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Advice for Patients |

Preventing Birth Defects With a Healthy Pregnancy Diet FREE

Megan A. Moreno, MD, MSEd, MPH, Writer; Fred Furtner, Illustrator; Frederick P. Rivara, MD, MPH, Editor
Arch Pediatr Adolesc Med. 2012;166(2):200. doi:10.1001/archpediatrics.2011.1582.
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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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  • 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.


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.


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.



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/.


Source: Mayo Clinic

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The Advice for Patients feature is a public service of Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine. The information and recommendations appearing on this page are appropriate in most instances, but they are not a substitute for medical diagnosis. For specific information concerning your child's medical condition, Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine suggests that you consult your child's physician. This page may be photocopied noncommercially by physicians and other health care professionals to share with patients. To purchase bulk reprints, call 312/464-0776.





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