideration metabolic and other factors such as weight, diet and drugs used, illicit or otherwise. Alcohol flows easily from a mother's bloodstream through the placenta into her unborn child. The odds of damaging the fetus are even higher when drugs are combined with alcohol by the pregnant mother. Remember, it's your responsibility to protect the health of your unborn child. What if your doctor recommends a low-salt, low-calorie diet sometime during your pregnancy? Weight or salt restriction in pregnancy is no longer routinely advised at the forefront of the obstetrics community, neither is routine use of diuretics (water pills). If your doctor is out of step with the latest published 'medical findings, and will not cooperate with your desire to adequately nourish your unborn child, he may suggest you see another doctor. Take his advice. Read what Ronald A. Chez, M.D., of the Chief Pregnancy Research Branch, National Institute of Child Health and Human Development in Bethesda, Maryland, had to say about the level of the average physician's education in nutrition: "For all intents and purposes, the physician's medical education is lacking. There is scant attention in our curricula to the aspects of nutrition. Clinical nutrition is not usually regarded to be a glamorous medical discipline. It is taught inadequately in most medical schools and poorly applied by most clinicians" (Nutritional Impacts on Women, pages 221, xv). Some physicians are now referring their patients to registered dietitians whose training has prepared them to advise patients as to their nutritional needs.
A Normal, Natural Process
More and more we need to come to understand that pregnancy and childbirth are normal, natural processes and begin to treat them so, instead of like illnesses. God is the Master Designer of our bodies and bodily functions, including the reproductive processes. And he wrote an "Instruction Book" — the Bible — that tells us how to live and how to have health and vitality. If you want to learn some of those basic commonsense precepts that are essential to achieving vibrant, radiant health, read our free booklet Principles of Healthful Living. Those of you who are pregnant or plan to be should also make note of the accompanying chart and read some of the books referred' to in this article as well as other good books on the subject. Those with special health problems, of course, if planning to become or already pregnant, should get the necessary dietary advice. Be responsible, be informed, and be prepared to give birth to a beautiful, alert, vigorously healthy baby. There's no second chance.