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How what you eat can affect your baby's birth

October 16, 2023 Maternity

Maternal nutrition is an incredibly important factor for a healthy pregnancy and baby. In fact, what a mother eats during her pregnancy can have an impact on the timing of the baby's birth. In particular, studies have found a connection between poor maternal nutrition and preterm birth.

Let's take a look at how what you eat during pregnancy can affect when your baby is born, and the potential risks of preterm birth associated with it.

What is preterm birth and why does it matter?

Preterm birth occurs when a baby is born before 37 weeks of pregnancy. Babies born prematurely may face various health challenges and complications. It's important for expecting mothers to understand the impact of their nutrition choices on their baby's development and birth time.

"Providing your body with the right nutrients and avoiding harmful foods can make a significant difference in your baby's well-being," says Catherine E. Bernardini, DO, chief of obstetrics and gynecology at Bryn Mawr Hospital, part of Main Line Health. "Consuming a balanced and healthy diet is crucial for the growth and development of your baby."

Studies suggest that up to 40% of all preterm births could be prevented through improving access to prenatal care and addressing social determinants such as poverty, racism and food insecurity. And a report from March of Dimes found that socioeconomic factors such as poverty and lack of access to quality healthcare contribute to higher rates of preterm birth among Black mothers.

Maternal nutrition and its impact on fetal development

According to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, pregnant women need approximately 300 extra calories per day to support fetal growth and development.

Including nutritious foods such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins and dairy products can provide the necessary vitamins and minerals for a healthy pregnancy. On the other hand, it's important to avoid certain foods that can pose a risk to the baby, too.

Nutrients that can reduce the risk of preterm birth

Making sure you have a well-rounded diet during pregnancy is key to reducing the risk of preterm birth. Certain nutrients can play a vital role in supporting a healthy pregnancy and preventing early labor.

Incorporating foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids, such as fatty fish or chia seeds, can help reduce the risk of preterm birth. Additionally, including foods high in iron, like spinach or lean meats, can also contribute to a healthier pregnancy.

Seeking medical attention if there are concerns about nutrition or preterm labor

If you have any concerns about your nutrition or preterm labor, it's essential to seek medical attention. Your healthcare provider can provide guidance on pregnancy foods to avoid and recommend a healthy diet plan tailored to your specific needs. They can also monitor your baby's growth and development to ensure everything is progressing as it should.

"Don't hesitate to reach out to your healthcare provider if you have any questions or concerns about what to eat during pregnancy or if you are worried about preterm labor," says Dr. Bernadini. They are there to support you throughout your journey to motherhood.

Next steps:

Make an appointment with Catherine E. Bernardini, DO
Learn more about pregnancy care at Main Line Health
Common first trimester questions, answered