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Make your pregnancy a healthy one.

Congratulations! You're pregnant! Now, let's get down to business. Everything you do in the next nine months--from what you eat to what you drink to how physically active you are and what you weigh--has the potential to affect your child's current and future growth.

In fact, a growing body of research finds that conditions in utero (i.e., while you're pregnant) have the potential to affect your child's health even decades down the road.

For instance, one study found that women who drink during pregnancy could increase their child's risk of alcohol addiction later in life, even with just one drinking binge. (26) Other studies suggest significant correlations between a mother's nutrition during pregnancy and her child's risk for being overweight and developing diabetes and heart disease later in life. (27,28)

The message? Eat right today and prevent future health problems for your child.

There are two components to "eating right" when you're pregnant. One is the type of food you're eating, and the other is how much weight you gain.

For many women, pregnancy is the first time in their lives when gaining weight is a good thing--but don't go overboard. You do not need to consume any more calories than your normal daily intake during your first trimester. After the first 12 weeks, you may consume up to 300 extra calories per day.

Here's what the Institute of Medicine recommends:

* If you are of normal weight when you get pregnant, you should gain between 25 and 35 pounds: no more than five to 10 pounds in the first 20 weeks, and about a pound per week for the remainder of your pregnancy.

* If you're overweight when you get pregnant, you should gain only between 15 and 25 pounds.

* If you're obese, you should gain no more than 15 pounds.

Your health care professional will help you determine your weight gain goals.

If you are overweight, try and lose some weight before you get pregnant. Women who are overweight have a higher risk of emergency cesarean, gestational diabetes, high blood pressure and miscarriage. There also is a greater risk of delivery complications.

Now, onto what you eat.

First, make your diet rich in whole grains, fruits, vegetables and lean protein. Go light on the saturated fat (i.e., red meat and whole-milk dairy) and aim for as few processed foods as possible. Maintain this eating regimen throughout your pregnancy.

Here are some special considerations for the pregnant woman:

* Don't eat raw or undercooked seafood or meats.

* Reduce your risk for for listeriosis, an illness caused by bacteria found in unpasteurized milk, soft cheese, raw vegetables and shellfish. Wash fruits and vegetables well before eating and thoroughly cook shellfish. Make sure your milk is pasteurized and stick with hard cheeses like cheddar and parmesan.

* Avoid canned white or albacore tuna, mackerel, shark, swordfish, tuna steaks and tilefish. These fish contain high levels of mercury that could affect a fetus's developing brain. Instead, stick with fish like salmon, and limit any fish intake to no more than 12 ounces a week while you're pregnant. You may eat up to two small cans of light tuna a week, which is lower in mercury than white or albacore.

* To get valuable omega-3 fatty acids that research shows has positive benefits for the baby's brain, take at least 400 mg of mercury-free DHA supplements, available in most health food stores.

* Take your prenatal vitamin daily for the extra iron and folic acid you need throughout your pregnancy (and before).

* Skip the alcohol. Any alcohol.

* Limit caffeine.

Talk to your health care professional about any special dietary concerns (if you're vegetarian or vegan, for example).

My other advice? Enjoy your pregnancy!

By Pamela Peeke, MD, MPH NWHRC Medical Advisor


Dr. Peeke is a Pew Foundation Scholar in Nutrition and Metabolism, and Assistant Clinical Professor of Medicine at the University of Maryland in Baltimore. She writes about health and lifestyle issues important to all women.


26 Baer JS, Sampson PD, Barr HM. A 21-year longitudinal analysis of the effects of prenatal alcohol exposure on young adult drinking. Arch Gen Psychiatry. 2003 Apr;60(4):377-85.

27 Painter RC, Roseboom TJ, Bleker DP, Prenatal exposure to the Dutch famine and disease in later life: an overview. Reprod Toxicol. 2005 Sep-Oct;20(3):345-52, Review.

28 Lau C, Rogers JM, Embryonic and fetal programming of physiological disorders in adulthood. Birth Defects Res C Embryo Today. 2004 Dec;72(4):300-12. Review.

29 American College of Obsterricians and Gynecologists. ACOG Committee Opinion number 315, Sep 2005. Obesity in pregnancy. Obstet Gynecol. 2005 Sep;106(3):671-5. Women Living.
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Author:Peeke, Pamela
Publication:National Women's Health Report
Date:Feb 1, 2006
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