WOMEN'S HEALTH
June 19, 2013

Building Baby's Bones

Expectant moms know what they eat affects their baby, but the effects of prenatal diets on bones may last for years.

Pregnant women know that what they consume (or don’t consume) is important to the well-being of their baby. What is often overlooked, however, is that a mother's diet while pregnant may set the stage for her child's development for years to come.

Take bones, for example. An expectant mom’s diet may permanently influence her child’s bone development, according to a study recently published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.

Though most doctors prescribe a prenatal vitamin and mineral supplement for pregnant women, supplements cannot and do not replace a healthy diet.

Researchers in the Netherlands asked nearly 3,000 pregnant women to record what they ate every day during the first trimester of their pregnancy, and they tested their blood levels of vitamins and minerals to see what they were consuming. Six years later they measured the bone mass of their offspring to see how healthy and strong their bones were.

Children whose mothers ate more protein and consumed more vitamin B12 and phosphorous during pregnancy had healthier and stronger bones. On the other hand, mothers whose diets were higher in carbohydrate and who had higher blood levels of homocysteine, a marker of low consumption of B vitamins, had children with less healthy bones.

The researchers in this study didn’t rule out the prospect that pregnant women who ate better diets provided their babies and young children with more healthy diets; however, they suspect that the prenatal diet has a permanent influence on the bone health of children.

For pregnant women or those thinking of becoming pregnant, knowing that their diet affects their child is one thing, but putting good dietary practices into place is another. The guidelines for eating well during pregnancy aren’t that different from healthy eating at any other time in life.

A healthy diet during pregnancy includes an additional 25 grams of protein, 45 more grams of carbohydrate, and increased amounts of vitamins A, C, D, and many of the B vitamins. Additionally, there is an increased need for the minerals iron, zinc, magnesium, iodine, and selenium. All of these nutrients can be obtained in adequate amounts by consuming a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, and whole grains with moderate amounts of lean sources of protein and low- or non-fat dairy.

The intake of most of these nutrients naturally increases when the higher caloric needs of pregnancy — approximately 340 to 450 calories per day — are met. Though most doctors prescribe a prenatal vitamin and mineral supplement for pregnant women, supplements cannot and do not replace a healthy diet. They are meant to be taken in addition to eating a healthy diet.

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