Eating for Two - A Guide to Mother’s Nutrition During Pregnancy

By Alan Greene, MD, FAAP

During pregnancy, every ounce of baby's growing body after that very first single cell has come from her mother's own body. The brain, the heart, the muscles are all built from nutrients that were once part of her mother. The baby is quite literally her flesh-and-blood offspring. Nutrients that mom eats during pregnancy, or that she has eaten beforehand, are the exclusive fuel and the only raw material building blocks for the baby's growth. There is nothing else.

This is a special time. A mother and baby together have different nutritional requirements than either of them will ever have alone. Because the mother is the one doing the eating, we'll look at these needs from the perspective of changes needed in the mother's diet.

Sadly, nutrition has not been an adequate priority in mainline medicine. The current 2002 edition of my favorite textbook of obstetrics still contains nutritional advice based on the 1989 Recommended Dietary Allowances. We've learned a lot about nutrition since then, but much of it hasn't filtered into physicians' texts, much less popular parenting books. The data in this series is current as of the most recent Dietary Reference Intakes for each individual nutrient at the time of publication. Prenatal vitamins are designed with these recommendations in mind. Keep in mind that the handful of vitamins and minerals in the tablets are just the Hollywood stars of nutrition. Each organic whole food contains a cast of thousands of micronutrients that we are just beginning to understand. Some of these important “extras” don't even have names yet. A diet rich in the variety of organic foods where the “leading actor” nutrients naturally occur is probably the best diet for pregnancy.

The prenatal vitamin is a spectacular safety net. Getting more of these same nutrients from food is generally great, but taking more of them as supplements is unnecessary and unwise.

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