Healthy nutrition should be established prior to conception and throughout the prenatal period in order to optimize maternal and child health. However, research shows that the poor eating habits of many women before pregnancy can directly contribute to adverse effects during and after pregnancy. Thus, health care providers play an integral role in promoting healthy eating during pregnancy to reduce the risk of adverse birth outcomes and ultimately encourage a healthy lifestyle.
Benefits of Healthy Eating During Pregnancy
Healthy weight gain during pregnancy greatly reduces the risk for complications during pregnancy and delivery, as well as adverse birth outcomes.
Many benefits of healthy eating include:
- A healthy weight, as obesity is an independent risk factor for neural tube defects, fetal mortality, and preterm delivery.
- A healthy BMI (prior and during pregnancy) can lower the risk of gestational diabetes, preeclampsia, birth defects, intrauterine growth restriction, and later chronic disease.
- Folic acid taken at least 1 month prior to becoming pregnant and during pregnancy lowers the risk of birth defects of the brain and spine (anencephaly and spina bifida) by 50% to 70%.
- Omega-3-fatty acids, in particular DHA, obtained through consumption is associated with improved infant health outcomes such as visual and cognitive development, and may be important for the timing of gestation and birth weight.
- Iron supplementation may aid in preventing maternal iron deficiency anemia that can increase the risk for low birth weight, preterm delivery, perinatal mortality, and impaired maternal-infant interaction.
- Prevention of foodborne illness, caused by bacteria, viruses, and parasites through consumption of unpasteurized milk, soft cheeses, undercooked meats, poultry, and shellfish, can aid in reducing associated risk of miscarriages or stillbirths.
- Absence of alcohol consumption during pregnancy may prevent negative behavioral or neurological consequences in the infant including fetal alcohol syndrome (FAS), growth retardation, facial deformities, and central nervous system dysfunction.
- Primary prevention of obesity and related risk factors begins in utero with appropriate weight gain during pregnancy and healthy weight loss postpartum.
- Adequate levels of Vitamin D/Calcium can aid in prevention of low serum levels in infant and in severe cases neonatal bone metabolism.
- Limiting caffeine consumption may aid in reducing associated risks of delayed conception, spontaneous miscarriage, and low birth weight.