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Advice for Patients
Feb 2012

Preventing Birth Defects With a Healthy Pregnancy Diet

Arch Pediatr Adolesc Med. 2012;166(2):200. doi:10.1001/archpediatrics.2011.1582

Pregnancy is a time in which nutrition is very important for the health of both mother and baby. Women who are pregnant are encouraged to eat a healthy diet with a variety of food groups.

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Healthy diet

  • Fruits and vegetables: Fruits and vegetables are healthy choices for both mother and baby. Eating a variety of fruits and vegetables throughout pregnancy helps provide vitamins and minerals.

  • Dairy and calcium-rich foods: Both mother and baby need calcium for strong bones and teeth. Calcium also helps the circulatory, muscular, and nervous systems run normally. Dairy products are the richest source of calcium; many fruit juices and cereals are also fortified with calcium.

  • Lean protein: Protein is important for a baby's growth, especially during the second and third trimesters. Lean meat, poultry, fish, and eggs are good sources of protein. Other options include beans, tofu, dairy products, and peanut butter.

  • Breads and grains: Mothers should choose grains that are high in fiber and enriched such as whole-grain breads, cereals, pasta, and rice.

  • Iron-rich foods: Iron is important for the body to make hemoglobin, a protein in the red blood cells that delivers oxygen to tissues. During pregnancy, a mother's body needs additional iron to have enough oxygen for herself and her child. Good iron sources include lean red meat, poultry, and fish. Other sources include iron-fortified breakfast cereals, nuts, and dried fruit.

Vitamin-rich foods

Pregnancy is also a time in which certain vitamins are particularly important to promote a baby's growth and development.

  • Folic acid: Folic acid is a B vitamin that helps prevent neural tube defects, which are serious abnormalities of the brain and spinal cord. Many cereals are fortified with folic acid. Other sources include dark-green leafy vegetables and beans.

  • Vitamin C: Foods rich in vitamin C include oranges, grapefruits, strawberries, honeydew, papaya, broccoli, cauliflower, brussel sprouts, green peppers, tomatoes, and mustard greens.

  • Vitamin D: Vitamin D helps build a baby's bones and teeth. Good sources of Vitamin D include fatty fish such as salmon and tuna as well as fortified milk or juice.

Additional research

A recent study in the Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine found exciting new information about the relationship between a healthy diet and the prevention of birth defects in babies. In this study, higher maternal diet quality was associated with lower risks of neural tube defects and having a cleft lip or palate. This research study helps us understand the importance of eating a high-quality diet that is varied and includes foods such as those just described to help prevent birth defects.

For more information

Mayo Clinic

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To find this and other Advice for Patients articles, go to the Advice for Patients link on the Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine Web site at http://www.archpediatrics.com/.

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Article Information

Source: Mayo Clinic

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