Those who are pregnant or trying to conceive may be scared about what happens to the baby if a pregnant parent does not eat properly. While the question is a very common one, the answer to this question is complicated. Every parent is different and every baby is different.
Proper nutrition before, during, and after pregnancy is crucial to the health of both parent and baby; however, the exact effects of improper nutrition vary from case to case. Some results of poor nutrition during pregnancy include: low birth weight, congenital conditions such as neural tube defects, which are a common result of inadequate intake of folate during pregnancy, and sometimes loss of the fetus. Prenatal care is important and can help your doctor identify problems and propose solutions.
What Happens to the Baby if a Pregnant Mother Does Not Eat Properly
Several outcomes are possible, ranging from loss of the fetus to having a child of low birth weight but with no other adverse symptoms. Each case is slightly different.
Fetus and Infant Loss
If a parent is truly malnourished, it can lead to loss of the fetus or a baby who is more likely to die in infancy than a child whose parent was properly nourished. Thankfully, these cases are very rare in areas of the world with prenatal care. Pregnant parents with severe anorexia or bulimia might experience this, but for parents who have regular access to food, this can be the result of poor nutrition. General malnutrition in the parent is far more likely to cause physical and/or neurological defects in unborn children than it is to cause their death.
Parents who do not consume enough foods rich in vitamins, minerals and other nutrients may have babies who grow slowly due to the lack of resources available during pregnancy. While a baby being small may not seem like such a problem on the surface, insufficient growth can be a sign of other, more serious, problems underlying it.
Improper nutrition can result in neurological disorders. In some cases, the spine and/or the brain may fail to develop normally; in less severe cases, the child may experience learning challenges. Neurological disorders are potentially preventable with adequate intake of nutrients such as iron, vitamin B12, folate and choline during pregnancy.
Low Birth Weight
Many infants born in the lowest end of the birthweight spectrum have parents with a more or less nutrient-deficient diet. Of course, being of low birth weight does not necessarily signify underlying problems; however, in some cases, low birth weight is a symptom of overall improper nutrition. Low birth weight babies are more likely to suffer from chronic conditions and are also more likely to die during infancy.
Symptoms of Not Eating Enough While Pregnant
During prenatal care, you'll be weighed, measured, examined and assessed for a healthy pregnancy. Some of the symptoms of not eating enough can include:
- Dry, brittle hair
- Feeling cold all the time
- Feeling very hungry
- Feeling tired and dizzy often
- Inadequate weight gain
- Skin changes, such as very dry skin
Some people experience nausea, vomiting , food aversions and reduced appetite during pregnancy. This is often due to hormone changes. Certain medications, such as anti-anxiety medications, can cause appetite loss during pregnancy. Speak to your doctor about possible causes and ways to handle these symptoms, and you may want to ask about trying ginger and acupressure/acupuncture.
Proper Nutrition During Pregnancy
The most important thing to remember while trying to conceive and throughout pregnancy is to eat a diet that is varied and rich in nutrients. Potato chips pack in calories, but add virtually no vitamins or minerals. On the other hand, fruits and vegetables pack loads of nutrients with few calories. Most people need about 300 extra calories per day during pregnancy, and always follow your doctor's recommendations.
Pregnancy is an important time to look at whether or not you are eating enough vitamins, minerals and other nutrients. To get adequate nutrients, it's important to have a varied diet including fruits, vegetables, lean protein, calcium-rich foods and healthy fats with omega-3 fatty acids.
Planning ahead to have healthy foods on hand is a great way to ensure you get enough calories and much-needed nutrients. With nausea or appetite changes, consider having small, nutrient-rich snacks and meals as this can make it easier to eat. Some easy-to-grab foods to stock up on include:
- 0% or 2% fat Greek or regular yogurt
- Canned fruit, packed in juice
- Dried fruit, limit added sugars when possible
- Dried vegetable snacks, check the label for ingredients including just the vegetable and seasoning
- Frozen fruit, plain, with no added sugar
- Frozen vegetables, plain
- Frozen strips of cooked chicken
- Hard-boiled eggs, store in the refrigerator and eat within one week of cooking
- Pre-washed bags of vegetables and lettuce
- Packets of tuna and salmon, have about 12 ounces per week to avoid excess mercury
- Plain oatmeal packets
- String cheese
- Whole grain cereal
- Whole wheat crackers or crackers made with legume flour
- Whole wheat pasta or pasta made with legume flour
In addition to eating a well-rounded healthy diet, while trying to conceive and during pregnancy consider taking a prenatal vitamin each day to supply certain nutrients, vitamins and minerals. A prenatal vitamin can be specifically formulated to make up for nutrient shortfalls during pregnancy. It's important to discuss any supplement you are taking with your doctor.
While it can be stressful to wonder what happens to the baby if a pregnant parent does not eat properly, plan ahead for meals and snacks so you can choose nutrient-rich foods. Keep a stash of healthy foods around to make it easier to grab something nourishing when you're pressed for time. And be sure to ask your doctor about recommended supplements to take before and during pregnancy.