Some new research and tools from the Department of Agriculture just came out for pregnant women, to help them gauge what they should be eating, and what kind of weight gain they should shoot for. You can see the tool here, which asks for information like age, height, weight and due date to calculate what the caloric breakdown should be.
Pregnancy nutrition is not a new topic–doctors have been telling women how to eat, and particularly what not to eat during pregnancy for a really long time. The famous What to Expect When You’re Expecting book even has a counterpart, What to Eat When You’re Expecting.
What strikes me about a lot of this information is how much it focuses on what NOT to eat. Pregnant women have endless lists of forbidden foods. One site I found had a long list of things on its forbidden list:
- Sushi, raw fish, undercooked foods, Swordfish, shark, king mackerel, tilefish, and fresh (as well as canned albacore) tuna; raw sushi and raw shellfish; refrigerated smoked seafood such as lox, trout, and whitefish (unless cooked as an ingredient in another dish).
- Raw milk and any dairy product (cheese, yogurt) made with raw milk; soft cheeses such as Brie, Camembert, feta, Danish blue, Roquefort, and Mexican-style queso blanco and queso fresco (unless clearly marked as pasteurized); uncooked foods made with raw eggs (such as salad dressings and protein shakes).
- Teas made with goldenseal, black or blue cohosh, ephedra, dong quai, feverfew, juniper, pennyroyal, Saint-John’s-wort, rosemary, or thuja. Drinking lots of nutritionally void diet drinks instead of healthier ones like water or juice.
- Then of course there is NO alcohol, nicotine or caffeine.
Many women even have to go off important medications that they take for their own well being. It’s a complicated issue, and pregnant women obviously have to take into account the well being of the fetus they are carrying. But how much is too much? Are we overreacting about the effect that small amounts of these foods can really have on pregnant women and their fetuses?
I have read some interesting things about alcohol and pregnancy, and how the research is really not conclusive that small amounts of alcohol during pregnancy actually have negative effects. Most of what we know comes from alcoholic pregnant women and the effects on their children. Part of the problem is that we can’t do good research on pregnant women–there are all sorts of rules governing the ethics of medical trials on pregnant women (maybe for some good reasons).
But it means that we don’t really know for sure what kind of impact certain foods, drugs and treatments have on women and their children. So doctors instead try to make recommendations based on anecdotal cases, what the research we do have says, and their best guess. The same thing goes for a lot of medicines and interventions used during childbirth. It’s kind of scary when you think about it.