Shaking myths off pregnancy: No, you do not need to eat for two if you’re pregnant!

Published: May 7, 2014
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Next time someone tells you to ‘drink coconut water to have a fairer baby with coloured eyes’, think twice before you believe them.

Seated at a conventional ‘daawat’ (family dinner), I heard an aunty asking a friend,

“Apki bahu kyun nahin ayi?”

(Why didn’t your daughter-in-law come?)

Her friend smiled and replied,

“Asal main uski tabiyat kharab hai”

(Actually, she isn’t feeling very well.)

The room filled up with smiles and people started congratulating Sarah’s mother-in-law. Perplexed and curious, I looked around to know what was going on when I was told in a hushed whisper that Sarah was about to start a family.

Pregnancy is a perfectly normal phenomenon and should not be treated as an illness. It shows that like all other systems in our body, the reproductive system is able to carry out its function properly – conceiving, carrying and delivering a baby are all functions which should make women proud. Our bodies were designed for this and the creation of life is a wondrous, almost sacred attribute of reproduction.

Sadly, however, our society at large has made pregnancy a hush hush taboo issue, which cannot be talked about. God forbid if one may ‘show’ her pregnancy and roam around without trying (through failed effort) to conceal the pregnancy, one is labelled to be ‘besharam’ and violating standards of socio-cultural ‘decency’.

Since pregnancy has been placed in the ‘religiously okay but let’s not talk about it’ corner of our society, women do not have access to vital information for a healthy pregnancy and are stranded with old wives tales and myths handed down from ‘daais’ (midwives) and mothers, some that have echoed across generations.

Today, I will be ruling out some popular myths associated with pregnancy, which can be harmful for both the mother and the baby.

1. Pregnancy = ‘tabyat kharab’ (feeling unwell)

This is the biggest dilemma which pregnant women are faced with. Pregnancy is the function of a normal and healthy body. While being pregnant may tire you and make you feel the need to rest more, it does not mean that you are unwell. It simply means that since your body is doing so much work, it needs to rest to stock up on more energy. So don’t feel bad about sneaking in extra time for rest as it will only make you feel rejuvenated.

2. Eat more beta!

“Ye samjho ke tumhe do logon ka khana khana hai”

(Think of it this way, you have to eat for two people now)

This means four slices of bread instead of two, two ‘rotis’ instead of one and double the rice serving than a normal serving.

While it is true that a pregnant woman does need extra energy, there is a huge difference in eating for two and eating twice the amount an adult consumes on average. The second person we are eating for ranges from being the size of a sesame seed to the size of an average pumpkin at max. Research shows that the extra energy needed for sustaining a baby is equal to that obtained from consuming an apple and two tablespoons of peanut butter! That’s right!

Pregnant women require just 300 calories more than others. An average pregnancy will cause you to gain 25 to 35 pounds overall, out of which the baby is only six to eight pounds. Excessive weight gain can cause problems during pregnancy, delivery and post-partum.

So don’t each too much, just eat better and smarter. Stock up on vitamins and minerals from fresh fruits and vegetables, unlock the calcium goodness from dairy products like milk, cheese and yogurt, tap iron from green leafy vegetables and meat, and stay well hydrated. It is always a good idea to cut out or at least limit ‘bad’ fats from everything sweet you might crave and go for good fats from dry fruits.

3. All you need to do is rest

Araam karna’ (resting) is necessary but it does not mean that one needs to sit idly and focus on eating all day!

Nothing compares to the benefits of some daily exercise for both the mother and the baby. Exercise is nature’s Prozac and it improves the blood circulation, and sends plenty of oxygenated and nutrient rich blood to your baby supporting optimal growth and development.

So take a walk, relax through prenatal yoga or perform a variety of stretches which can all be carried out daily throughout your pregnancy term. Women who stick to a light exercise regime are stronger, have fewer complains of tiredness, aches and pains, experience less swelling, and have healthier babies and easier deliveries.

4. ‘Thanda Garam’ (cold and hot) issues

Many of us are asked to not eat dates, dry fruits, mangoes, eggs, fish etcetera because they are ‘garam’ (warm in nature). Long story short, nothing is a no-no!

Aim to have a balanced diet containing everything in moderate portions. So, if you feel like having a glass of date milkshake, go right ahead, discreetly if necessary.

5. Desi ghee is the way to go

“Ghee piyo”

(Drink cooking oil)

This is the advice that usually dominates the last trimester for an easier delivery. In a nutshell, let’s put logic at work and recognise the fact that digestive and reproductive systems are different and consuming ‘ghee’ will not make the baby slip out of the birth canal. There is no reason to drink excessive fat!

The list of myths can go on and it is impossible to address it in a single article. But, the next time someone tells you that ‘you are not bulky enough to yield a healthy baby’ or ‘drink coconut water to have a fairer baby with coloured eyes’, think twice before you believe, or better yet, verify the myth.

Books, unlimited access to the internet and your gynaecologist all exist for a reason – use them!

Contrary to popular belief, the more active you are, the easier your delivery and the quicker the postpartum healing will be. There is no shame in going out while you are pregnant. Being pregnant is not a crime, which has to be concealed as an obligation. So yes, go for your weekly grocery shopping and take pride in being the vessel for creation.

As long as you eat properly, exercise moderately and are well rested, you can take on the world like any other day throughout your pregnancy, except for the fact that you are privileged because you will take on the world with the ‘power of two’.

Yusra Qadir

Yusra Qadir

A sociologist and human rights practitioner by education, a development worker by profession. She tweets @yusraqadir

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.