NZ women's experience of eating during pregnancy

20 October 2016
Pregnant woman eating

A New Zealand study has examined women’s experiences of eating during pregnancy and confirmed that pregnancy is a powerful time to inform women about healthy eating.

The study, published in the New Zealand College of Midwives Journal, used interviews with pregnant women in Dunedin to gather details about their perceived eating habits during pregnancy.

Nutrition during pregnancy has become increasingly important as research has identified the perinatal environment and epigenetic changes in utero as a potential factor in the origin of obesity.  

Although the sample size was small, the authors say four key themes emerged as to what drove changes in eating patterns during pregnancy:

  • How women feel: both emotionally and physically.  Nausea and vomiting impacted eating during early pregnancy, but all women noted being affected by feelings of fullness in pregnancy.

  • External influences: both advice and social judgement had an impact on eating patterns which sometimes led to behavioural change and sometimes increased levels of anxiety.

  • A change in eating by choice: with some changing their eating habits to stay healthy during pregnancy while others felt pregnancy meant they could eat with less restraint. 

  • Motivation to change: was described as being driven by the knowledge that it would improve outcomes or reduce risk for the baby.

The authors note that heightened awareness of feeling full during pregnancy means that this may be a useful time to teach women about the sensation of satiety and Intuitive Eating (IE). IE is the concept of eating based on hunger and satiety cues rather than more emotionally-based eating.

They also note that societal pressure on women is very focused on the risks of eating certain foods during pregnancy rather than on healthy eating overall.

“In view of the increasing epidemic of obesity and the potential positive effect of the perinatal environment on long-term risk of obesity, we wonder whether it is time to support a different approach to nutrition; one which promotes healthy choices rather than avoidance of certain foods,” they say. 

The authors say pregnancy is a potential opportunity to teach women about healthy eating and suggest that incorporating IE may be a useful strategy in managing gestational weight gain. 

You can read the full study here.