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maternal health

  • Friendly Tips for your Pregnancy Journey

    Melissa Rycroft PregnancyIf it’s your first time to be pregnant, you may feel surprised by the enormous change and rate of change that your body, mind and hormones are going through. Maybe you have been trying to get pregnant for years of maybe it happened by surprise or all of a sudden. Either way, it’s an enormous change to life as you have known it, even though it may be thrilling and exciting at the same time. Fortunately we have a good eight months (from the time we find out) to get used to the idea that we are adding a member to our household and to do all we can to make the necessary practical and emotional preparations to add a baby to the family.

    As a mom of three children in the maternity clothes business, I have talked to hundreds of moms over the years. There were a number of things that I wish someone told me when I was pregnant (each time!). Here are my learnings that are not meant to be judgmental or preachy, because you get enough of that when you are pregnant and as a mom, but just meant to help you along your path and to put in your back pocket for when you need the encouragement:

    First, don’t worry about everything being perfect. It’s admirable to strive high and create the perfect nursery and have your complete six months of clothing and gear ready to go for your child before it’s born. But apart from the bare necessities of a safe sleep area, diapers, blankets, sleepers and some onesies, you are going to be just fine. Remember there is online shopping when you do need that new nursing bra because the ones you bought during pregnancy don’t fit and you are too tired to leave the house. There is also diaper services if you opt for cloth diapers but don’t want to deal with cleaning them.  Fortunately for these hectic times in life we do live in a day and age when answers can be at our fingertips. However, don’t forget to let real live people help you too. Call on your neighbors, friends and any nearby family if you need them. Now is the time to cash in on any goodwill that people are willing to offer you, you do need it and deserve any help you can get and most people are happy to help out.

    Do make sure you do have a childcare arrangement in place before you hit the nine month mark. Fill out all the necessary paperwork for FMLA/maternity leave and inform managers and coworkers of your leave. Have a plan in place at work to cover for your absence and let people know your timeframe for leave, even if it is subject to change.  Whether it be an extended maternity leave or grandparents pitching in when you return to work, it does give you some peace of mind to have at least have a plan in place for the first few months for your baby’s care. It’s also stress relieving for yourself and those around you to have a clearly communicated leave plan so you don’t leave tasks hanging or yourself and others panicking the minute. This brings me to my next point and one that many women struggle with:

    There is no right or wrong answer to what you decide on with the BIG decisions of returning to work or staying at home with your child fulltime. It is a difficult decision and if you are not sure, then maybe opt for something in between – look to have a longer maternity leave if you can negotiate that or return part-time or set up a work at home arrangement or flexible work hours. Even with large corporations it often boils down to what you can work out with your manager and generally if you can bring it up a number of months in advance you will get a more favorable response than to spring it on them a few weeks before your maternity leave. Choosing a longer leave or a more flexible hour work week is often a good stepping stone before making a more definite fulltime work or fulltime stay at home decision. You may find something in between that is just perfect for you for a period of time. Although many people will have a lot of ideas on this subject, and it may be helpful to hear their ideas and personal experiences, it is ultimately your choice to make in harmony with your partner and your financial goals. Many fathers also take FMLA and extended leave for their newborns. Some Dads decide to stay at home or work out a more flexible work schedule. Explore your options fully and just go with the best decision for you and your family (and don’t worry about making the perfect decision). Do not let anyone guilt you about your decision to stay home or not stay home. They are both equally valid choices.

    There are many solutions to caring for your newborn from a fulltime nanny, daycare, grandparents pitching in or some combination of everything. If you are looking at caregivers it is a good idea to start interviewing in advance of your due date. If you are looking at daycare arrangement then embark on your tours of these facilities well in advance and go with your gut if you are not comfortable with a particular place or caregiver. Many daycare businesses have a waiting list, so it may be a good idea to get on the waiting list early, even if you find a better plan later an and drop off the list.  Remember you are allowed to change course at any time. No one is holding you to your decision and if they are, then they should not be as this decision is yours and your partner’s alone. You can be a good mother and work at the office, you can be a good mother and work at home, and you can be a good mother and stay at home with your child. There are good nannies and not so good nannies and some grandparents are excellent fulltime caretakers for their grandchildren while some do not have the energy, abilities or desire to take on this more involved role. You can navigate these steps and arrive at the best solution. Life is not perfect and it's not supposed to be - how boring would that be?!! We all do our best and our best is typically more than enough for the health and wellbeing of our baby, selves and family, even if it is not perfectly perfect. Children have turned out well with all varieties of paths for early caregiving.

    The next point of advice is the one that is often most ignored by both new and experienced moms. Don’t forget to take care of yourself. This advice extends to pregnancy. Now is a time when your body is under tremendous change. Every day you will probably notice something different about some part of your anatomy whether it be a tighter bra, a bigger belly, snugger shoes or a new food aversion or craving. The body you used to know so well is evolving into something totally alien that you are trying to understand anew each day, let alone dress! It’s difficult to even know what to eat! You may find your energy is a bit lower but then you may also find you have bursts of energy in your second trimester. Get used to tuning into your body and listening to what it tells you. What used to be normal is no longer normal when you are pregnant and that’s ok. Be kind to yourself and cut yourself a little slack. Go ahead and get that pregnancy massage and let your partner rub your feet at the end of the day. Buy some maternity clothes that are comfortable and make you feel pretty. Try to find time to take small naps when you are tired, even if it’s just on the weekend if you work. Do something nice for yourself each day, even if it’s something small.

    Although it is important to get your rest and scale back on activities when you feel tired, it is also helpful to take some form of physical exercise, even if it’s just walking around the block. It’s necessary to keep up your strength up during pregnancy and to maintain your health, blood sugar and to help with delivery (unless you are on bed rest of course).  Maintaining fitness will also help you bounce back that much easier after pregnancy and give you the energy to care for your baby (which can be a bit of marathon in the early weeks particularly if you are nursing around the clock).  In addition to the added benefit of helping you look good, exercise will help balance your serotonin levels and allow you to achieve a more positive mental outlook so that you feel happier, more joyful and peaceful as well as sleep better at night. Do be careful not to engage in any risky physical activities (remember your balance and stamina are not the same) and listen to your body at all times when you exercise so that you don’t overextend yourself or get dehydrated. Remember you are pregnant, so don’t try to break any records running marathons or playing tennis tournaments!

    Finally try and take some time out and smell the roses. This is a special time in life that you will always remember. Get some pretty photographs done while you enjoy your shape (sometimes we are so enormous in the last few months of pregnancy that we don’t want a camera anywhere around us!) Spend some time to bond with your partner and indulge in some date nights or a Babymoon if you can find the time, even if it’s something special nearby. You will always remember this special time together before you had your baby and the memories you created.

  • Changing Habits and Homemade Energy Bars

    Everyone seems to have a favorite energy bar, whether it be a Luna bar, Cliff bar, or Nature Valley crumbs-everywhere bar. They are a quick, easy and healthy choice...right?

    Store-bought granola and energy bars are often packed with excess amounts of sugar and unnecessary oil. The second ingredient in many bars is cane syrup or dried cane syrup--which just means processed, refined sugar.

    If you are not suffering the bouts of morning sickness, then pregnancy is the perfect time to consider healthy food options. There is always a way to make a healthier version of your favorite junk foods, comfort foods, or convenience foods. Oftentimes even morning sickness can be kept at bay by eating an opportune healthy snack between meals instead of going too long between meals.

    Yummy pregnancy oat and date barWhen it comes to convenience foods, like granola bars, packaged salad kits, chips or anything you would grab at a grocery store in the middle of a hectic day or busy schedule, there is that element of convenience and sometimes it is okay to purchase those not-the-healthiest-but-not-the-unhealthiest foods. But going for the pure junk food option is a slippery slope when craving those extra carbs when you are pregnant and can quickly become a habit if we indulge every last craving with an unhealthy food choice.

    Whenever you can, grab a banana, apple, some almonds, or veggies and hummus instead of the less nourishing choices that our brains and hands are self-trained to reach for. It’s all about changing habits. As you make changes in your diet and health, it will get easier and more satisfying the longer you work at it.

    eat oat and date bars whien pregnantYou might have heard the claim that “It takes 21 days to form a habit,” (originally introduced by Maxwell Maltz in the 1960s). It is a nice, neat number that is inspiring and believable. However, Phillippa Lally, a health psychology researcher at University College London, conducted a study and found that it actually took anywhere from 18 to 254 days (about the time of your pregnancy!) for the study participants to develop a habit.

    It might be discouraging to find that it could take over 8 months to form a habit -- but try not to get disheartened! Instead acknowledge this fact and use it to reassure yourself when you do slip up that it is perfectly normal for a new habit to not get set overnight. However, if you are 18-21 days down the path of healthier living and better food choices, then you are well on your way to a better habit for life. Lally also found that "missing one opportunity to perform the behavior did not materially affect the habit formation process." So don’t worry if you slip up now and then, because you are still making progress and reinforcing those neural pathways in your brain! Forming healthy habits is not an all-or-nothing endeavor, so be patient with yourself and don’t give up.

    what to eat when pregnantThe Oat Date n’ Nut Bars (recipe below) are an easy to make healthy snack bar that you can whip up for yourself ahead of time for the week. These bars are a much healthier choice than your standard granola or energy bar, and are also a fun, dessert-y option as well -- so you won’t even miss those sugary store-bought versions. These oat and nut bars are sweetened with dates which are a great source of fiber, energy, and potassium. There is no baking involved, which certainly adds a convenience factor. Whip up a batch and start to strengthen healthy habits as you enjoy the great flavor in these bars! Your body (especially your taste buds!) will thank you.

     

     

    Oat Date 'n Nut Bars (makes 16 bars)

    ⅓ cup peanut butter

    ½ cup roasted salted sunflower seeds (shelled)

    1 cup tightly packed chopped dates

    2 cups rolled oats

    1 tsp cinnamon

    ½ tsp ground cardamom

    2 tablespoons ground flax

    Lightly grease an 8x8 pan with your preferred oil.

    Process the sunflower seeds with the spices in a food processor. Add the dates, peanut butter, flax and 1 ½ cups of the oats. Keep processing until you achieve a soft dough. Pulse in the remaining ½ cup of oats.

    Squish the dough into the pan, using the bottom of a large measuring cup to flatten if needed. Once you have shaped and flattened it, loosen the edges with a knife or fork and gently flip onto a cutting board lined with a sheet of parchment. Cut into 16 bars (or whatever size you like!) and wrap in foil or plastic wrap. Store in the fridge and grab whenever you need a convenient snack.

    Nutrition Facts: (per bar)

    Calories: 190

    Carbs: 35 grams

    Fat: 6 grams

    Protein: 4 grams

    Fiber: 4 grams

    All Original Content. Copyright Athena Byers 2015, All Rights Reserved.

  • Is Seafood Safe to Eat During Pregnancy?

    Once you’re pregnant, everything you do in your life that affects your health needs to be examined closer to ensure the healthy development of your baby. Nutritional needs top the charts with increased attention to your diet which may be further complicated by morning sickness which, for some women, can last the entire nine months of pregnancy.

    It comes as no surprise that lean protein is an optimal source of nutrition for anyone’s diet, but especially an expecting mom. In terms of calories per portion, seafood such as fish, particularly of the salmon variety which packs in those important fatty acids with low calories per portion can be a great choice. However, many pregnant women steer clear from seafood altogether with all the news we hear about mercury levels being dangerously high and a risk for the health of a developing fetus.

    While some seafood may be best to avoid during pregnancy, it is not a great idea to cut out seafood altogether as they contain many nutrients that are vital to our baby’s health and development. As the saying goes don’t throw the baby out with the bath water. In the same notion don’t throw all the fish out of your diet with the worries of mercury and contamination, but do choose wisely. There are plenty of great seafood choices that are very beneficial to your developing fetus' health as well as our own.

    For starters, omega-3 fatty acids aid in brain development and provide high levels of lean protein. Fish can serve as a powerful weapon against birth defects when choosing the low mercury varieties such as salmon, sardines, haddock and cod. Seafood which is high in mercury that you should avoid during pregnancy include shark, king mackerel, swordfish and tilefish. In moderation, tuna is not a problem as long as you steer clear of the albacore and blufin varieties. It is also a good idea to abstain from fish caught in contaminated lakes or rivers that can carry high levels of polychlorinated biphenyls, or PCBs which could travel to the placenta and affect the development of the fetus. So do be cautious when eating fish from local lakes and rivers.

    Raw shellfish and uncooked sushi are also seafood choices you should postpone during pregnancy.  Also, make sure that cooked mussels, clams and oysters are actually cooked all the way through so that salmonella is not a threat. Pathogens such as salmonella are destroyed through cooking, otherwise they can cause severe food poisoning in pregnancy and may cross the placenta to the fetus as well.

    It is easy to be overwhelmed with all the mercury and food poisoning cautions and simply avoid seafood altogether during pregnancy, but this would be a disservice to your developing baby and yourself as there are so many benefits to safe seafood choices, such as wild salmon for dinner. Seafood during pregnancy can be a very healthy choice, just choose wisely and space out your seafood meals and portion sizes for moderation in your diet.

  • Snack on these Valentines-Themed Beans!

    Brownie pic

    As Valentines Day fast approaches chocolate is on the brain. Pregnancy is no time to lose all your vices, or at least not the healthy ones. Who knew that a yummy brownie desert, that looks and tastes truly decadent, could be so healthy? Well there are a few secret ingredients involved, but no one will ever know the difference (not even you when you taste them!)

    The main super healthy ingredient hidden in this brownie mix is black beans. Just a half cup of cooked black beans is packed with essential vitamins for your healthy pregnancy diet. Here's the break down in vitamins and minerals for the half cup of cooked black beans:

    30% recommended daily amount of folate (aka folic acid, very important!)

    15% recommended daily amount of magnesium

    16% recommended daily amount of manganese

    10% recommended daily amount of iron

    8 grams protein

    8 grams fiber

    Beans, beans, they’re good for your heart! The combination of protein and fiber helps to steady the digestion processes and regulate blood sugar. This is very important as pregnancy is often a time when blood sugar spikes and expectant mothers are often prone to gestational diabetes. Healthy snacks like these actually help you maintain a steady and lower blood sugar.

    It is always important to include lean protein in your diet, but even more so when you’re pregnant.  The amino acids in protein are the building blocks of our bodies.  During pregnancy, these amino acids are providing the same cell-building tasks for your growing baby. The magnesium in black beans also helps with this synthesis of protein.

    Protein is also responsible for red blood cells--which as you probably know transport nutrients and oxygen to and from cells.  Red blood cells also control blood clotting, particularly those in and around the uterus and placenta.

    They hold a variety of phytonutrients (both antioxidant and anti-inflammatory) which help fight cancer, decrease risk of heart disease, and reduce effects of aging.  In fact, black beans have more antioxidant activity, gram for gram, than any other bean. The flavonoids found in this “magic fruit” prevent the adhesion of platelets in the blood, which can help lower risk for heart attack and strokes.

    They also provide a great base for healthy brownies!  You can’t even tell these have a whole can of beans in them.  They are moist, fudgy and loaded with antioxidants and minerals from the cacao.  Notice that is cacao, not cocoa.  Cacao is the less processed powder and is much higher in nutrients.  Cocoa is more processed, but less expensive and still contains valuable nutrients.  Whichever one you choose (cacao or cocoa) you will be sure to enjoy this very yummy desert!

    black bean brownies

    Almond Bean Brownies (16 servings)

    1 15 oz. can rinsed and drained black beans

    about 13 pitted Medjool dates

    ½ cup of unsweetened almond milk

    ½ cup almond butter

    ¼ cup maple syrup

    ¼ cup coconut oil

    1 tsp vanilla

    1 egg

    ¾ tsp baking soda

    ½ cup cacao or cocoa powder

    ½ tsp salt

    1 3.4-4 oz bar of dark chocolate

    Preheat your oven to 350 degrees F on convection.  Line an 8x8 pan with parchment paper.  Put the beans, dates, almond milk, almond butter, and vanilla in food processor or blender.  Blend until super smooth (approximately 3-5 minutes).

    While this is blending, whisk together the cacao/cocoa powder, baking soda, and salt in a large bowl.  Set aside.  Melt the coconut oil and maple syrup.  Add the maple syrup and coconut oil mixture to the food processor and blend to combine.  Add the egg and blend until combined.  Pour the wet mixture into the dry ingredients. Chop the chocolate bar in small pieces and add to the batter.  Pour the batter into the pan and bake for 50-60 minutes.

    Nutrition Facts (Per serving)

    Calories: 198

    Protein: 5 grams

    Carbs: 24 grams

    Fat: 11 grams

    All Original Content. Copyright Athena Byers 2015, All Rights Reserved.

  • Benefits of Broccoli!

     

    We knew broccoli was good for us but we had no idea just how good. Broccoli is an excellent vegetable choice to add to your prenatal diet as it is packed with essential vitamins and minerals.

    One cup of cooked broccoli has about…

    250% of the recommended daily amount of Vitamin K

    40% the recommended daily amount of folate

    140% recommended daily amount of Vitamin C

    Vitamin K does not receive a lot of publicity and is sometimes referred to as “the forgotten vitamin” but it is important for many functions, including preventing blood clots. It is also a key partner to vitamin D in building strong bones. If you are deficient in vitamin K, then vitamin D does not work optimally in your body. These two vitamins complement one another and you need to have a sufficient amount of each vitamin for them to work effectively in your body.

    We all know folate (aka folic acid) is a top priority for all expecting mothers, particularly in early pregnancy. Once you are pregnant, everyone from your doctor to your next door neighbor is encouraging you to increase folic acid in your diet. It has been proven that folic acid can actually prevent neural tube defects such as spina bifida in your baby which is ample reason to increase your intake.

    According to Eating on the Wild Side by Jo Robinson, when broccoli is lightly sautéed in oil, it loses almost none of its water-soluble nutrients because it is in contact with oil, not water (as opposed to steaming). They also absorb the phytonutrients in oil and garlic. This is an excellent opportunity to add double your nutritional value by cooking in olive oil, a very healthy fat.

    Indole is also formed when broccoli is cooked. According to research in The Journal of Nutrition, this organic compound helps kill precancerous cells before they turn malignant.  Vitamin K, folate and Vitamin C are all essential for a healthy pregnancy and broccoli is a great source of all of these!

    Basic Broccoli Method:

    2 medium bunches of rinsed broccoli

    1 tablespoon olive oil

    1 tsp thyme

    3-4 cloves garlic, chopped

    Desired amount of salt and pepper

    Put a large pan on medium-low heat. Add the olive oil and chopped garlic. Chop the broccoli and set aside in medium bowl (makes approximately 6 cups).

    Once the garlic has lightly browned in the oil, add the chopped broccoli and stir. Add the thyme, salt, and pepper.  Cover the pan with a lid and check every few minutes until it is as cooked as you like.

    DSC_0030

    You can either eat it just like that, or make a delicious quinoa salad!

    Quinoa Broccoli Salad (1-2 servings):

    1 cup cooked broccoli

    1 cup cooked quinoa

    ¼ cup pasta sauce

    1 cup chopped kale

    ½ cup garbanzo beans

    Toss all ingredients in a bowl and you’re good to go. This recipe can easily be doubled or even quadrupled for a family meal! The addition of raw kale adds even more of those essential vitamins for a healthy pregnancy.

    DSC_0251

    All Original Content. Copyright Athena Byers 2015, All Rights Reserved

  • Are you Tired or Iron Deficent?

    As summer steams up, many of us start feeling a little lethargic. If you are living in a hot and humid area, it is easy to get the pregnancy doldrums that make our maternity weight feel like it is double, even if you aren’t expecting twins. For many women the hot weather is not the only cause of pregnancy fatigue, it may also stem from a lack of sufficient iron in your diet.

    Research shows that only one in five women begin their pregnancy with sufficient iron levels. No matter the geography, iron is the most common and widespread deficiency in women around the world and the leading cause of fatigue in women. Other symptoms from low iron are poor concentration and quick mental fatigue as well as a low tolerance for exercise and physical exertion.

    During pregnancy women’s iron requirements double and without the proper diet and supplementation iron reserves can continue to deplete with each subsequent pregnancy. Studies show that as many as 50% of pregnant women are iron deficient and 20% of non-pregnant women. Clearly we all need to be getting more iron in our diet or at least supplementing more.

    If your diet has 15mg of iron and 30mg of iron supplementation you are probably meeting your iron requirement during pregnancy. If you are not meeting your iron requirement, an easy way to add more iron to your diet is to eat more iron-enriched cereals and grains (read the labels) as well as snacking on dried fruits such as raisins and prunes. Also, foods in the bean family such as lentils, chick peas and soybeans are all high in iron as well. We all know that dark leafy greens like Popeye recommends such as spinach and collards are rich in iron and very good for you.

    Other foods high in iron are red meat and egg yolks. But even if you are a vegetarian or a vegan there are still plenty of iron rich food options for you. Talk to your doctor about a supplement (or have a blood test) if you suspect you may be low on iron in your diet, particularly if you are pregnant.

  • Is your Baby getting enough Vitamin D?

    Breastfeeding your baby is a great way to not only bond with your baby but to give them the very best customized nutrition and antibodies that they need to be healthy.  However the one vitamin that you may be lacking in providing through your breast milk is vitamin D. Vitamin D is an important part of both your pregnancy diet while your baby’s bones are developing and your breastfeeding diet as your baby continues to grow and develop.

    If you do not get enough Vitamin D in your diet when you are pregnant your baby may develop a condition called rickets from soft bones. Also by getting enough Vitamin D while you are pregnant you increase your chances of having a healthy, uncomplicated pregnancy.

    While breastfeeding it is important that you eat a healthy diet as your nutrient intake is what feeds your baby the vitamins and minerals they need to be healthy as well. Depending on how much vitamin D you are getting with your diet and sun exposure, you may or may not be providing enough vitamin D for your baby. If you do not have enough vitamin D in your diet, you will need to give your baby a vitamin D supplement (and you should probably a supplement for yourself too).

    Vitamin D deficiency is linked to a number of factors including:

    Not enough sun exposure outside.

    Having dark skin

    Being overweight or obese

    General recommendations for Vitamin D for pregnant women by the Vitamin D Council are 4,000-6,000 IU/day. Researchers found that moms that took at least 4,000 IU a day where more likely to have uncomplicated births and their newborns were likely to have enough vitamin D when he or she was born. Women without enough Vitamin D in their diets were more likely to have premature births, develop gestational diabetes, have preeclampsia and more likely to have a C-Section.

    The Vitamin D Council’s recommended intake of vitamin D for babies is 1,000 IU/day.  If you are getting enough vitamin D as a breastfeeding mother, then your baby is also getting enough vitamin D and does not need a supplement. If you baby does need a supplement you can give them prescription vitamin D drops directly or add them to food or drink for your baby.

    If you as a breastfeeding mother are taking a supplement of 6,000 IU of vitamin D each day, then your baby does not need a vitamin D supplement as your breast milk will have enough. If you are not taking a supplement (or you are taking less than 5,000 IU/day of vitamin D) and not getting a good amount if sun exposure, then you need to give your baby a vitamin D supplement.

    If you are getting a good amount of skin exposure to the sun each day, then you are probably getting enough vitamin D to make your breast milk rich with vitamin D. However most mothers are not able to get enough skin exposure every day to meet this requirement and do need a supplement 5-6 days a week. When you are not getting enough sun exposure for a number of days your breast milk will quickly clear itself of vitamin D unless you are taking a supplement.

    The upper limits for Vitamin D intake is 2,000 IU/day for babies and 10,000 IU/day for pregnant women. So, unless you are over supplementing, it is hard to exceed these limits. Formula milk varies with how much vitamin D in the formula. Most formula milk has between 40-100 IUs of vitamin D per 100 calories. You will need to figure out how much formula your child has a day to add up the vitamin D IUs they are getting. Based on this result you can figure out if you need to supplement your baby with vitamin D or not and how much to supplement. Remember to adjust your supplements as your baby’s intake of formula may increase over time.

    Although exposing your skin to the sun is a great way for pregnant and breastfeeding women to increase their vitamin D supply for both themselves and their babies, you also want to be careful not to burn. Although skin exposure for your baby will increase their vitamin D directly, your baby’s skin is extra sensitive and should not be exposed directly to the sun for at least the first six months, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics. Even after 6 months you will need to be careful of your baby’s sun exposure, especially in the hot summer months as burns can happen quickly to your baby’s sensitive skin.

    Vitamin D supplements are a good subject to bring up with your pediatrician. However it is also good to educate yourself on this subject as well so you can have a very informed conversation with your doctor on how to best supplement your baby if needed.

  • Diet matters for a Healthy Pregnancy

    A recent study led by Englund-Ögge with the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology at the Institute of Clinical Sciences at the Sahlgrenska Hospital in Gottenburg, Sweden showed the diet was very important for a healthy pregnancy and for lowering the risk of a preterm birth. Dr. Linda Englund-Ögge told Reuters Health in an email.

    "Diet really matters when it comes to preterm delivery and it is very important for pregnant women to choose or to increase the intake of an overall healthy diet consisting of fresh and raw vegetables, fruit, whole-grain products, certain fish and to drink water."

    In recent years there has been more interest and more research done concerning maternal diet how it affects the risk of preterm delivery. In this study 66,000 Norwegian women participated between 2002-2008 to study the effects of diet and maternal health. Those who had a “Prudent Diet” consisting of cooked vegetables, salad, onion/leek/garlic, fruit and berries, nuts, vegetables oils, water as a beverage, whole grain cereals, poultry and fiber-rich bread had the lowest instance of preterm birth. Those with a “Western Diet” which included more salty snacks, sweets and chocolates, French fries, white bread, ketchup, sugar-sweetened drinks, pasta and processed meat products had a much higher instance of preterm birth.

    There were a total of 3,505 preterm deliveries. The researchers found that women who adhered most closely to the Prudent Diet were 11 percent less likely to have preterm deliveries compared to women who didn't follow the diet as closely.

    "We would like for doctors, midwives and all others who work with pregnant women to reinforce the important message that pregnant women should be encouraged to eat a balanced and healthy diet," Englund-Ögge said.

    "There are modifiable risk factors that people can address to enhance their pregnancy outcomes," Dr. Louis Muglia told Reuters Health.

    Based on this study, he said, a balanced diet with more foods rich in vitamins and other micronutrients probably facilitates a full-term pregnancy. Additionally women that followed the prudent diet were also more likely to have other beneficial lifestyle habits which would contribute to good pregnancy outcomes. These women were more likely to maintain a healthier weight, smoked less and avoided alcohol.

    "So I think there are a lot of things that go along with that prudent lifestyle that increases the likelihood of having a healthy pregnancy and reduces the likelihood of a preterm birth as well," Muglia said.

    This research is helpful in relying the message that we assumed for years, that as expecting moms we can positively affect our developing baby’s health by eating healthy foods during pregnancy and following a healthy lifestyle. The research noted that even the women in the “Prudent Diet” category did indulge in Western eatting from time to time and did indulge in sweets sometimes as well, but it’s the overall diet pattern that mattered the most. This is good news for all of us as it’s impossible to be perfect in pregnancy or anytime!

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