The Two-Year Old Rule

I’m often asked by my patients whether they can eat certain foods, drink alcohol, be around people who smoke or smoke themselves, etc.  Whenever I’m asked these questions, I apply what I call the “Two-year old rule.”  I ask the patient to imagine that their baby is already born and is two years old, sitting in a high chair.  Then I ask the question, “would you give the food, drink or cigarette to your two year old?”  Usually the answer is a chuckle and “no”.  Then I explain that a woman who is pregnant should assume that anything she puts into her body would probably make it to her baby.

When talking about foods, two important questions to ask are; is it healthy for the woman and her baby and, is there any chance of it making them sick?  Take ‘junk food’ for example.  While tasty, there is generally a lot of sugar and/or fat with little in the way of nutritional value (i.e. protein, vitamins, minerals, etc.).  I get the part about it being tasty, but why waste a meal on something that is only going to grow your hips and not your baby?  Another food category is uncooked or raw foods such as raw seafood or meat.  Eating these can increase your risk for food-borne illness. Besides making you very sick, even worse than bad morning-sickness sick; the bacteria can make your baby sick as well.  So save the sushi for after you deliver, and wash your hands really well when cooking with raw meat.

Next is alcohol.  We don’t know of a “safe” amount of alcohol that a pregnant woman can ingest and not harm her baby.  We know that ingesting an ounce of alcohol a day (1 glass of wine, 1 beer, or 1 shot) significantly increases a women’s risk of her baby having Fetal Alcohol Syndrome.  There is also some newer research that suggests this risk is present at even lower amounts of alcohol consumption.  So again, if you wouldn’t give a shot, beer or glass of wine to a 2 year old (and you shouldn’t) then don’t give them to your baby when you’re pregnant.

Then there is caffeine.  Found in all sorts of yummy things: coffee, tea, soda and … CHOCOLATE!  According to the March of Dimes, pregnant women should limit their caffeine intake to less than 200mg a day, which is about 1 twelve-ounce cup of coffee.  Milk chocolate has around 7mg of caffeine per ounce, and dark chocolate about 20mg per ounce but they also come with a lot of sugar (remember those hips).

Finally, there is smoking.  Short answer: DON’T.  I know that it is hard to quit (nicotine is more physically addictive than cocaine), but do it for yourself and your baby.  Again, the two-year old analogy: would you leave a two year old next to the tail pipe of a running car?  Basically it’s the same stuff as cigarette smoke.  Smoking increases your risks of preterm delivery, low birth-weight baby, and a baby with increased chances of having SIDS (Sudden Infant Death Syndrome), asthma, learning disabilities and other issues.  I’ll stop my rant about smoking for now, but here is a website with some helpful quit-smoking advice: women.smokefree.gov.

So while you are pregnant, just think ahead to when your little one is two, sitting in a high chair, covered in strained peas and carrots… I mean, sitting there like an angel daintily eating cheerios with their fingers, and be glad that you made those healthy choices during your pregnancy.

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