by Marco Ranzi and Karen Ranzi
Problems in childbirth worldwide are intricately connected to overeating during pregnancy. I have researched women’s diets and lifestyles during pregnancy to determine a prime cause of the rising rate of surgical delivery through Cesarean section. We can see clearly that success in childbirth differs between the more Westernized countries and the traditional cultures.
The practices of industrialized societies versus those of cultures following their natural traditional values are covered in the various resources examining “The Effects of Overeating on Childbirth.”
Difficulties that women experience in pregnancy and during childbirth are caused by poor health. Women who gain 30 to 40 pounds or more, especially through eating a significant amount of animal flesh and other animal products that stress the digestive organs, have problems in pregnancy and childbirth. This has been observed in cultures that emphasize “eating for two.” An intake of excessive fat, cholesterol, protein and calories cause these problems.
When eating food from the garden, it’s unlikely to overeat because the food is intact and complete in its fiber and nutrient content. When eating processed food that doesn’t satisfy, one will always be hungry and overeat.
Some of the problems that can be the result of an unhealthy diet during pregnancy include shortness of breath, bloating, cramps, difficulty walking, difficulty sleeping, body swelling, constipation, extreme morning sickness, fatigue and backaches, strong cravings, and worse problems such as gestational diabetes and preeclampsia. Symptoms of preeclampsia include high blood pressure, edema, and protein in the urine, which may be related to high consumption of animal products. Preeclampsia, or toxemia, seems to be highly linked to improper diet. Gestational diabetes and preeclampsia are often the result of excess weight during pregnancy.1
The above problems during pregnancy, as well as excess weight gain, can result in long and difficult labors which may require medical intervention. Excess weight gain can lead to a fat, bloated newborn.
Dr. John McDougall, author of The McDougall Program for Women, provides the following important information on weight gain during pregnancy:
“Only thirty-seven years ago a Joint Expert Group of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the World Health Organization pronounced, ‘Nutrition is of no great importance in pregnancy.’ Today, of course, we know differently. However, even to this day, experts in prenatal and infant nutrition disagree widely on such fundamental matters as how much weight a woman should gain and what her requirements are for energy, protein, and micronutrients. This confusion among the experts, not surprisingly, explains why so many women are bewildered about what to eat during pregnancy.
Gaining excess weight during pregnancy is a bad idea with many negative consequences. One of the most common responses to this confusion is for a woman to eat lots of high-fat animal foods in the hope she will get all she needs to produce a healthy baby. Unfortunately, such a diet often makes both mother and baby too big to produce a normal delivery. Thus, an increasing number of women require Caesarean sections. Fully one-fourth of pregnant women require surgical removal of their babies. In developed countries throughout the West, pregnant women usually gain between 22 to 35 pounds. Compare that to the 14 pounds pregnant women gain on average in many traditional cultures and underdeveloped countries. Many of these places have lower infant mortality rates than we do in the U.S., and much lower Caesarean section rates. (The U.S. Caesarean section rate is the third highest in the world.)1
Pregnancy and childbirth according to the San Bushmen indigenous traditions of South Africa are much different than Westernized cultures:
“Bringing a child into the world is a gift to the tribe and a young mother is taught that how she feels and thinks during the pregnancy will affect the labour and birth of the new baby. Other members of the group will assist by helping to carry other children or food, yet a pregnant woman is expected to continue with her normal duties such as gathering food, cleaning, caring for other children and should not complain. This renders a woman fit and healthy during her pregnancy - There is no room for slothfulness or overeating in this society, a pregnant woman is rarely overweight and an unborn baby is likely to grow to be the right size for the mother to give birth.”2
These Koisan Bushmen people of South Africa strive to live in harmony with Nature and the eco-system. They look at pregnancy and childbirth as a natural event whereas in Western cultures pregnancy is looked at as a disease and childbirth is looked at as a surgical operation. There is no option for a woman to hide from the pain of childbirth through medication:
“Unlike our attitude in the Western world where women are offered pain relief at the slightest twinge that labour may have begun, a young !Kung woman is actively taught that she must face the pains of natural childbirth with courage and fearlessness. Most women will give birth alone in a squatting position, some few hundred metres from their settlement, and this is regarded as ideal, although mothers giving birth for the first time may have a helper at hand.”2
Pregnant women in India have their independent beliefs in health care practices regarding eating and childbirth:
“Overeating is not recommended, as it is believed to result in a very large baby and a subsequently difficult delivery.”3
Spiritual beliefs and understandings of the inner workings of Nature keep Indian women away from pain medications during childbirth:
“An older female family member or traditional birth attendant (dais) assists the mother in the birth process. Pain medications are usually not used, as they are believed to complicate the delivery. Staff should be prepared to assist the mother with alternative relaxation or breathing techniques if needed.”3
The rural Vietnamese people have a similar cultural view on overeating and childbirth:
“In Vietnam, particularly in rural areas, prenatal care is lacking, but there are many traditional practices that women follow to ensure an easy pregnancy and a healthy baby. Overeating is discouraged because it can make the delivery complicated. Physical activity is encouraged throughout the pregnancy, while reclining for long periods is discouraged to prevent the fetus from growing too large.”4
In his March/April 1997 McDougall newsletter, John McDougall M.D. writes about the “Energy Required to Grow a Healthy Baby”:
“Many pregnant women are on medications for diabetes and high blood pressure. One-fourth of these women end up with surgical removal of the baby. The dairy and meat is usually the source of the trouble. Since the 1960’s most doctors have encouraged their patients to eat and not to worry about extra weight gain. Mother and baby too often become too big, carrying an increased risk of death and need for Caesarean Sections. With unrestricted weight gain for the mothers, babies these days are weighing in at 10 to 12 pounds - a size often too big to comfortably fit through the mother’s pelvis. Big babies are harder to deliver and as a result, injury and death are more likely.”5
Dr. McDougall points out the difference in eating during pregnancy and the resulting easier childbirth and healthy mother/baby in unwesternized countries:
“In some parts of the world, such as the Philippines and rural Africa, pregnant women do not eat more food, instead gaining the extra calories by increased body efficiency. These women take in no more, and often fewer calories, than prior to pregnancy. Their foods are primarily nutrient-dense vegetable foods which will easily provide the raw materials to grow a healthy baby.”5
Foxnews.com released an article on August 4, 2010 titled “Overeating for 2 could create a baby more likely to be obese and have later health problems.” Several major points were stated:
“Women who gain too much weight during pregnancy have big babies, putting their children at risk of becoming heavy later on, a new study says.” “Big babies have higher chances of developing problems later in life including asthma, allergies and even cancer.” “Large babies are also more likely to get stuck in the birth canal or need a Caesarean section.” “The fetus is developing in an abnormal metabolic environment where there is excess blood sugar. That could alter the development of tissues, organs and perhaps even the wiring of the brain that regulates appetite and metabolism.” “If mothers are not careful, they could in some way program their children to be obese or diabetic before they are even born.”6
By the early 1980s, Cesarean deliveries in industrialized nations had increased to almost five times the frequency of 1970.7
About 1.4 million Caesareans were performed in the United States in 2007, the latest year for which figures are available.8 The highest rate of Caesarean birth in the United States was in New Jersey (38.3 percent). 8 But rates have soared to 40 percent in some developing countries in Latin America, and the rates in Puerto Rico and China are approaching 50 percent. A report by the World Health Organization published earlier this year in The Lancet, a medical journal, said hospitals in China might be doing unnecessary operations to make money.8
According to Wikipedia, “Across Europe, there are significant differences between countries: in Italy the Caesarean section rate is 40%, while in the Nordic countries it is only 14%.”9
More recent statistics show different trends around the world in many locations that didn’t previously reveal a high Caesarean section birth rate. in 2010, a report titled “C-section rates around globe at ‘epidemic’ levels” by the Associated Press states:
“China’s 46 percent C-section rate was followed by Vietnam and Thailand with 36 percent and 34 percent, respectively. The lowest rates were in Cambodia, with 15 percent, and India, with 18 percent.”10
According to Demographic and Health Surveys, Caesarean section rates performed at two different times in eight sub-Saharan African countries--Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Ghana, Kenya, Madagascar, Niger, Tanzania, and Zambia, “Singleton live births according to residence (rural or urban) for mothers, as well as the proportion delivered in health facilities, Cesarean section rates were lower than 5% in all countries except Kenya, and rates were lower than 2% in Burkina Faso, Madagascar, Niger and Zambia.11
Most pregnant women need only between 2,500 and 2,700 daily calories to meet their energy requirements, according to the University of Illinois McKinley Health Center. That's just 300 calories more than normal requirements, depending on the mother’s height and activity. Eating significantly more than that, could trigger problems, including Cesarean section, for mother and baby.12
In conclusion, overeating on high protein, high fat food sources during pregnancy inevitably results in birth complications as well as further problems for the mother and baby. In contrast, there are major differences between Western and traditional societies in terms of amount and kinds of food eaten during pregnancy to create a healthy baby and successful childbirth. Other lifestyle factors, such as exercise, are also taken into account. According to numerous studies, some sited here, overeating during pregnancy can be directly linked to high Cesarean section rates.
1. McDougall, John A. The McDougall Program For Women: What Every Woman Needs to Know to Be Healthy for Life. New York, NY: Dutton, Penquin Putnam, Inc., 1999.
5. McDougall, John A. “Energy to Grow a Healthy Baby.” The McDougall Newsletter. March/April 1997.
Karen Ranzi is an author, lecturer, speech/language therapist and raw food consultant. Her book, Creating Healthy Children: Through Attachment Parenting and Raw Foods, contains further information on this topic. For more information, to order Karen’s book or subscribe to her free monthly newsletter, visit www.superhealthychildren.com