Mood Can Influence Diet During Pregnancy

During pregnancy, a woman’s mood and energy level may influence what she chooses to eat. That could affect her weight, as well as the nutrients she (and her baby) gets.

In a study of 134 healthy women with normal pregnancies, mothers-to-be who were more stressed, anxious, and fatigued tended to eat more than their calmer, better-rested peers.

None of the women were mentally ill. They were just surfing the ups and downs of daily life, like most people. “This was just basically healthy women with healthy pregnancies who have some stress and anxiety, like all women do,” researcher Laura Caulfield, PhD, tells WebMD.

Caulfield and colleagues report their findings in the Journal of the American Dietetic Association’s June issue.

Click here to read Web MD's "Pregnancy's Emotional Roller Coaster."

'Very Common' Feelings

Caulfield says she wants pregnant women to know that they’re not alone in feeling drained and strained during pregnancy. “These feelings are very common [and] may influence the choices that they’re making,” says Caulfield, an associate professor at the Center for Human Nutrition at Johns Hopkins University’s Bloomberg School of Public Health.

It’s important for pregnant women who are feeling very anxious or depressed to talk about it, particularly with their health care team, says Caulfield. Nutritionists who counsel pregnant women may also want to keep the findings in mind, she says.

Click here to read Web MD's "Depression During Pregnancy is Common."

Food Findings

The women in the study were mainly white, married, nonsmoking, well-educated women who were happy to be pregnant. None were pregnant with more than one child. They completed questionnaires about their emotions, social support, and foods they ate during their pregnancy.

Here’s a glance at the results:

—Stress was tied to higher intakes of breads, fats, oils, sweets, and snacks.

—Anxiety was linked to higher intakes of fats, oils, sweets, and snacks.

—No patterns were seen for depressed mood, anger, or level of social support.

The findings didn’t change when the women’s age, body mass index (BMI), number of previous children, and education were factored in.

The patterns were significant, but it’s fair to say they were not strong, says Caulfield. She says results are worth keeping in mind but shouldn’t be overemphasized, since many other factors also affect food choice.

Click here to read Web MD's "The Vivid Dreams of Pregnant Women."

Nutritional Consequences

Favoring desserts, breads, fatty foods, and snacks may mean more calories and a shortfall of some nutrients — such as vitamin C and folic acid — if women skimp on fruits and vegetables, says Caulfield.

“I think we need to do a lot more work in trying to understand and make recommendations about healthy eating during pregnancy,” she says. “This is one part of that puzzle.”

Caulfield says research should include pregnant women from other populations, including those facing more stresses, anxieties, and issues during their pregnancy.

Click here to read Web MD's "Pregnant? Follow WebMD's Fetal Development Timeline."

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By Miranda Hitti, reviewed by Brunilda Nazario, MD

SOURCES: Caulfield, L. Journal of the American Dietetic Association, June 2005; vol 105: pp 963-966. Laura Caulfield, PhD, associate professor, Center for Human Nutrition, Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. News release, Johns Hopkins University Bloomberg School of Public Health.