- A healthy diet can reduce the chance of fetal growth restriction and high blood pressure during pregnancy.
- Researchers examined the diets of 762 pregnant people.
- People who are pregnant or trying to conceive can benefit from certain dietary changes.
A healthy diet in pregnancy lowers the chance of fetal growth restriction.
Research presented at the Society for Maternal-Fetal Medicine’s annual meeting showed that people who had a diet that ranked highly on the Healthy Eating Index (HEI) in pregnancy had 67 percent less chance of experiencing fetal growth restriction and 54 percent less chance of having high blood pressure during pregnancy.
“We know that nutrition and the food we eat has such a significant impact on health outcomes,” Dr. Xiao Yu Wang, author of the study and a resident physician at the Washington University School of Medicine in St Louis, Missouri, said in a press release.
“What this research shows us is that HEI is another tool we can use, especially in collaboration with dietitians and nutritionists, to counsel our patients to help improve pregnancy outcomes. HEI also puts the power into the hands of the patient because the tool reveals risk factors that a patient can modify to help create a healthier pregnancy and a better pregnancy outcome,” Wang said.
The researchers examined the diets of 762 people either in the third trimester of pregnancy or within 3 months of delivery. The participants were asked to complete a diet questionnaire.
The researchers then assessed the diets using the Healthy Eating Index from the Department of Agriculture. The index gives a diet a ranking between 1 to 100 based on how healthy it is.
The higher the HEI score, the healthier the diet. People who had an HEI score of 70 or above had lower rates of fetal growth restriction (FGR).
This is when a baby weighs less than 9 out of 10 babies and has a higher chance of complications like stillbirth.
Dana Hunnes, PhD, a senior dietitian at the University of California, Los Angeles and author of the book “Recipe for Survival”, said the findings of the study aren’t surprising.
“In-utero development is among the most important development that happens in a person’s life and absolutely can have long-term effects on a person’s health,” Hunnes told Healthline.
“It is thought that epigenetics may play a role — the way the environment interacts with our genetics [turning on and off gene expression], and it is also understood better now how maternal health [and diet] affects the growth of the fetus and the health of the child [and later adult] as well,” she said.
The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists advises that eating well is one of the best things pregnant people can do.
Lauri Wright, PhD, the chair of the department of nutrition and dietetics at the University of North Florida, says the diet for a pregnant woman varies slightly for the diet of nonpregnant women.
“The diet is higher in calories [on average 300 calories more/day], protein, folic acid, calcium, iron, zinc, and vitamin D. The increase in calorie and nutrient needs translate into an additional serving of meat, dairy, and assuring at least 5 servings of fruits/vegetables,” Wright told Healthline.
Women who are trying to conceive may also need to make dietary changes.
“A woman trying to conceive should begin making adjustments in her diet to assure the highest quality intake. An inadequate diet can interfere with conception. In planning ahead, a woman trying to conceive should also try to reach a healthy weight as obesity can also interfere with reproduction.”
She says women who are pregnant or trying to conceive need to be careful with what they eat, particularly when it comes to deli meats and fish.
“To avoid the risk of food-borne illness, pregnant women should avoid raw meat and fish. They should also avoid deli meats, which may be contaminated with listeria, an agent known to cause miscarriages. Finally, pregnant women and women trying to conceive should avoid fish that contain high levels of mercury such as shark, swordfish, and tilefish,” she said.
The research presented at the Society for Maternal-Fetal Medicine comes as researchers from Oxford University report that obesity is associated with an increased chance of female reproductive disorders.
They found that obesity may be associated with polycystic ovary syndrome, uterine fibroids, preeclampsia, and heavy menstrual bleeding.
Both Wright and Hunnes advise women living with obesity and trying to conceive to work with a registered dietitian to improve the quality of the diet.
“If you are already pregnant, really focus on [at the guidance of your OB-GYN] not gaining too much additional weight, as that can lead to high-risk birthing and overweight infants,” Hunnes said.
“What you eat really does translate into the health of your growing fetus/baby. You are not really “eating for two” and doing that sets you and your infant up for suboptimal health outcomes.”