Partum Shots: 9 Months of Diet Advice

Pregnant women endure stranger's thoughts about what's best for the baby.

May 7, 2013, 8:23 AM

May 7, 2013— -- Along with swollen ankles, backaches and belly pats from strangers, Sarah Quina will tell you one of her biggest pet peeves while she was pregnant was the unsolicited nutrition advice she received.

Once she was quietly enjoying a pastry in her university's cafeteria when a young woman she barely knew sat down at her table and lectured her about the dangers of sugar to her unborn child.

"That woman drove me crazy but she wasn't the only one. At times it seemed like everyone was on top of me for anything I put in my mouth," she recalled.

Many pregnant women share this experience. It's as if the sight of a baby bump is a license for everyone from relatives to relative strangers to freely share their thoughts about what's best for the baby.

Sometimes this well-intentioned advice isn't even accurate.

Take peanuts. Pregnant women are often told to avoid eating them because they up their child's risk of peanut allergies. The idea is so pervasive that Kate Middleton sparked pregnancy rumors back in 2011 when she politely declined to sample a bite of peanut paste during a visit to a United Nations aid depot in Copenhagen.

This controversial theory is supported by one or two small studies. Far more studies have found no greater incidence of peanut allergies if the mother herself or a close relative does not suffer from them. And several studies have found that peanut ingestion during pregnancy can actually reduce the risk of peanut allergies in children.

Yet that doesn't stop people from scolding pregnant women who dare to nibble on the legume while out in public.

The same is true of coffee and wine. Although some obstetricians and gynecologists take the position that both beverages are safe in moderation, many pregnant women report getting dirty looks and having nasty remarks hurled in their direction if they so much as take a sip of either beverage. (The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists states no amount of alcohol is safe during pregnancy.)

"Yes, I got dirty looks when I had a little wine with dinner while I was pregnant," said Grace Miastkowski, mother of two. "You would think I was shooting up heroin."

Even pregnancy weight gain is seen as fair game. Dr. Jennifer Ashton who is ABC News senior medical contributor and a practicing ob-gyn, said she was told by several people that she was "abnormally small for her stage of pregnancy" while carrying her first child.

"Translation – you are starving your baby," she said. "And P.S., I wound up having a 7 pound 9 ounce health baby boy."

And at the other end of the spectrum, reality star Kim Kardashian has made tabloid headlines for her "out-of-control" junk food habits and accusations that she's gained at least twice as much as she should have by this point in her pregnancy. Although she seems to embrace her expanding curves, she's been forced to defend her pregnant body in the media on a daily basis.

"Enough is enough," said Dr. Laura Corio an ob-gyn who practices in Manhattan said. "If a woman is healthy and she is having a normal pregnancy, most foods and beverages are safe in moderation."

Corio does council her patients to avoid fish high in mercury, forgo highly processed cold cuts and unpasteurized dairy products that may harbor the listeria bacteria and to limit caffeine and alcohol intake – but she doesn't believe a pregnant woman must practice absolutely pristine nutritional habits to keep she and her baby healthy.

"If your nutrition is generally good and you are taking your prenatal vitamins, I really don't think a few sweet snacks or a little coffee will condemn your baby to a life of ill health," she said. "As long as you've discussed nutrition with your doctor and know the risks and benefits of what you are eating, it's really no one else's business," Corio pointed out.

Ashton said she tried to take a charitable view when she was offered unsolicited advice during her pregnancy and she advises her patients to do the same.

"While this can definitely be annoying to the pregnant woman, I think we have to look at the bright side -- which is that, to many people, pregnancy is a miraculous feat of human physiology and anatomy and so they just can't help themselves but to offer opinions, even when these opinions have zero medical basis," she said.

As for Quina, she said she learned to tune out whenever someone felt it was their duty to school her on natal nutrition.

"Sometimes it's best just to smile and say yeah whatever," she said. "I felt pretty comfortable that I knew what I was doing."

Tweet Chat on Maternal and Family Health Today at 1 PM, ET

In honor of Mother's Day this coming Sunday, Dr. Richard Besser, the chief health and medical correspondent for ABC News, is holding a tweet chat today at 1 PM, ET on maternal and family health. Guest tweeters include the Save the Children Foundation, Every Mother Counts, Mobile Alliance for Maternal Action and Million Moms Challenge. Major hospitals and research centers from all over the country will also be tweeting information and advice.

Studies show that women often act as the health "gatekeeper" for their entire family so when woman are more proactive about her own health, the entire family benefits. Won't you join us to discuss this important topic and learn what you can do to improve your well-being and that of your family? You don't have to be a Twitter expert to participate. Just follow click here and follow these three easy steps.