For those of you that have had your “New OB Physical” appointment with me, you have heard my spiel on exercise in pregnancy and eating healthy. Regarding exercise, I usually say something like “exercise is healthy throughout the pregnancy and decreases risks of high blood pressure as well as diabetes, and increases vaginal birth rates. I don’t put a limit on how vigorous it is, what your heart rate gets to, what position you are in, how heavy you lift, how long you go for etc. You need to listen to your body and use common sense. If you feel good, go for it. If things become uncomfortable, make modifications or find something new to do. Your exercise tolerance will likely change throughout the pregnancy as your body changes.” Regarding diet, I usually say, “Use pregnancy as a time to put GOOD, HEALTHY things into your body, not as a time to let yourself go because you can and you are pregnant or you feel like you should eat for two.” Well, regarding diet, a new study proves that my advice is indeed effective in improving pregnancy outcomes. Let’s take a closer look.
We know that healthy diets reduce chronic disease, but impact on pregnancy complications had yet to be studied until it was recently done at the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD) by Dr. Cuilin Zhang and team. What they did is had nearly 2000 patients fill out diet questionnaires from 8-13 weeks, 16-22 weeks, and 24-29 weeks pregnant. They use the following 3 measures to assess healthy eating: AHEI (Alternate Healthy Eating Index), AMED (Alternate Mediterranean Diet), and DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension). Each one has its own specifications but overall can be summarized with a reduction in processed foods and red meats, and an increase in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, and legumes.
Not surprisingly, a higher score (healthier food) at these checks was associated with lower risk of diabetes and hypertension. But surprising to me was also a reduction in preterm birth. And there seems to be a benefit to having these healthy diets going around the time of conception as well.
So my advice for those who are pregnant stays the same, use pregnancy as a time to put the BEST things into your body. My new advice is to establish this diet before conception as well. Eating healthy from the start will create good habits and lead to better outcomes.