It is a common adage that the pregnant mother must eat for two. Unfortunately, this adage is likely to be interpreted to mean that she must overeat and not be interpreted to mean that she should eat foods that meet the nutritive requirements of both herself and the evolving child.
The influence of the mother’s diet upon her unborn child is not sufficiently appreciated by women and their advisors. The newborn baby requires but half a pint of milk daily which is chiefly water. It is unlikely that the food needs of the unborn are greater than those of the newly born. There would, thus, seem to be no need for so much extra food before birth. The great demand of the unborn for nutriment would seem to be fictional.
Of old it was said: “The fathers have eaten sour grapes and the children’s teeth are set on edge.” Paraphrasing this ancient statement, we may say today that the mothers have eaten white bread and the children’s teeth have holes in them. Many of the defects and deformities with which children are born today are direct results of a faulty diet eaten by mothers. What are called larval deficiencies are responsible for many defects in development.
Nutritional influences upon the development of the new being are commonly thought to start at conception, but there are myriads of facts that show conclusively that they begin much before this time. It is true that soft and malformed bones are not to be blamed upon a drunk father, except insofar as he fails to supply adequate nutriment for the mother during her pregnancy; but the gleam of health in the eyes of a two-year-old does not come from the grandfather and a bar of chocolate candy. It comes from fruits, green vegetables, nuts and whole natural foods. Nutrition begins with life and does not cease until death puts an end to all the life processes.
Pregnant women are urged to take plenty of milk and eggs and are often given calcium tablets; for, despite the fact that the bones of the baby will remain soft, no matter how much excess calcium the mother takes, the embryo is supposed to need lots of calcium for other purposes. So urgent is the demand for calcium that a mother’s teeth and bones will be robbed to supply the needs of the unborn baby if her diet does not contain enough of it.
This fact, however, does not demand that the pregnant woman should fill up on great quantities of milk, overeat on eggs and take the non usable calcium supplied by the drug store. It means, rather, that she should eat whole, unprocessed foods—fruits and vegetables—and cease trying to nurse herself and her baby on white bread, white sugar, white rice, canned fruits and vegetables and other foodless “foods.” The cow does not drink lots of milk and eat lots of eggs to provide herself and her calf with calcium. The calcium in her milk is not derived from these sources.
When it is considered that it is pasteurized milk which pregnant and nursing mothers are advised to drink in such quantities and that this milk is taken together with white bread, denatured cereals, cakes and pies, coffee and tea, chocolate and ice cream, candy and soft drinks, flesh and eggs, white sugar, canned fruits and vegetables, all jumbled together in the most haphazard and heterogeneous combinations, and that very little wholesome food is to be taken, it does not take much imagination to grasp the fact that both mothers and unborn babies are inadequately nourished.
It is understandable that women who eat such a diet, while pregnant, overeat in an effort to meet their nutritional needs. But this overeating leads to additional troubles, such as indigestion, morning sickness, constipation, hemorrhoids, swollen ankles, varicose veins, overdistension of the abdomen, a fat baby and difficult delivery. We have been conditioned to think that a fat baby is a well-nourished baby, although we know that fat at other ages of life is not a sign of good health and is not a desirable acquisition.
The young of the mighty gorilla, which attains a size considerably larger than that of the largest man, weighs three pounds at birth. Some day, when we have learned to appreciate the value of proper nutrition, we will come to realize that the human infant should weigh three to five pounds at birth. Today we are very happy if the baby weighs eight to ten pounds. A fen-pound baby may be said to be five pounds of baby and five pounds of fat. Such a baby begins life with a handicap.
Many unborn babies are so “well nourished” that they weigh eight, nine, ten and more pounds at birth. This large size results in difficulties of delivery. Often instrument deliveries are performed. Due to their large size, fat babies are often injured in being born, these injuries rendering them liable to brain and cord inflammation. These “well nourished” babies are also prone to have trouble in teething, often throwing them into convulsion. When such babies and children are subjected to any enervating influence, such as prolonged heat of summer, they are likely to develop serious diseases.
The expectant mother, desirous of doing the most possible good to her unborn child, will avoid tobacco, alcohol, tea and coffee, and drugs as she would a rattlesnake and provide her offspring with the best possible food. Instead of the commonly-eaten processed and refined foods, canned, pickled, and spiced delicacies, she will provide herself with a more abundant supply of fresh fruits and vegetables, these largely, if not wholly, in their raw or uncooked state. These foods will provide for both the mother and the unborn baby an abundance of minerals and vitamins and of high-grade proteins.
She will eat other protein foods, but eat them in moderate quantities and not stuff on them, as is the common practice. It is normal to seek a sense of repletion after eating, but this repletion should be secured by consuming more bulky foods and not be overeating on concentrated proteins, starches and sugars. Fruits and vegetables make the ideal foods with which to secure the sense of repletion.
It is quite true, as we indicated at the beginning of this article, that the pregnant mother must eat for two; but it is almost never true that she is required to increase her food intake. So nearly universal is the practice of overeating that most women eat enough for two at all times. To increase the food intake because one is pregnant may mean to take from three to five times as much food as is required. When we consider that the average gain per day of the human fetus, from conception to birth, is less than a half an ounce a day, we can readily understand that the commonly advised overeating is very unwise.
There is ample evidence to show that the body makes more economical use of food during pregnancy than at other times, so that instead of increasing the food intake, it is often possible to decrease the amount of food eaten with benefit both to the mother and the unborn child. It has been observed that among animal mothers, even though they may bear more than one young at a time, there is little or no increase in food intake during pregnancy. Animal mothers may reduce their physical activities, but rarely increase their gastronomic activities.
It should come as no surprise to learn that many modern mothers have reared large families while adhering closely to the two-meals-a-day plan, for this was the almost universal practice in the past, when families were usually larger than at present. That woman who has been accustomed to eating but two meals a day will have no trouble in supporting both herself and her growing infant without the addition of a third meal.
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The most important factor in the nutrition of the pregnant mother is not the quantity of food she eats, but its quality. She should not eat more food, but better food—more lettuce and celery and fewer potatoes; more apples and grapes and less flesh; more oranges and peaches and fewer eggs; more natural foods and no denatured foods. Such a diet will provide for adequate development and growth of the unborn child—for better eyes, better bones, better teeth, a better nervous system, and better tissues generally.
We cannot think wholly of the improvement that such a diet provides for the unborn child. We are justified in thinking also of the improved health and greater comfort of the pregnant woman and the grater ease of delivery. This diet also provides for a more certain, a more abundant and a more adequate milk supply when the child is born. It is a fortunate fact that the diet which is best for the unborn child is also best for the expectant mother and that the diet which best promotes the health of the one will also best promote the health of the other.
The expectant mother, desirous of maintaining high-level health during pregnancy and providing adequate nourishment for her unborn child, will not only eat a diet of natural foods, but she will eat this diet in a way to secure the best digestion and the most efficient utilization of her food. This is to say, she will observe all the rules of food combining and all the rules for eating.
She will not eat if she is not hungry and she will not eat if she is physically distressed or emotionally disturbed. She will not eat if fatigued, but will rest first. She will not drink with meals nor soon thereafter. She will eat in moderation and without fear that in doing so she will injure her offspring.