Top 5 Pregnancy Myths, Busted
Pregnancy is a time when everyone seems to be an expert – your mother, the person behind you at the grocery store, every single relative at a holiday gathering.
Not only is much of this advice unsolicited, some of it is actually outdated. Here’s some current (factual) advice from three pregnancy experts within the University of Vermont Health Network.
Myth 1: You need to eat for two
“Most people have abandoned this myth, but some pregnant people do continue to hear it from well-meaning elders,” says Anna Benvenuto, MD, Chief Medical Officer of UVM Health Network – Porter Medical Center, who has been a practicing OB/GYN since 2012.
While it’s true that all foods are shared by both the pregnant person and baby, you don’t need to double your portions. Lucy Chapin, who has been a midwife with the University of Vermont Medical Center for eight years, explains that pregnant people have no additional caloric requirements during the first trimester. In the second trimester, they should aim to eat about 350 additional calories, or one extra protein-rich snack. In the third trimester, the caloric needs go up to between 400 and 500 additional calories.
Dr. Benvenuto says that this myth actually gets a lot of her patients overly concerned about the impact of nausea and food aversions during the first trimester, when they’re having trouble eating the things they feel they should.
“Fortunately, the needs of baby are very small in the first three months,” says Marti Churchill, APRN, who has been working as a certified nurse midwife with UVM Medical Center since 1993. “The baby is drawing from the pregnant person’s stores of vitamins and minerals at this point. We reassure people to not worry too much, but to listen to their body and be as nutritious as they can.”
Myth 2: You shouldn’t exercise
In fact, the guidelines for physical activity are exactly the same for pregnant and non-pregnant people.
“Sometimes people are shocked by that,” says Churchill. “But it’s safe to move your body, and in fact, it’s encouraged. We recommend 30 to 60 minutes of movement five times per week.”
Which, as Dr. Benvenuto points out, is more than most non-pregnant people exercise.
“But it’s important to remember that at the very end of this, most people go through labor, which is a really physically demanding process,” says Dr. Benvenuto. “We should think of exercise during pregnancy as training for a major physical event.”
Dr. Benvenuto says one of the most common questions she gets in her practice is how people can keep exercising if they’re currently active. “We see a lot of strenuous athletes in our community, such as bodybuilders, marathon runners, mountain bikers and even polo players. One of the myths is that exercise can cause miscarriage, and there’s an assumption that you have to slow down or stop. That’s not true,” she says. Just listen to your body, and try not to get dehydrated or overheated.
And, if you’re not currently exercising, it’s a great time to start, since exercise can decrease your risk of gestational diabetes, and can even lower your baby’s risk of obesity, diabetes and heart disease later in life.
Myth 3: Too much pregnancy weight gain leads to an unhealthy pregnancy
Traditionally, providers have plotted out a patient’s ideal weight gain based on their starting Body Mass Index, or BMI. But Churchill says many providers are now shifting away from that.
“People will gain what they’re going to gain. All this does is make people feel bad,” Churchill says, noting that the weight conversation can be especially triggering for people who have suffered with eating disorders.
“There’s also a lot of weight-consciousness in the health care field,” Churchill admits, “but truly, people can be healthy at any size.”
Myth 4: You don’t need to worry about nutrition because your prenatal vitamin fills in the gaps.
When it comes to properly nourishing your growing baby, all of the providers we spoke with gave the same basic recommendations: Focus on key nutrients, especially protein, and try to get them from whole foods with ingredients you can pronounce. And while a balanced diet is important, there’s no need to count grams of this and grams of that.
“You don’t need to spend your day nutrient-tracking. Just focus on intuitively eating. Your body is in tune with what it needs, so just listen to it,” says Lucy Chapin, APRN, a certified nurse midwife at UVM Medical Center.
That said, there are some key nutrients besides protein that pregnant people should try to work in to their diet.
Choline is important, and the best food sources are egg yolks and salmon. Folate is also a big one, and it’s found in most abundance in dark leafy greens, like collards, spinach or bok choy. “Anytime you’re missing a nutrient, almost always the cure for it is dark leafy greens,” Chapin says.
One final vitamin that Chapin stresses is vitamin D, which helps with the baby’s skeletal development and boosts the pregnant person’s immune system. Unfortunately, vitamin D isn’t found in many foods, and its other natural source – sunlight – also isn’t prevalent during a typical Northeastern winter. To compensate, Chapin recommends that her patients take a dedicated vitamin D supplement of 1000-2000 IU per day, even if they’re drinking fortified milk and taking a prenatal vitamin.
Myth 5: Your body will never be as fit as it was before pregnancy
While pregnancy does cause dramatic changes in our bodies, there’s no reason you can’t be healthy and in shape after having a baby. In fact, pregnancy often allows women a time to take stock of their health and make improvements, from quitting smoking to giving up alcohol to simply taking better care of oneself.
“I counsel patients, don’t be intimidated to make the changes you want to make,” says Dr. Benvenuto. “Being healthy doesn’t require drastic changes. Several minutes of exercise and one incremental change in eating can make a big difference.”
She’s seen the evidence in her practice. “Many people have come back after their pregnancies, and they’ve become long-distance runners or maintained a healthier weight than they had before. People tend to think that pregnancy is a time when their bodies are changed for the worse. But for some people, it puts them on a trajectory for a much more healthful life.”
Ready to put this guidance to use? Below are some recipes rich with pregnancy-boosting nutrients like DHA, folate, iron and choline, all created by UVM Medical Center Chef Leah Pryor.
Roasted Spiced Chickpeas
- 1 (15 ounce) can chickpeas, rinsed and drained
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 teaspoon garlic powder
- 1 teaspoon chili powder
- 1 pinch sea salt
- 1 pinch ground black pepper
- 1 dash crushed red pepper
- Preheat an oven to 350 degrees.
- Spread drained and well-dried chickpeas on sheet tray in a single layer.
- Roast in the preheated oven, stirring occasionally, until nicely browned and slightly crispy, about 30 minutes.
- Whisk the oil, garlic powder, chili powder, sea salt, black pepper and red pepper together in a small bowl; add roasted chickpeas and toss to coat.
- Raise the heat of the oven to 400 degrees. Put the well-coated chickpeas back in the oven for 10 minutes. Turn your oven off and let the chickpeas stay in oven for another 10 minutes to ensure crispiness.
Yield: 6 cakes
- 1 small onion, finely diced
- 1 clove of garlic
- 1 carrot, diced
- 1 stalk of celery
- 1 (16 ounce) can of salmon
- 1 egg
- 1 cup of bread crumbs
- 1 tablespoon of mustard
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- Salt and pepper to taste
- Sautee onions, garlic, carrots and celery until soft.
- Take mixture and place in large bowl. Add salmon and mix well.
- Add egg, bread crumbs and mustard.
- Patty them up, place on a plate and chill in the refrigerator for 30 minutes.
- Heat cast iron pan with 1 tablespoon of oil over medium heat.
- Place patties in the pan, season with salt and pepper, and brown on each side for 1 minute.
- 12 eggs
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- Fresh cracked pepper
- 1/4 cup grated parmesan
- 1/2 cup grated cheddar
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 onion, halved and sliced thin
- 2 cloves garlic minced
- 2 cups kale, chopped
- 1 cup cherry tomatoes, cut in half
- 1 roasted red pepper, diced
- 1/2 cup ham, diced
- Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Beat together the eggs with the salt and pepper (do not over-beat; just mix until the eggs mostly come together). Stir in the grated cheese and set aside.
- In a large skillet, heat olive oil over medium-high heat. Add onions and cook for several minutes, stirring frequently, until the onions are soft and golden brown.
- Add garlic and kale, stir to cook about 1 minute.
- Add the tomatoes, red peppers and ham. Cook for another minute.
- Make sure all of the ingredients are evenly distributed across the bottom of the skillet, then pour in the egg mixture so that it evenly coats everything. Let sit on the burner for 35 to 40 seconds to set the edges, then put the skillet in the oven.
- Let frittata cook in the oven for 12 to 18 minutes until the eggs are set, but remove it before the eggs brown very much on top. Slide frittata out of the skillet and onto a cutting board. With a long serrated knife, slice it into wedges and serve warm.