Scientific research has found that eating more fruits and veggies during pregnancy reduces the risk of having a preterm birth.
While people can laugh all they want at having a baby with more birth weight, having a greater birth weight for a baby is a boon. So is having a baby at full term, as opposed to a preterm birth.
We have discussed elsewhere that a heavier, full term baby will typically be healthier later on, and have better brain and cognitive development not only during the childhood years, but during later years.
So the question now becomes – how to have a heavier, healthy baby which is birthed at full term?
Is it a matter of eating lots of food? Or lots of starchy foods? Or lots of fatty foods?
Nope. In fact, these strategies may well lead to poor health for both the mother and the baby. Overeating and eating unhealthy foods such as refined carbohydrates, fried foods and foods with lots of saturated fats will burden the liver and the body’s detoxification systems because these foods easily render increased free radicals.
This puts pressure on the liver, the kidneys, the arteries, and naturally, the fetus.
Diet strategies to decrease preterm births
The first, most basic element is to complete a normal term of pregnancy – meaning having a normal gestation at or more than 37 weeks. This allows the baby to complete fetal development and prepare for birth.
Recent research from the School of Pediatrics and Reproductive Health at the Lyell McEwin Hospital in Australia, 309 women were followed during their pregnancy. Food surveys and monitoring were conducted throughout, beginning with 12 months prior to conception.
The researchers found that women with diets containing high fat and greater sugary foods were associated with shorter gestation periods – leading of course to more preterm births and hence less birth weights.
Those women with greater fruit consumption, good protein consumption and whole grain consumption reduced the incidence of preterm births among the mothers, resulting in longer gestational periods and thus better birth weights.
Research confirms fruits and vegetables increase baby weight
While it seems anti-intuitive, the reality is that eating more fruits and vegetables will do the most to increase the baby’s weight. So its not how much a pregnant mother eats during pregnancy – rather, it is the choice of foods that matters.
This was confirmed by a large review of the research by the Center for Chemical Regulation and Food Safety.
The scientists analyzed and calculated the results of 11 studies that followed the diets of mothers and the birth weights of their babies.
They found that the quantity of fruits and vegetables was linked specifically to the baby’s weight at birth – also called gestational weight.
For example, in one of the larger studies, reduced vegetable consumption tripled the risk for a low-weight birth.
Greater fruit consumption had similar results. Larger studies found greater fruit consumption significantly increased birth weight. One large study found every quintile (fifth) of increased fruit intake for the mother increased the average birth weight of the baby by over 10 grams.
This study also found that for every quintile increase in combined increased fruit and vegetable intake, there was an average of about 8 grams of baby weight.
Other studies found similar results – both in developed countries and non-developed countries.
Non-developed countries versus developed countries
Some of these trends were not found among those studies from non-developed countries. And this caused the overall correlation among all the fruit/vegetable/birth weight studies to be “limited” and “inconclusive” even though the evidence among some of these large studies was so significant. Why?
The reason is the western diet – a diet that is high in fatty, sugary foods with greater amounts of refined flours and other refined ingredients. These modern foods are not as prevalent among non-developed countries, where diets naturally contain greater amounts of fiber and less processed foods.
Put more simply, Western diets, high in fats and sugars – yield a higher risk of preterm birth and lower gestational weight among babies.
It’s really as simple as that.
If you are pregnant, get munching on some fresh celery, carrots , apples, mangoes and others. And scrape on some high-protein peanut butter or almond butter for good measure. Yum.
Grieger JA, Grzeskowiak LE, Clifton VL. Preconception dietary patterns in human pregnancies are associated with preterm delivery. J Nutr. 2014 Jul;144(7):1075-80. doi: 10.3945/jn.114.190686.
Murphy MM, Stettler N, Smith KM, Reiss R. Associations of consumption of fruits and vegetables during pregnancy with infant birth weight or small for gestational age births: a systematic review of the literature. Int J Womens Health. 2014 Oct 20;6:899-912. doi: 10.2147/IJWH.S67130.
Case Adams is a California Naturopath and a Board Certified Alternative Medicine Practitioner with a PhD in Natural Health Sciences, and diplomas in Homeopathy, Aromatherapy, Bach Flower Remedies, Blood Chemistry, Clinical Nutritional Counseling and Colon Hydrotherapy. He has authored 26 books on natural healing strategies.