The younger and poorer you are, the more likely you are to pack on extra pounds during pregnancy, and the less likely you are to lose that weight after you have the baby.
A study found that out of 427 women between the ages of 14 and 25 who were cared for at a medical clinic that served women in poverty, two-thirds put on more weight than was recommended during pregnancy, and half of them were at least 10 pounds heavier a year after having their baby.
And before we start getting all finger-pointy about it, let's think about why that might be.
While I'm not in poverty myself, I live in a city (Detroit) that has among the highest poverty rates in the country, so I can observe some of the dynamic up close. The biggest problem, in many cases, is that fresh, healthy food just isn't readily available.
If you rely on public transportation to get around and the closest grocery store is several miles away, you're more likely to just walk up to the local gas station or liquor store and take your chances with whatever you can find. If you're lucky, there might be a stale apple or banana on the shelves, but mostly you're looking at chips, cookies, and candy. Milk, while available, is incredibly expensive relative to the 2-for-a-dollar bottles of sugary fruit drink.
We have a huge farmers' market near downtown that actually takes WIC and food stamps, so people are able to get their hands on healthy food, and the prices are good so they can actually get a lot for their money. But it can be an hour-long or more bus ride one way from most parts of the city, which can be a problem if you work the one day a week it's open.
And exercise is difficult when you live in a neighborhood you don't feel safe walking through and can't afford a gym. Sadly, that's the reality for way too many women.
One thing that can help, the authors of the study say, is breastfeeding, but breastfeeding rates among poor and minority women are low. There's a lot of reasons for that, and it confounds smarter minds than mine as to why people who would benefit themselves and their babies the most from breastfeeding don't do it. In some ways, it might just be the support issue again. I think most of us would be a lot more likely to reach for the formula can if we were the only person in our family ever to even consider nursing, and certainly more likely to abandon it within those first few difficult weeks.
There are groups that aim to bring fresh produce to places like gas stations and party stores, either encouraging owners to carry it or showing up with a cart full near the beginning of the month, when food stamps are distributed. That will certainly help, and so will encouraging breastfeeding.
Setting all mothers and babies up for the healthiest start is something we should all get behind, don't you think?
Image via dizznbonn/Flickr