7 Reasons Why it is harmful to Skip Meals during Pregnancy

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Skipping meals during pregnancy is harmful to both you and your baby. Here are 7 reasons why you shouldn’t skip meals during pregnancy.

Skipping meals isn’t good for anyone, especially when you are pregnant. Baby gets essential nutrients from what you eat during pregnancy. The fetus extracts nutrients from the placenta and your bloodstream. A Baby’s organs are developing during the first trimester of pregnancy and require specific minerals and vitamins for optimal growth. Even as you progress during pregnancy, the nutritional demand of your body increases to meet the growing needs of your baby. So, it isn’t ideal to skip meals during pregnancy.

However, accidentally skipping a meal isn’t going to be harmful to your baby, but skipping meals regularly to limit your weight gain or for some other reason should be avoided. Some of the harmful effects of skipping meals during pregnancy include low birth weight, neural tube defect, and other congenital defects, and in some severe cases of malnutrition, death of the fetus. However, the exact effect of skipping meals varies from person to person. Optimal nutrition during pregnancy is essential, and skipping meals is not worth the risk.

This article will talk about why it is harmful to skip meals during pregnancy, meal frequency, symptoms of not eating enough while pregnant, and much more. Keep reading!

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Nutrition and Pregnancy

A nutritious, well-balanced diet is essential for your health and nourishing your baby. Eating various foods, including protein, carbohydrates, and fats, can help you get all the nutrients your baby needs during pregnancy.

Why it is harmful to Skip Meals during Pregnancy
Photo by Anna Pelzer on Unsplash

In general, normal-weight pregnant women need to eat an average of 300 extra calories per day, which can be achieved easily by adding extra 2-3 snacks including fruits, vegetables, protein, and whole grains between your two small meals and breakfast at an interval of three to four hours daily. Your calorie requirement may differ depending upon your weight.

During pregnancy, you need folic acid, iron, vitamin D, calcium, omega-2 fatty acids, choline, vitamin C, and B vitamins. A well-balanced diet regularly throughout the day will provide nutrition to your growing fetus, keep your blood sugar level constant, and give you the energy you need.

But when you are skipping meals regularly, you are not meeting the calorie demand of your growing fetus, and it can be harmful to your baby’s rapidly developing organ system.  Now, let’s look at the harmful effect of skipping meals during pregnancy.

Is it Harmful to Skip Meal during Pregnancy?

Occasionally skipping meals during pregnancy would not cause harm to your baby. Still, if you are skipping a meal regularly, it may have serious impact on the well-being of your growing fetus. The effect varies from baby to baby and mother to mother. Let’s look at the effect of skipping meals on the health of your baby and pregnant women.

Harmful Effect of Skipping meals on Fetus or Baby

1. Low Birth Weight

Some women skip meals because they are terrified of gaining weight during pregnancy and scared of not losing post-pregnancy, so they skip meals. Eating too few calories a day can lead to low birth weight.  

According to CDC, out of total registered birth in the United States in 2019, 8.31% of babies were low birth weight (defined as less than 5.5 pounds), and 1.4% of babies were very low birth weight (defined as less than 3.3 pounds) (1).

The exact cause for the decline in birth weight is unknown, but maternal diet and physical activity are two of the factors attributed among others (2). Babies with a low birth weight are at more risk of developing chronic conditions and even death in early infancy.

Skipping meals will deprive you of essential nutrients your body and baby need during pregnancy. If you are concerned about your weight gain, you should talk to your doctor or consult a specialist specializing in pregnancy nutrition.

2. Fetal Growth Restriction (FGR)

Also known as intrauterine growth restriction, the unborn baby is not growing at the normal rate in your womb and is smaller than it should be. There are many factors responsible for FGR, including malnutrition. Severe FGR can harm a baby before and after the birth of the baby. It can lead to premature birth and low birth weight, hypoglycemia, compromised immune system, and other complications in your baby. 

Getting essential nutrients from the diet is vital. When you don’t consume enough food rich in minerals and vitamins, your baby may grow slowly because of a lack of resources in your body.

For example, on average pregnant women needs 400 mcg of folic acid daily. If you don’t provide enough folic acid to your baby through your diet or supplements, there is a chance of having a baby with a neural tube defect.

Certain women avoid milk or milk products, thinking that they are fat and calories rich. In this case, your baby’s calcium need (1000mg/day) will be satisfied from the calcium source from your bone. Calcium leaching from the mother’s bone will lead to muscle wasting, and the by-product of such a metabolism could become toxic for your growing baby.

3. Deficient Cognitive and Motor Functioning

The link between diet and brain development and function is well established, and there is evidence documenting the negative impact of nutritional deficiency on infant cognitive and motor functioning (3-6). For example, adequate folate intake during pregnancy reduces the risk of giving birth to an infant with a neural tube defect (4).

Less severe folate or vitamin B12 deficiency cases may seem normal at first, but the child may have learning difficulty as they grow older (6).

4. Fetus Death

An Extreme case of malnutrition in the mother can lead to the death of the fetus or a baby soon after birth. However, it does not happen to women eating 2-3 meals a day, but women with severe anorexia may see this outcome. Skipping meals regularly will most likely cause physical and/or neurological defects in babies than causing death.

The harmful effect of Skipping meals on Pregnant Woman’s Health

Now that you know the harmful effect of skipping meals on your growing fetus and baby, now let’s look at what it does to your pregnant body.

5. Lower Energy

According to experts, pregnant women should eat three small meals and two snacks every three to four hours to maintain their blood sugar level. But many women have a habit of skipping breakfast normally, and it continues even when they are pregnant. When you skip breakfast, you have gone 12 hours without eating.

When you go 12 hours without eating while pregnant, it canresult ina low intake of several vitamins & minerals required for optimum fetal growth, make you feel sick to your stomach, feel lightheaded, and result in fainting.

A small cross-sectional study published in 2019 investigated whether skipping breakfast during pregnancy was associated with a decrease in dietary intake of several nutrients. This study noted that breakfast-skippers had significantly lower energy, and several nutrients in plasma and urine were significantly lower than non-skipper pregnant women (7).

6. Risk of Gestational diabetes

Skipping breakfast – the most important meal of the day during pregnancy, not only energy-deprived you but also lead to other pregnancy complications as you progress in your pregnancy. 

A large study including 84,669 pregnant women published in 2020 identified a link between breakfast skipping and the occurrence of gestational diabetes mellitus (GDM). The study concluded that pregnant women who consumed breakfast less than three days a week had an increased risk of developing GDM than those who eat breakfast daily (8).

Both of the above studies indicate the harmful impact of skipping breakfast on your health and your baby. So, skipping breakfast is not worth the risk. Even when you are not a breakfast person, starting with yogurt or banana at first and then adding whole gran and protein after few weeks will keep you energized and help with your morning sickness.

7. Increased Craving for Junk Food

Skipping meals during pregnancy can affect your blood sugar level and increase your cravings for junk food – specifically sugar and carb- for a sudden burst of energy. Junk foods are just empty calories and do not meet the nutritional demand of your developing baby. A study published in 2013 have found that mothers who eat junk food during pregnancy are more likely to have kids with mental health problems (9). To know more about the effect of junk food during pregnancy, check out this link.

Skipping meals can also cause a loss of control over eating your next meal.

Ready to Avoid Skipping Meals during Pregnancy?

Last thing you want to do during pregnancy is to skip meals. Unless you need a medical help, all other skipping meals problem can be fixed by this simple step-by-step guide to get you started on eating in a way that positively affects your baby’s genetic makeup. The Perfect Pregnancy Nutrition and Fitness bundle course is designed by Allie Edwards (Certified Coach in Nutrition and Lifestyle during Pregnancy and Prenatal/Postnatal Fitness Trainer).

The course guides you on what to and how much to eat during pregnancy so you don’t gain too much weight during pregnancy. It contains 80+ easy, delicious, nutritious recipe for you to try everyday without worrying about your nutrition intake. The fitness part of this bundle will help you get ready for your labor with 20 carefully selected exercises to strengthen your pelvic floor and core muscles.

Prenatal Nutrition and Fitness Program

The course covers everything you need to know about nutrients, micronutrients that your baby needs and how it influences your baby’s genetics while in utero by your own diet and exercise.

This very affordable course bundle is no brainer if you want a healthy pregnancy and a healthy baby. Pregnancy is a time to adapt to healthy eating habits, but it can get overwhelming for some pregnant women. So, take the guesswork out of your pregnancy and adapt to a healthy lifestyle with this online The Perfect Pregnancy Nutrition and Fitness Plan.

Symptoms of not Eating Enough while Pregnant

Achieving and maintaining a healthy weight is a challenge when pregnant because of the numerous changes your body goes through. Loss of appetite to food aversions to your mental health to disordered eating to medication for depression all play a role in not eating enough during pregnancy.

If you don’t eat enough during pregnancy, it can lead to malnutrition, meaning you are not getting enough calories to meet your fetus’s needs and maintain your health. Here are some of the symptoms of not eating enough while pregnant.

  • You may lose weight rather than gaining during pregnancy
  • Muscle Wasting
  • You feel weaker
  • The baby is not as big as would be expected for that gestational age
  • not being able to keep food or liquids down
  • You feel dehydrated
  • Constant hunger feeling
  • Junk food craving
  • Sleep issues
  • Constipation
  • Aemia
  • Hair loss and brittle nails
  • Feeling cold all the time

Tips for Avoiding Meal Skipping

Skipping meals during pregnancy is harmful to your health and the optimal growth of your baby. It is okay to occasionally skip meals due to developing food aversion or loss of appetite during the first trimester of pregnancy, but skipping meals regularly should be avoided. Here are some tips for avoiding meal skipping during pregnancy.

  • Plan your day and take a regular break to eat. Set yourself a timer as a reminder for eating.
  • Keep your pantry freeze full of grab-and-go, healthy snacks like dried fruits, nuts, Greek yogurt.
  • Prepare meal night before for the next day, so it’s easy for you to grab your meal and eat in a time crunch.
  • If you are skipping a meal because of nausea or vomiting, try eating small, more frequent meals, and avoid spicy and fatty foods.
  • If you are skipping meals because of appetite loss during pregnancy, try to eat nutrient-dense food at each meal like avocado, whole grain, nut & nut butter, beans, oatmeal, Greek yogurt, cheese, dried fruits, brown rice.

FAQs

What happens when a Pregnant Woman Starves?

Pregnant women who experience eating disorders, including anorexia or bulimia, may starve themselves because of phobia of weight gain and body image (10-11). As the baby grows in your womb, the maternal metabolic demand increases. If demand is higher than nutrient supply, the body will automatically use the body’s reserved store to meet the baby’s nutritional needs. And this severe calorie depletion for the mother leads to muscle wasting.

The consequence of starving during pregnancy is serious for your growing baby. It can lead to a birth defect, premature birth, physical and developmental delay, and even death of the unborn baby.

If you think you have an eating disorder, it is best to talk to your doctor and registered dietitian, and they will come up with a diet plan for you.

Is it bad to only eat twice a day while pregnant?

According to experts, you should be eating small and frequent meals, including two meals, breakfast, and 2-3 healthy snacks in between to keep your blood sugar level constant during pregnancy. However, if you are getting all your nutrient needed for the baby’s development and your health during pregnancy by eating only two meals a day and not feeling hungry otherwise, it is okay to eat twice a day.

While that being said, as you progress in your pregnancy, your uterus will grow to accommodate the growing fetus. The growing uterus will push against another organ in your body, making bowel movement difficult and push food back up, causing reflux. And when you are hogging down a large quantity of food in one sitting, you may develop heartburn or reflux. So, it is best to eat a small quantity every 3-4 hours during pregnancy.

How many hours of gap between Dinner and Breakfast during Pregnancy?

The gap between dinner and breakfast during pregnancy depends on your hunger. If you can sleep without eating for 8-12 hours at night, there is no reason to eat snacks at night. But it is essential to have breakfast in the morning as you haven’t eaten anything for 12 hours. Without a healthy breakfast in the morning, you will feel lightheaded and sick to your stomach.

If you feel hungry at night, eat something healthy like fruit or vegetable or Greek yogurt rather than something sweet.

Conclusion

Your nutritional demand increases during pregnancy for the optimal growth of your baby and maintaining your health. When you are skipping meals or only eating 2 meals a day during pregnancy, you are limiting the nutrition intake needed for the baby’s development. This nutrition deficiency can severely impact the growth of your fetus, cause birth defect, and even prenatal death. So, skipping a meal is not worth the risk.

If you think you are not eating enough or suffering from an eating disorder resulting in not gaining enough weight during pregnancy, you need to talk to your doctor and registered dietitian. They will come up with a plan to help you maintain a healthy weight during pregnancy.

Good Luck, Mama! Keep eating!!

How long have you gone without eating a meal during pregnancy? Let us know if you have any tips to avoid skipping meals during pregnancy.

References

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  8. Jia-Yi Dong, Satoyo Ikehara, Takashi Kimura, Meishan Cui, Yoko Kawanishi, Tadashi Kimura, Kimiko Ueda, Hiroyasu Iso, the Japan Environment and Children’s Study Group, Skipping breakfast before and during early pregnancy and incidence of gestational diabetes mellitus: the Japan Environment and Children’s Study, The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, Volume 111, Issue 4, April 2020, Pages 829–834, https://doi.org/10.1093/ajcn/nqaa014
  9. Jacka FN, Ystrom E, Brantsaeter AL, Karevold E, Roth C, Haugen M, Meltzer HM, Schjolberg S, Berk M. Maternal and early postnatal nutrition and mental health of offspring by age 5 years: a prospective cohort study. J Am Acad Child Adolesc Psychiatry. 2013 Oct;52(10):1038-47. doi: 10.1016/j.jaac.2013.07.002. Epub 2013 Aug 17. PMID: 24074470.
  10. Dinas K, Daniilidis A, Sikou K, Tantanasis T, Kasmas S, Tzafettas J. Anorexia nervosa in pregnancy: a case report and review of the literature. Obstet Med. 2008;1(2):97-98. doi:10.1258/om.2008.080026
  1. Ward VB. Eating disorders in pregnancy. BMJ. 2008;336(7635):93-96. doi:10.1136/bmj.39393.689595.BE

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