Blossom Project encourages pregnant women to eat healthy, exercise

The Blossom Project gave Monique Pairis-Garcia the support she needed to make her health and the health of her baby a top priority.

“As a Ph.D. student, it’s hard to try to convince yourself that you need to get out of your office, you need to stop writing papers and go for a walk,” she said. “The Blossom Project gave me the support system to stay motivated.”

Pairis-Garcia, an assistant professor in animal science at Ohio State University, was seeking her doctorate in animal physiology and veterinary medicine at Iowa State University when she became pregnant.

A fellow doctorate student, Katie Smith, told her about the Blossom Project — a research project in Iowa State’s food science and human nutrition department that aims to improve women’s diet and exercise habits during pregnancy.

Pairis-Garcia decided to participate.

“Being a scientist, I’m super supportive of research supporting evidence-based medicine,” she said.

Christina Campbell, an associate professor in food science and human nutrition, brought the Blossom Project to Iowa State in January 2009. Mary Greeley Medical Center, McFarland Clinic, and the Doran Clinic for Women have helped to recruit participants for the project.

Pairis-Garcia said she was the stereotypical first-time mom, panicking about everything. She thought everything she did would affect her baby’s well being. She wanted to eat healthy and do the best she could for her child.

“That idea and that desire is really strong, and then life gets in the way,” she said.

monique1The Blossom Project helped to keep her on track. She focused on integrating exercise into her daily routine and always thought about what she was eating. She turned her carb-heavy meals into dinners that always included a vegetable or salad.

“Making healthy meals became a top priority for us,” she said. “It became part of my routine. We would try to walk at least 30 minutes a day. My husband was super encouraging. For my birthday in October, he bought us headlights so we could walk in the dark together.”

Pairis-Garcia enjoyed how the Blossom Project’s blog, resources, and internal network of people kept her motivated.

Smith — who’s now a lecturer in food science and human nutrition, certified health fitness specialist, and registered dietitian — praised Pairis-Garcia for doing a wonderful job increasing her physical activity during pregnancy.

“Monique’s story is a great example of how social support is important for anyone increasing exercise, but particularly during pregnancy when a majority of society is telling you to take it easy and sit down,” Smith said. “Her husband provided motivation, encouragement, and accountability. And best of all, they adopted healthier lifestyles together.”

Pairis-Garcia said she felt healthier after her pregnancy. Her son, Lorenzo, was born in November 2013 and is today a happy, healthy toddler.

“I just felt that for this project, the researchers viewed the participants as more than just data collection,” Pairis-Garcia said. “After the baby, I felt like I built those muscles and maintained that cardio work. I wasn’t starting from scratch. My body responded. Even though physically I didn’t feel like I was making a difference, it was after the pregnancy that it showed.”