Why, Exactly, Are We So Into Policing What Pregnant Women Eat? 


The recent hyper-scrutiny of newly pregnant supermodel Chrissy Teigen proves there is nothing too inconsequential to be tsked tsked over when you are with child, down to the nutritional content of a single bowl of blended cereal.

The Catalyst: Teigen published this photo on her Instagram recently:

The Weapon: Fruity Pebbles mixed with Cap’n Crunch

The Charges: While many readers saluted her bowl of cereal or mentioned their own pregnancy cravings (“pickles, froyo, veggie burritos”) somewhere deep in the thousands of comments, according to People, some commenters railed that processed foods are “beyond bad for baby,” others pleading with Teigen: “Don’t feed your baby that dyed crap.”

She was understandably pissed, and took to her Twitter to respond, writing:

This sort of thing is not new for trolls, nor for Teigen. When she posted her first baby bump pic on Instagram in early October, commenters who thought it was earlier in the pregnancy speculated right away she was probably carrying twins or triplets since she was so big and everything. She told them to get out of her uterus—she was three months along. (Not that it matters; different women show differently.)

This fresh instance of pregnancy critique is simply another solid entry in the canon, one of millions of ways in which we cannot help but project our own commentary, values, and judgments onto the life choices of women, particularly those who choose to breed in plain sight. I don’t want to armchair too deep, but I think this kind of ruthless, reflexive judgment of pregnant women is actually a reflection of the anxiety and existential dread we harbor about our own mortality, which is deeply interwoven into the mysterious, ultimately unknowable process of growing a person.

There is apparently no sweet spot that immunizes any pregnant woman from this scrutiny, even when you are a health-conscious supermodel-type person who likely won’t gain much weight in the first place. It’s nearly impossible that she would not know exactly what is “good” and “bad” for the baby (as much as anyone can), given she has extraordinary access to resources that will ensure a perfect specimen to carry on the legacy of her extremely symmetrical genes.

Ultimately, however, we don’t completely understand what is “best” in terms of pregnancy, diet, nutrition and weight gain because there are so many factors that we can’t control for in the complex intersection of lifestyle, genetic predisposition, and culture. Yes, generally speaking, eat well, don’t gain “too much weight,” get rest, don’t do drugs. The future health of the baby may very well be determined in the womb, and exposing a growing baby to a variety of good foods can ensure good habits later in life.

But I want to suggest that perhaps most women know this. Most women want their unborn child to be healthy and happy, and are, for the most part, eating as well as they can. These little indulgences are not usually the majority of their diet. These cravings are the result of a strange mix of psychology, hormones, and culture—some of which are benign and some of which carry real risks. But it’s all a highly individual calculation each woman ultimately undertakes alone.

When I was pregnant, not only did I gain a Kardashian-level amount of weight (60 lbs), but I did so by simultaneously eating much much better and much, much worse than I had before. But mostly because I ate more than before—and a huge part of this was that I had quit smoking cold turkey. I also, of course, quit drinking, limiting myself to a few glasses of wine over the course of that entire nine months. But when it came to eating cheese cubes and Triscuits, I was basically helpless—and I gave myself that pass.

All told, wasn’t it “better” that I was no longer doing those clearly bad things, even if in their stead I needed to eat a little bit too much to get by? Not according to commenters, who chastised me for being cavalier about endangering the health of my baby from too much weight gain. I still feel that it was the best thing I could do given the circumstances; there was and always will be a complex negotiation going on between mother and child during gestation for resources, nutrition, and literal space in the body.

What is incredibly strange about this judgment over a bowl of cereal is that we are asking a pregnant woman to refrain from indulging at a time when she is least able to do so. This is like asking someone on the cusp of orgasming to stop and compose a really funny tweet. Trust that most women are doing the best they can by their babies. Give them your compassion, and let them eat a goddamn bowl of cereal.

Image via Getty.

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