Leave Duchess Kate alone: Stop skinny-shaming pregnant women

Kate Middleton, the Duchess of Cambridge, plays hockey during her visit to St. Andrew’s School in Pangbourne, England, Nov. 30, 2012.
Too skinny to be pregnant? Criticism of Duchess Kate's slim figure has taken a sharp turn since she announced her pregnancy, shortly after this photo was taken.ARTHUR EDWARDS / Today
By Jacoba Urist

Anyone who’s ever been queasy during pregnancy has got to feel for Duchess Kate. Now imagine what it's like to feel sick all the time -- and then to be told that you might be too skinny to be a good mom.

Last week, the Duchess of Cambridge was hospitalized for extreme nausea; she’s suffering from a rare pregnancy complication called hyperemesis gravidarum, described by women who’ve had it as morning sickness times a thousand.  According to recent reports, Kate’s health deteriorated badly enough over the weekend that Prince William has canceled public appearances to stay with her.

Too skinny to be pregnant? Criticism of Duchess Kate's slim figure has taken a sharp turn since she announced her pregnancy, shortly after this photo was taken.ARTHUR EDWARDS / Today

Amid the support, though, there’s also criticism, scrutiny and speculation that Kate is too small to have a healthy pregnancy.

Just one day after her hospital release, Time asked “Is Kate Middleton Too Thin To Be Pregnant?” And The Daily Beast followed with “Pregorexia: Is Skinny Kate Too Thin For A Pregnant Woman?”

When it comes to baby weight, women are pretty much “damned if you do, damned if you don’t.” Gain too much and you’re called out for using your pregnancy as an opportunity to “let yourself go” and eat too much junk food. Don’t look pregnant enough, and you’re also criticized for being unhealthy and possibly putting your unborn baby’s development at risk.

Take Jessica Simpson, who was savaged for looking too pregnant and not bouncing back post-baby as quickly as she apparently should in tinsel town. Harsh, indeed. But telling an expectant mama she looks too skinny can be just as bad as fat-shaming her.  

I know exactly how it feels to be judged by friends, family members, and perfect strangers for being a tiny pregnant woman, and to be asked every day for six months, “Are you absolutely sure you’re eating enough for that baby?” As it happens, yes. I’m a small person who topped out at 129 pounds in the delivery room, and gave birth to a perfectly healthy, 7-pound baby boy.

It was exhausting, hurtful and unfair to be bombarded with the implication that I was harming my child by not gaining enough weight and already somehow “a lousy parent” who didn’t care about my son’s nutrition. Constantly having to defend my weight and what I’d eaten that day added strain throughout my pregnancy.

Doctors know that while eating disorders are a serious problem during pregnancy, weight gain can be "dramatically different" from woman to woman, according to Dr. Florence Comite, a Manhattan expert with a background in reproductive endocrinology who now focuses on healthy aging, hormones and metabolism. Gaining between 25 and 40 pounds during pregnancy is considered healthy for a woman who was normal or underweight when she conceived. (Woman who start off overweight or obese are counseled to gain between 11 and 25 pounds during pregnancy.)

But not everyone is so well-informed.

Amy Bendell, an editor in New York City, gave birth to a healthy little girl named Gwynn in September, and was surprised by how many folks commented on her naturally thin appearance during her pregnancy. People “complimented” her, she says, that she was “all belly” or that they couldn’t tell she was pregnant from behind.

Some told her they couldn’t believe that she was as far along as she said she was. (At the start of my third trimester, I actually had a random woman at the pool question whether my doctor and I had the right due date or was I "fibbing”).

“Just like a new mom does not want to hear that her baby looks small,” Bendell explains, “a pregnant woman does not want to hear that her growth is perceived as abnormal or unhealthy.” 

There are enough things to worry about when you’re pregnant, she points out. Questions about your weight only add to the list of concerns that can keep expectant mamas up at night: Is my baby healthy? Am I doing everything I can for my child?

Are you sure you're pregnant? Yes! Writer Jacoba Urist in week 35 of her skinny, and healthy, pregnancy.Today

Rehana Zamfotis, co-founder of the homemade baby food delivery service, Petit Organics, and a mom of twins, Chase and Reese, will never forget the department store saleswoman who kept commenting that she hardly looked big enough to be having one baby, let alone two.

The body scrutiny annoyed her, especially since she takes nutrition – her own and her children’s – so seriously. She was careful to gain an appropriate amount of weight for carrying twins, and she deliberately chose nutrient-dense, high-calorie, fresh foods during pregnancy because she wanted the best for her unborn children. Of course, she indulged in a few midnight milkshake cravings, too.

“Being asked flat out how much I weighed on a daily basis became really embarrassing,” she explains.

Morgan Shara, mom of two kids under 3 and the creative director for a real estate group, gained close to 40 pounds during her first pregnancy, but only half that with her second baby. The second time around, she says, even though she wasn’t dieting or doing any special exercise regimen (besides running around with her toddler and a busy work schedule), she got a lot of comments like, “How is this possible?” 

Of course, none of us knows Duchess Kate’s weight or daily caloric intake, but Dr. Comite notes that she did seem to get pregnant relatively easily, at a fairly young age. Ironically, hyperemesis gravidarum early in pregnancy is often a condition associated with a stronger or healthier pregnancy. 

So from one skinny mom to another: Try not to let all the thin-shaming get to you, Kate. And hope you’re back on your feet and able to enjoy this special time with your family real soon.

Related slideshow: Duchess Kate's royal style
Related: Real moms show off their post-baby bodies