16

votes

Did women gain less weight as a result of pregnancy in hunter-gatherer or traditional societies?

Answered on August 19, 2014
Created June 15, 2012 at 2:35 AM

Modern women often put on weight during and after pregnancy.

Does anyone know of studies, or even anecdotes, indicating rates of gestational weight gain and/or post-partum obesity in hunter-gatherers or primitive horticulturalists or indigenous peoples on traditional diets?

I'm wondering whether exaggerated weight gain during pregnancy and weight retention after pregnancy may be a modern phenomenon, or be more severe on modern diets, but haven't found any evidence that would answer the question.

E68bdbd83e45fd5be130e393ace9c9a9

(2063)

on June 18, 2012
at 04:02 AM

Haha cute! What a grown-up palate for a little kid

F92a0a13e601a6d302e44a4d4e0e3b91

(367)

on June 16, 2012
at 06:12 AM

Very interesting, I ate less and gained less with my son, and got skinny fast afterwards but definitely craved/ate more carbs with my daughter and she IS far keener on carbs than her brother (who will happily eat livers and sauerkraut, aged 8!)

26b0f1261d1a0d916825bd0deeb96a21

(5798)

on June 16, 2012
at 04:13 AM

*plumper, lol* edit

Medium avatar

(12379)

on June 16, 2012
at 02:50 AM

I think it's so amazing that everyone is so different - I lost weight quite easily while breastfeeding and as soon as my little guy weaned I put on quite a bit of weight - it was like my appetite was still as big but I wasn't burning as much.

26b0f1261d1a0d916825bd0deeb96a21

(5798)

on June 16, 2012
at 01:23 AM

If we look at paintings of British women during the Medievil and later, during the Regency periods, we can see that fashion dictated breast size. Those gowns were low cut, and had waistlines that began underneath the breasts and flowed outwards- so if a waistline was concealed, it was more convenient to grow plumber and show-off a nice rack.

26b0f1261d1a0d916825bd0deeb96a21

(5798)

on June 16, 2012
at 01:21 AM

Are British women's breasts getting bigger? Or do they SEEM bigger compared to the culturally imposed norms of smaller, boyish figures in-fashion in the 1960's-early 1980s? Women of the Victorian era were expected to have tiny waists, and the corseting and food restriction may have correlated in smaller overall body fat, including breasts. In the 1920s, women purposely flattened breasts, in order to achieve a lithe asthetic, much like the 1960s. In the 1940s and 50s, however, we see a return to a more voluminous bust. Is the overall body is fatter, the breasts are bigger.

4ef079c57d2140bba4dbf4e30240a645

(4413)

on June 15, 2012
at 11:11 PM

Thank you Dragonfly.

Ce41c230e8c2a4295db31aec3ef4b2ab

(32556)

on June 15, 2012
at 10:37 PM

Yes Crowlover, they were not over-fat, but likely 20-25% body fat. Baby will take what it needs from mama, so a few pounds of body fat will probably not be missed. Many non-Paleo women (pregnant or not) carry excess water weight and I'm not sure how much that is intrinsic to the IOM recommendations.

E68bdbd83e45fd5be130e393ace9c9a9

(2063)

on June 15, 2012
at 08:49 PM

As far as cravings go, my mom always says that when she was pregnant with me, all she wanted was fish and vegetables, and she gained very little. When she got pregnant with my sister, all she wanted was "biscuits and gravy," and she gained 50 lbs (and she's a tiny woman). I always wondered if that had any affect on my sister and I... she's definitely the carboholic of the family these days! Cause or effect?

4ef079c57d2140bba4dbf4e30240a645

(4413)

on June 15, 2012
at 08:03 PM

Jess6 how big was your baby? Im just curious about all this.

306aa57660d911781231f8090c2a5619

(3808)

on June 15, 2012
at 07:55 PM

I had one midwife tell me last pregnancy that my baby's brain wouldn't grow if I didn't gain more weight. That was the only midwife I didn't really get along with, even before that. I didn't gain a whole lot more, but her brain, AFAIK, is perfectly fine.

4ef079c57d2140bba4dbf4e30240a645

(4413)

on June 15, 2012
at 07:53 PM

Very interesting. Im trying to figure out how a "normal weight modern Paleo" woman could gain only 6 pounds? How big was baby? by normal weight, I'm assuming your mean she was not over-fat to begin with. Im confused.

Ed983a42344945b1ff70fd9597a23493

on June 15, 2012
at 06:23 PM

That was true for me. I have a hard time losing weight always, but it was extremely challenging postpartum while nursing both of my babies for about two years each. I had a much easier time(though still more challenging than most) after weaning. Most of my friends were borderline underweight while nursing though, and gained after weaning.

9e20abb05f3f6e3cc4bb107f8980aecd

(5939)

on June 15, 2012
at 06:18 PM

Thanks Dragonfly!

E91fd339d760ed76cc72570a679ebf5a

(2369)

on June 15, 2012
at 03:11 PM

Actually, *not* breastfeeding can help with weight loss for some women. Anecdotally, some women's bodies "hold on" to extra weight while nursing that disappears quickly at weaning. Other women lose weight quickly while nursing. It's not just the calories burned but the hormones involved in breastfeeding IMHO.

84c1b9e79af530d5bd93e088f226c9a4

(95)

on June 15, 2012
at 12:15 PM

I believe there have been studies relating community support to ppd rates and maternal satisfaction. Also there are studies relating community/family support of breastfeeding to rates of continued breastfeeding beyond the first few weeks. It plays a huge roll. If breastfeedig isn't supported on many fronts, but especially by the father, liklehood of breastfeeding success drops significantly. On my phone so can't really link. Will try later. But breastfeeding is also a huge factor in postpartum weight loss. If you're not burning calories producing milk, and now more sedentary with an infant...

9e20abb05f3f6e3cc4bb107f8980aecd

(5939)

on June 15, 2012
at 11:10 AM

Hi Crowlover - Gestational weight gain is correlated with postpartum weight retention. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21918221. VB, gestational weight gain is assessed against standard guidelines. I'll edit the post so it is clear I mean relative to normal weight gain during pregnancy.

E68bdbd83e45fd5be130e393ace9c9a9

(2063)

on June 15, 2012
at 04:07 AM

It seems like in indigenous societies, women do not struggle as much from haywire hormones during PMS, menopause, etc., so I wouldn't be surprised if their body composition was affected less by the hormonal effects of pregnancy than modern women's seem to be.

F5a0ddffcf9ef5beca864050f090a790

(15515)

on June 15, 2012
at 03:58 AM

All women in all societies gain weight DURING pregnancy. If they don't gain weight during pregnancy, how is their baby suppose to grow?

4ef079c57d2140bba4dbf4e30240a645

(4413)

on June 15, 2012
at 03:31 AM

I think this needs to be two questions. Clearly, the issue of weight gain during pregnancy is a very different issue than postpartum obesity. How is it even possible for a woman to gain NO weight during pregnancy unless she was overweight to begin with? I seriously doubt that it is.

4ef079c57d2140bba4dbf4e30240a645

(4413)

on June 15, 2012
at 03:28 AM

I think this needs to be two questions. Clearly, the issue of weight gain during pregnancy is a very different issue than postpartum obesity. How is it even possible for a woman to gain NO weight during pregnancy unless he was overweight to begin with? I seriously doubt that it is.

4ef079c57d2140bba4dbf4e30240a645

(4413)

on June 15, 2012
at 03:27 AM

I think this needs to be two questions. Clearly, the issue of weight gain DURING pregnancy is a very different issue than postpartum obesity. How is it even possible for a woman to gain NO weight during pregnancy unless he was overweight to begin with? I seriously doubt that it is.

4ef079c57d2140bba4dbf4e30240a645

(4413)

on June 15, 2012
at 02:59 AM

All the more reason for him to state the question better.

26b0f1261d1a0d916825bd0deeb96a21

(5798)

on June 15, 2012
at 02:58 AM

Paul Jaminet is a fab paleo researcher and blogger- he isn't obsessed by women's weight gain, he's just researching for a broader understanding.

4ef079c57d2140bba4dbf4e30240a645

(4413)

on June 15, 2012
at 02:53 AM

I for one am pretty tired of men obsessing on WOMEN'S weight gain. Weight gain During pregnancy? Clearly you don't think weight gain during pregnancy is a modern phenomenon. This question if very poorly stated imo. HOw about your figure out why men are so fat and gain weight when their woman are preganant.

4ef079c57d2140bba4dbf4e30240a645

(4413)

on June 15, 2012
at 02:46 AM

Why do you even care Paul? Why all the obsession on women's weight. How about you figure out whey men gain weight when their partners are pregnant.

4ef079c57d2140bba4dbf4e30240a645

(4413)

on June 15, 2012
at 02:41 AM

Why do you even care Paul? Why all the obsession on women's weight. How about you figure out whey men gain weight when their partners are pregnant. I've had four children and I did not gain weight AFTER any of the pregnancies.

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6 Answers

best answer

3
21b36b3de8ff31b0d41e7f0f4b5c1e03

(1688)

on June 16, 2012
at 01:53 AM

This study here states

"Maasai women typically gain around 11% of their weight while pregnant while the US and Europe gain around 15-25% during pregnancy. One concern of diet restriction is giving birth to an infant with LBW (low birth weight), predisposing that infant to many medical problems including heart disease, lung disease, hypertension, and diabetes. However, Maasai infants born with LBW are around 13%, which is not remarkably high compared to the US and Western Europe."

Full study here: http://digitalcommons.calpoly.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1005&context=honors

However, it appears that the Maasai in many cases no longer consume their traditional diet of meat and dairy, but a high proportion of maize meal.

10
Medium avatar

(12379)

on June 15, 2012
at 04:54 AM

Hmmmm how do you answer Paul Jaminet?

I am just throwing a thought in the ring - I think that pregnancy and post partum weight gain could have something to do with the lack of community and even somtimes family support of pregnancy and children. It used to take a village to raise a child, now it takes two and sometimes one. And those two or one are constantly under scrutiny and pressure from the community rather than support. That kind of stress is no doubt a source of some weight gain in pregnant ladies and new moms.

Sorry Paul - I have no studies to back this up - but it may be interesting to look at the increase of PPD and how that correlates with weight gain and then look at the community support level - I don't know what factors that would be but possibly even the length of paid maternal leave.

Just my 0.02.

84c1b9e79af530d5bd93e088f226c9a4

(95)

on June 15, 2012
at 12:15 PM

I believe there have been studies relating community support to ppd rates and maternal satisfaction. Also there are studies relating community/family support of breastfeeding to rates of continued breastfeeding beyond the first few weeks. It plays a huge roll. If breastfeedig isn't supported on many fronts, but especially by the father, liklehood of breastfeeding success drops significantly. On my phone so can't really link. Will try later. But breastfeeding is also a huge factor in postpartum weight loss. If you're not burning calories producing milk, and now more sedentary with an infant...

Medium avatar

(12379)

on June 16, 2012
at 02:50 AM

I think it's so amazing that everyone is so different - I lost weight quite easily while breastfeeding and as soon as my little guy weaned I put on quite a bit of weight - it was like my appetite was still as big but I wasn't burning as much.

Ed983a42344945b1ff70fd9597a23493

on June 15, 2012
at 06:23 PM

That was true for me. I have a hard time losing weight always, but it was extremely challenging postpartum while nursing both of my babies for about two years each. I had a much easier time(though still more challenging than most) after weaning. Most of my friends were borderline underweight while nursing though, and gained after weaning.

E91fd339d760ed76cc72570a679ebf5a

(2369)

on June 15, 2012
at 03:11 PM

Actually, *not* breastfeeding can help with weight loss for some women. Anecdotally, some women's bodies "hold on" to extra weight while nursing that disappears quickly at weaning. Other women lose weight quickly while nursing. It's not just the calories burned but the hormones involved in breastfeeding IMHO.

7
Ce41c230e8c2a4295db31aec3ef4b2ab

(32556)

on June 15, 2012
at 05:51 PM

I imagine you may find some studies on the Hadza/Masai/etc that may answer your question.

I know of several normal weight modern Paleo women who have only gained 6-13 lbs during pregnancy & were back at pre-pregnancy weight post-partum. Moms & babes are healthy & happy.

Most pregnant moms are told by their docs/midwives that they need to gain 25-30 pounds during pregnancy for a healthy baby. This IOM recommendation is supported by some studies, but of course all the moms are eating a grain-heavy diet. No wonder many are over-weight post-partum!

The Paleo/Primal moms I work with who have learned to eat to hunger don't gain more than they need. One of my slightly overweight pregnant clients has gained less than 10 lbs this pregnancy. Baby measures normal for her stage of gestation.

I think it is all about hormonal balance. Good gut health, excellent Vitamin D status, plus a nutrient-dense, whole animal Paleo/Primal diet plays a huge role, as does avoiding xenoestrogens in the environment.

4ef079c57d2140bba4dbf4e30240a645

(4413)

on June 15, 2012
at 11:11 PM

Thank you Dragonfly.

9e20abb05f3f6e3cc4bb107f8980aecd

(5939)

on June 15, 2012
at 06:18 PM

Thanks Dragonfly!

4ef079c57d2140bba4dbf4e30240a645

(4413)

on June 15, 2012
at 08:03 PM

Jess6 how big was your baby? Im just curious about all this.

306aa57660d911781231f8090c2a5619

(3808)

on June 15, 2012
at 07:55 PM

I had one midwife tell me last pregnancy that my baby's brain wouldn't grow if I didn't gain more weight. That was the only midwife I didn't really get along with, even before that. I didn't gain a whole lot more, but her brain, AFAIK, is perfectly fine.

Ce41c230e8c2a4295db31aec3ef4b2ab

(32556)

on June 15, 2012
at 10:37 PM

Yes Crowlover, they were not over-fat, but likely 20-25% body fat. Baby will take what it needs from mama, so a few pounds of body fat will probably not be missed. Many non-Paleo women (pregnant or not) carry excess water weight and I'm not sure how much that is intrinsic to the IOM recommendations.

4ef079c57d2140bba4dbf4e30240a645

(4413)

on June 15, 2012
at 07:53 PM

Very interesting. Im trying to figure out how a "normal weight modern Paleo" woman could gain only 6 pounds? How big was baby? by normal weight, I'm assuming your mean she was not over-fat to begin with. Im confused.

4
F92a0a13e601a6d302e44a4d4e0e3b91

on June 15, 2012
at 08:19 PM

I don't know of any hard studies either but it might be worth considering the general tendency for modern women to use pregnancy as a justification to eat whatever they want, compounded by the almost universal (anecdotal experience!) craving for carbohydrate in early (and beyond) pregnancy. Presumably in traditional societies this kind of food, particularly in large amounts, would simply not have been available. Any kind of extra food given would have been nutrient dense but not necessarily heavily calorific.

Regarding post-partum weight gain/failure to lose I agree there are different reports on the effect of breast-feeding. With one child I got very skinny very fast, with the next, held onto the weight for a good six months. With both (feeding in terms of years rather than months) breastfeeding seemed to have an appropriate effect on my appetite and eventually my weight settled much where it had been before pregnancy. In traditional societies, and still today in HG societies, breastfeeding continues for years even to the extent of grandmothers still lactating and feeding grandchildren. Surely this very extended breastfeeding might have some kind of regulatory effect on weight too?

E68bdbd83e45fd5be130e393ace9c9a9

(2063)

on June 15, 2012
at 08:49 PM

As far as cravings go, my mom always says that when she was pregnant with me, all she wanted was fish and vegetables, and she gained very little. When she got pregnant with my sister, all she wanted was "biscuits and gravy," and she gained 50 lbs (and she's a tiny woman). I always wondered if that had any affect on my sister and I... she's definitely the carboholic of the family these days! Cause or effect?

F92a0a13e601a6d302e44a4d4e0e3b91

(367)

on June 16, 2012
at 06:12 AM

Very interesting, I ate less and gained less with my son, and got skinny fast afterwards but definitely craved/ate more carbs with my daughter and she IS far keener on carbs than her brother (who will happily eat livers and sauerkraut, aged 8!)

E68bdbd83e45fd5be130e393ace9c9a9

(2063)

on June 18, 2012
at 04:02 AM

Haha cute! What a grown-up palate for a little kid

4
1d0497f8781845ab371b479455bfee8e

(11157)

on June 15, 2012
at 01:03 PM

Perhaps for the same reason that more women seem to be heavier-chested in Western societies? I don't think that was the case 100 years ago, but ever since the US and European diet has shifted to one consisting of soy and hormone-laden foods, both the bust and waistlines seems to have increased quite a lot. Having gigantic gazungas is definitely a disadvantage where survival is concerned, I'd imagine that carrying around all of that post-partum extra weight would also make one's life more difficult.

But yeah, I'd like to see a study done on that as well.

This article addresses the concerns that xenoestrogens may have a role in the increasing cup-size. Sorry, there isn't a study to link to, but it might give you a reference point.

Why are British women's breasts getting bigger?

26b0f1261d1a0d916825bd0deeb96a21

(5798)

on June 16, 2012
at 04:13 AM

*plumper, lol* edit

26b0f1261d1a0d916825bd0deeb96a21

(5798)

on June 16, 2012
at 01:23 AM

If we look at paintings of British women during the Medievil and later, during the Regency periods, we can see that fashion dictated breast size. Those gowns were low cut, and had waistlines that began underneath the breasts and flowed outwards- so if a waistline was concealed, it was more convenient to grow plumber and show-off a nice rack.

26b0f1261d1a0d916825bd0deeb96a21

(5798)

on June 16, 2012
at 01:21 AM

Are British women's breasts getting bigger? Or do they SEEM bigger compared to the culturally imposed norms of smaller, boyish figures in-fashion in the 1960's-early 1980s? Women of the Victorian era were expected to have tiny waists, and the corseting and food restriction may have correlated in smaller overall body fat, including breasts. In the 1920s, women purposely flattened breasts, in order to achieve a lithe asthetic, much like the 1960s. In the 1940s and 50s, however, we see a return to a more voluminous bust. Is the overall body is fatter, the breasts are bigger.

3
Eea6a68f5a7190d13c60e1c72417a581

(1376)

on June 15, 2012
at 10:24 AM

Sorry I do not know of any studies. But I do know that as a adult female, weight is in continuous flux, with each pregnancy/nursing/weaning cycle. Also, indigenous/hunter-gather/primative agriculturalist women are active from sun up to sundown, carrying wood, water, children etc and walking distances daily when foraging and trading.

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