There are many reasons why women might consider not eating during different phases of their pregnancy. Not eating during the first trimester is often due to morning sickness – particularly in severe cases, some women find it extremely hard to keep food down at all.
Others are concerned about weight gain, or in later pregnancy find it extremely uncomfortable due to the pressure from the growing baby on their stomach.
However, there are no circumstances whereby not eating during your pregnancy is good for you or your baby; in fact, the opposite is true, and you will very likely need to slightly increase your calorie intake while you are pregnant.
In this article, we will look at some of the possible consequences of not eating or restricting your food intake throughout your pregnancy.
Table of Contents
1. Effect on the Health of the Mother
Before we even get to the potential damage to your fetus, we have to explore the potential ill effects of not eating during the second trimester or at any other time in your pregnancy.
One of the most common complaints of mothers suffering from poor nutrition is anemia; if you are not getting enough food, it is unlikely that you are supplying your body with enough iron to make healthy red blood cells. One of the main symptoms of anemia is exhaustion, and if you have ever been pregnant before you will know that it is already very tiring, particularly towards the end.
2. Effect on Breast Feeding
One of the reasons that women gain weight during pregnancy is in preparation for breastfeeding. You can normally expect to have put on up to 2 lbs. of extra breast tissue by the end of your pregnancy, and this is essential for milk production.
Even if you don’t feel able to breastfeed long term, the benefits of feeding baby yourself for the first few weeks are very well known – it provides your newborn with essential nutrients for a healthy immune system, as well as countless vitamins.
Not eating during the third trimester can mean that all of the healthy breast tissue that you have built up throughout your pregnancy can be lost. If you’re finding large meals hard to cope with due to the pressure on your stomach, try eating little, but often.
3. Low Birth Weight
This may seem obvious, but if you don’t eat properly during your pregnancy, it is highly likely that your baby will be born with a low birth weight. This is because, during pregnancy, baby relies on you for all of his or her nutrition, and if you are starving yourself, you’re also starving your growing baby.
Low birth weight carries a range of risks, not limited to several conditions later in life, such as diabetes, heart disease, and obesity.
4. Premature Birth
Full term pregnancies depend on adequate nutrition, and there is no doubt that starvation can lead to the premature delivery of your baby.
As well as the risks outlined for babies with low birth rates, prematurity carries a long list of risks of its own, the worst of which is sadly infant death. This risk decreases the further along in the pregnancy, but it’s certainly not something that you want to toy with.
5. Birth Defects
Inadequate nutrition can cause a range of birth defects. It is particularly linked to damage to the brain and spinal cord; even women on a healthy prenatal diet are advised to take folic acid supplements to aid in the formation of these critical areas.
To summarize, there is no good reason for not eating during your pregnancy. If you are experiencing difficulty in eating due to morning sickness, constipation or feelings of ‘fullness’ (all very common during pregnancy), talk to your midwife as soon as possible.
In the interim, it might help to eat frequent small quantities of bland foods, such as unbuttered toast – try to avoid foods which smell particularly pungent or are very oily. Many women find that both smell and texture can trigger nausea.
If you are concerned about post-baby weight gain, first of all, you must be aware that it is completely normal to gain a small amount of weight during pregnancy. It is far more beneficial for both you and your baby if you do plenty of gentle exercise during your pregnancy than attempt to restrict your diet.
If you are finding the concept of weight gain completely overwhelming, or find that you are unable to eat because of this, you must speak to your midwife or GP immediately. They will be able to advise you on whether or not you have put on more weight than expected, and will also be able to help come up with a sensible post-pregnancy weight loss plan if it is something that will be helpful to you.