Pregnancy cravingsRaise your hand if you stick to a perfect pregnancy diet – eating a nice healthy balance of foods, with lots grains and fresh fruits and veggies, and religiously taking your giant horse pill of a vitamin every day without fail, even when you're in the depths of morning sickness and it makes you instantly hurl.

Yeah, I didn't do it, either. I tried, lord knows I tried. But there was a point in each of my pregnancies when all I could eat – and I mean all I could eat – was boxed macaroni and cheese (at least it was organic, whatever that means) and ice cream. Maybe sometimes, just to spice things up, a few dry crackers.

I know I'm not alone in eating a questionably limited diet during pregnancy, either. A friend of mine insisted that her baby was pretty much "made of pasta." And my ob-gyn – my ob-gyn – confessed that during her pregnancy, all she had for lunch every day was a peanut butter sandwich and a can of Diet Coke! (I know, but she's a great ob-gyn.)

I did try to take my horse pill every day, but even that was sometimes a challenge, since it instantly compelled me to dry heave … or worse. What good was it if I couldn't keep it down, I rationalized on the infrequent days I allowed myself to skip it?

Well, it turns out I should probably have tried to do better – and I should have done it sooner.

A new study has found that women who eat better – following either a Mediterranean diet (lots of beans, fruits and vegetables, grains and fish; not too much in the way of dairy, meat and sweets) or the food guide pyramid (lots of grains and fruits and vegetables; few fats and sweets) -- during and before their pregnancy are far less likely to have babies with birth defects, particularly brain and spine problems (aka "neural tube defects") as well as cleft lips or palates.

"A lot of birth defects including neural tube defects occur very early in pregnancy, before women even know they're pregnant," study researcher Suzan Carmichael, of Stanford University, told Reuters Health. As a consequence, women who think they may become pregnant should "eat a variety of foods, including a lot of fruits and vegetables and grains in your diet, and take a vitamin supplement that contains folic acid."

So there you have it: Definitive proof that we shouldn't give into our cravings during pregnancy. How brutal is that?

Is there a specific food you've craved during your pregnancy? Are there foods you suddenly can't stand?

 

Image via CammiRose/Flickr