Since a pregnant woman’s body undergoes numerous physiological changes to accommodate the needs of her developing baby, good nutrition is of the utmost importance. Women tend to feel hungry throughout pregnancy due to physiological and hormonal shifts, morning sickness, and the increased demand for nutrients and energy. It is important not to ignore pregnancy-related hunger if you want to avoid potential complications.
Unfortunately, ignoring hunger during pregnancy is not rare, and many experience its consequences. This essay aims to shed light on nine adverse effects of staying hungry during pregnancy.
What Happens If You Stay Hungry In Pregnancy?
When a pregnant woman stays hungry for an extended period, her body undergoes various physiological changes to adapt to the reduced food intake. These changes are designed to prioritize the nutritional needs of the developing fetus. Even though these changes in the body are normal ways to protect the growing fetus for a brief period, it is important to remember that being hungry for a long time during pregnancy can be dangerous for both the mother and the baby.
Numerous physiological changes may occur in a pregnant woman who is persistently hungry.
Before ignoring hunger during pregnancy, read the subsequent happenings that occur to a pregnant woman’s body when she is hungry:
1. The liver releases glycogen: It is important to keep your blood sugar level stable during pregnancy so that the fetus gets a steady supply of glucose. When a pregnant woman is hungry, her blood sugar levels may drop, which can make her feel light-headed, sleepy, tired, and even irritable. These are some of the most obvious symptoms of not eating enough while pregnant. To maintain stable blood sugar levels, the body releases glucose (glycogen) from the liver1.
2. Hormone levels can fluctuate: Besides drops in glucose, staying hungry has been found to increase the stress hormone Cortisol. Cortisol triggers the release of glucose (sugar) from your liver for fast energy2.
Prolonged hunger can significantly elevate the level of stress hormones, which can have detrimental impacts on both the mother and the fetus.
3. May result in the breakdown of muscle: Short-term fasting is linked to an increase in gluconeogenesis, which may indicate more amino acids are released from the muscles3.
If hunger continues, the maternal protein demands will not be met. To meet its protein requirements, the developing fetus may resort to breaking down more muscle tissue to obtain the amino acids it needs for energy. Thus, starving during pregnancy increases the risk of losing muscle mass and strength.
Related Reading: Intermittent Fasting During Pregnancy- Safe Or Not
4. Metabolic rate decreases: When pregnant women are hungry for a long time, their metabolic rate, which is how fast their body burns calories, can slow down4. This is the body’s way to save energy and safeguard the developing fetus by slowing down biological activities that are not necessary.
5. The body may begin utilizing its fat reserves: If you don’t eat enough and stay hungry during pregnancy, your body will start using its fat reserves as fuel. While this process may generate energy, it also produces byproducts called ketones that, if present in excessive quantities, can be dangerous5. Therefore, dieting during pregnancy is not something that should be done without the supervision of a doctor.
6. The immune system weakens: Prolonged hunger depresses the body’s immune system and increases the risk of contracting other illnesses6. Thus, ignoring hunger during pregnancy for a long time increases a pregnant woman’s susceptibility to illnesses and infections.
9 Adverse Effects Of Staying Hungry During Pregnancy
Staying hungry during pregnancy can have severe consequences not only for the developing fetus but also for the mother, who can suffer various health complications. And, the consequences will not be limited to hunger hurt when pregnant.
Here are nine adverse effects of staying hungry during pregnancy:
Staying hungry or experiencing inadequate nutrition during pregnancy can indeed lead to maternal anemia. Maternal anemia is a condition characterized by a lower-than-normal concentration of red blood cells or a decrease in the amount of hemoglobin in the blood during pregnancy.
This condition can have adverse effects on both the mother and the developing fetus. Iron is a crucial nutrient during pregnancy because it is required to produce hemoglobin. During pregnancy, a woman’s blood volume increases significantly to supply oxygen and nutrients to the growing fetus.
Therefore, more iron is needed to make hemoglobin. Anemia can interfere with the mother’s daily activities and have long-term consequences for the mother’s health. It can even increase the risk of complications during labor and delivery, such as excessive bleeding. Not only anemia during pregnancy can affect the developing fetus, but babies born to mothers with severe iron-deficiency anemia may be at an increased risk of developing iron-deficiency anemia themselves during infancy.
2. Not enough weight gain
Adequate weight gain is important during pregnancy. Mothers are often fed foods that aid in increasing the fetal weight during pregnancy. Gaining too little weight can cause problems such as premature birth and a baby with a low birth weight7. Ignoring hunger during pregnancy can contribute to inadequate weight gain.
3. May increase the risk of gestational diabetes
Several factors contribute to gestational diabetes. It involves both genetics and lifestyle. One of them is inadequate nutrition. Several studies have proven that nutritional deficiencies can lead to diabetes.
Prolonged starvation can lead to an abnormal increase in blood glucose levels after consuming glucose, as well as a delay in the body’s ability to remove glucose from the bloodstream8. So staying hungry for a long time and then having food can contribute to gestational diabetes.
Related Reading: What To Do When You Don’t Feel Like Eating During Pregnancy?
4. Increases the probability of neural tube defects in babies.
The first trimester of pregnancy is crucial. A pregnant woman who chooses to ignore her hunger runs the risk of not giving her baby enough of the nutrients and calories they need to grow and develop normally. Weight loss diets, fasting diets, and self-reported eating disorders in the first trimester were linked to an increased risk of NTDs.
5. Abnormalities in the skeleton
Staying hungry during pregnancy will negatively impact the amount of essential nutrients consumed. Calcium and Vitamin D are crucial nutrients for the growth of the fetus. Vitamin D and calcium deficiencies can cause skeletal abnormalities in the growing fetus and raise the risk of diseases like rickets9.
6. Cognitive and Behavioral Issues
Adequate prenatal nutrition has a crucial role in facilitating optimal brain development and the overall well-being of a fetus. Maternal hunger during pregnancy may have a substantial impact on the developing baby. Malnutrition in mothers during pregnancy is associated with a higher likelihood of behavioral problems in babies.
Insufficient nutrient intake during pregnancy has been linked to brain defects and an elevated risk of neurological mental illnesses such as ASD, ADHD, schizophrenia, anxiety, and depression. In addition, it can lead to changes in cognitive function and may cause visual impairment10.
Furthermore, maternal malnutrition can result in behavioral issues in offspring, which may persist into adulthood11.
7. Respiratory Distress Syndrome
Nutrition is critical to the growth and development of the lungs. Surfactant, which helps keep the air sacs in the lungs open, results in difficulty breathing. Adequate prenatal nutrition is vital to support fetal growth and development, particularly the maturation of the lungs and the production of surfactants12.
Respiratory distress syndrome (RDS) occurs in prematurely born infants with underdeveloped lungs as per this source. Staying hungry during pregnancy can cause RDS. This is because the risk of preterm delivery increases when women starve during pregnancy13. The preterm baby’s lungs are not fully developed, increasing the risk of RDS.
Related Reading: 21 Natural Ways To Fight Pregnancy Fatigue
8. Cardiovascular issues In babies
Being overly hungry during pregnancy increases the baby’s risk of developing cardiovascular issues as an adult, such as hypertension and heart disease. This is supported by the fact that maternal malnutrition has been associated with an increased risk of cardiovascular problems in the fetus.
Inadequate nutrition during pregnancy can hinder the development of the cardiovascular system in the fetus, resulting in heart defects and abnormal blood vessel formation14.
9. Other fetal abnormalities
Following are some of the adverse side effects of staying hungry during pregnancy on the fetus. All of these are related to inadequate nutrition intake15:
- Stunned growth
- Low birth weight
- Risk of obesity
- Risk of being a preemie
- Risk of developing iron-deficiency anemia during infancy
- Risk of developing type 2 diabetes in future
- Low immunity
Can Hunger Affect The Baby In The Womb?
“Is my baby hungry when I’m hungry during pregnancy?” is one of the major concerns of pregnant women. Maternal hunger can potentially have significant consequences for the unborn child. The mother’s nutrition is the only source of food for the fetus’s growth and development.
If a pregnant woman feels hungry, it may suggest that she is not consuming an adequate amount of food, which could potentially increase the risk of malnutrition.
Malnutrition can lead to a lack of essential nutrients, including vitamins, minerals, and proteins, which are necessary for the healthy development of a baby. This can lead to a range of negative consequences, including low birth weight, low immunity, developmental delays, etc.
Furthermore, insufficient maternal nutrition can lead to epigenetic modifications in the baby’s DNA. This, in turn, may increase the risk of developing chronic diseases such as diabetes, obesity, and cardiovascular disease later in life16.
Related Reading: 9 Pain Management Techniques During Labor
In conclusion, there are significant and wide-ranging negative effects associated with experiencing hunger during pregnancy. Prioritizing the health and well-being of both the mother and the developing fetus is crucial.
Starvation during pregnancy can lead to a range of complications, including preterm birth, low birth weight, developmental issues, and long-term health problems for the child. To ensure a safe and successful pregnancy, expectant mothers need to follow a balanced and nutritious diet. It is always a good idea to ask for advice from a professional if necessary when it comes to maternal nutrition intake.