Moms who don't get enough to eat during early pregnancy may be putting their babies at risk for impaired brain development, according to animal research from the University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio. The study, published January 20, 2011 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, notes that when mothers ate a restricted number of calories in during the first half of pregnancy, offspring had decreased formation of cell-to-cell connections and lowered amounts of growth factors in brain compared to the offspring of moms who ate as much as they wanted. The team compared two groups of baboon mothers, but believe the findings are relevant for humans.
"This study is a further demonstration of the importance of good maternal health and diet," says Dr. Thomas McDonald, senior author of the study. "It supports the view that poor diets in pregnancy can alter development of fetal organs, in this case the brain, in ways that will have lifetime effects on offspring, potentially lowering IQ and predisposing to behavioral problems."
What about morning sickness? If early pregnancy nausea is preventing you from eating very much, take steps to make sure the foods you do manage to get down are as nutrient dense as possible. Try smoothies made with yogurt and fresh fruit or make a batch of delicious—and highly nutritious—homemade chicken soup. (Get tips on creating an anti-nausea kit.)
And don't forget to take your prenatal vitamin, but if morning sickness is really making your life miserable, avoid further irritation by taking your pill after you have successfully eaten something. Talk to your doctor if you feel like your calorie intake has dropped low due to nausea. The message from this study is clear: it is not so much about "eating for two" during early pregnancy as it is about making sure you are eating enough to make you one healthy mom.