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Diet During Pregnancy: Consequences of a Poor Diet

written by: N Nayab • edited by: Rhonda Callow • updated: 5/25/2011

The development and growth of the fetus depends on the diet of the expectant mother. Some food can cause damage to the unborn child and, similarly, poor eating habits or an imbalanced diet can also retard the growth of the fetus or make the infant prone to diseases after birth.

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    Healthy Pregnancy Diet

    Diet During Pregnancy 

    Pregnant women need to consume nutritious and well-balanced meals for their own well-being and the well-being of the fetus. The ingredients of a healthy pregnancy diet include slightly higher calories than normal, and increased intake of vitamins and minerals such as folic acid and iron. Of primary importance is to limit junk food that provide calories with few or no nutrients, and may also contain excess carbs and harmful trans-fat.

    A healthy pregnancy diet should include three servings of protein-rich foods and two servings each of foods rich in calcium, iron, and vitamin C. In addition, a pregnancy diet should also include three servings of green, leafy, and yellow vegetables or fruits, half-serving of other fruits and vegetables and four to five helpings of whole grains and complex carbohydrates. Apart from the ingredients that go into the diet, the timing of the intake is also important. Even if the mother is not hungry, the baby requires nutrition every four hours.

    Image Credit: flickr.com/Cheryl

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    Consequences of a Poor Diet

    Poor eating habits or an imbalanced diet not only has adverse effects to the unborn child during pregnancy but also results in conditions like anemia, pre-eclampsia, mood swings, fatigue, leg cramps, and constipation for the expectant mother. The expectant mother should never go on a diet to reduce weight during pregnancy

    A major reason women may have a poor diet during pregnancy is because of cravings or aversions to any particular type of food. According to studies, 76 percent to 90 percent of pregnant women experience a craving for at least one type of food and 50 percent to 85 percent of pregnant women suffer aversions to only one food. When such cravings and aversions influence the diet, it becomes necessary to nourish the baby by eating other healthy foods or finding a healthy alternative if the craving is “junk food”. Cravings for peculiar substances like ash, starch and clay might be a sign of nutritional deficiency that needs rectification

    A study conducted by the Harvard Institute of Public Health finds that pregnant women who were on an excellent balanced diet, 95 percent of them had healthy babies. In fact, the only factor that resulted in the remaining 5 percent not having healthy babies, in spite of a healthy diet, was due to family history of medical disease. On the other hand, women who thrived on junk food, only 8 percent of them had healthy babies, and 65 percent had premature, malnourished, functionally immature, or stillborn babies.

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    Foods to Avoid when Pregnant

    Diet During Pregnancy Even with a balanced diet, certain foods could adversely affect the fetus and cause pregnancy related complications.

    Fish is rich in omega-3 fatty acids, which is critical for fetal neural development. However, potential mercury content inside the fish could be toxic to babies, children, and even adults. For this reason, pregnant women are advised not eat more than 12 ounces or two average-size servings of fish per week, restricted to canned light tuna, shrimp, salmon, pollack, or catfish. Flaxseeds, walnuts, soybeans, and eggs are also good sources of omega-3 fatty acids.

    Oysters are a rich source of zinc but, like fish, run the risk of mercury contamination. Moreover, oysters are also source of food borne illness.

    Milk, many types of soft cheese, refrigerated meat spreads, and smoked seafood are all good sources of calcium and protein for the newborn. However, such foods are prone to listeria, a bacterium that may increase the risk of miscarriage, premature birth, stillbirth, or fetal illness. Similarly, undercooked or raw eggs run the risk of contamination with salmonella that leads to vomiting and dehydration and consequently harm for the fetus.

    Drinking alcohol during pregnancy causes physical defects, learning disabilities, and emotional problems in children.

    Studies indicate that excessive caffeine, a major ingredient in coffee, but also found in tea, chocolate, and soft drinks could lead to miscarriage, low birth weight, and even stillbirth.

    Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons (modified)

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    Additional Resources

    To learn more about a healthy pregnancy diet, what to eat when pregnant, what not to eat when pregnant and other healthy tips, please read the following Bright Hub articles:

    What to Eat While Pregnant - an article series on pregnancy nutrition, focusing on the best foods to eat while pregnant and foods to avoid to prevent illnesses.

    What You Can't Eat While Pregnant - a brief article that lists of certain foods you should avoid when you're pregnant.

    How to Avoid Gaining Too Much Weight During Pregnancy - tips and snack ideas for when you're eating for two.

    Constipation During Pregnancy - tips for relieving constipation and snack ideas that can help.

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    Disclaimer

    This article does not constitute medical advice. The author or the publisher does not intend to provide medical advice and readers are cautioned not to initiate dietary changes based on information in this paper without first consulting a physician.

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    Reference

    1. Daniells, Stephen (2006) Vitamin E during pregnancy could cut asthma in kids. Retrieved from http://www.nutraingredients.com/Research/Vitamin-E-during-pregnancy-could-cut-asthma-in-kids. Retrieved 2009-04-27.
    2. Eating Well http://www.babycenter.com/eating-well-during-pregnancy Retrieved 2009-04-27
    3. Fälth-Magnusson K, Kjellman NI.. (1987). Development of atopic disease in babies whose mothers were receiving exclusion diet during pregnancy--a randomized study. Department of Pediatrics, University Hospital, Linköping, Sweden.
    4. Food Pyramids: What Should You Really Eat?: Retrieved from http://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/what-should-you-eat/fish/ Retrieved 2009-04-27.
    5. Rush D, Stein Z, Susser M. (1980). Diet in pregnancy: a randomized controlled trial of nutritional supplements.
    6. Somer Elizabeth (2002). Nutrition for a Healthy Pregnancy: Nutrition for a Healthy Pregnancy: The Complete Guide to Eating Before, During, and After Your Pregnancy Edition: 2, illustrated, revised. Henry Holt, 2002
    7. The Nutrition Source: Fish: Friend or Foe? Retrieved from http://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/what-should-you-eat/fish/. Retrieved 2009-04-27.
    8. Thomson, A.M. (2007). Diet in pregnancy. British Journal of Nutrition, 2007. Cambridge Universal Press

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