Good health is a precious ingredient of life. When we
are healthy, it means more than just the absence of
disease; we look good, feel good, have good muscle tone, and
our out-look on life is positive.
Pregnancy is a time in life when maintaining optimal wellness is not only essential for the well being of the mother but makes a difference in whether or not a baby
is born prematurely or of low birth weight; whether a
child is bright and resistant to infections or prone to dise
ase; whether or not a child suffers from congenital
abnormalities and a variety of other maladies; or whet
her or not the child will even live. The most important
factor in maintaining good health in pregnancy is the st
ate of nutrition in the mother: The unborn baby is not a
parasite and can’t grow or take vital elements needed to bu
ild its body if those elements aren’t there. The period
of gestation and early infancy is the time when a baby gr
ows most rapidly and thus is most vulnerable to dietary
Yet pregnancy is a time when we ourselves often feel vulnerable. Pregnancy is certainly a nutritional stress on every woman who ever experiences it, but at the time when we so need to be at our clearest about how to take care of ourselves, we are usually bombarded with allkinds of different advice, many of the ideas in direct
conflict with each other. Some advice sounds sensible but may still turn out to be erroneous. Yet there is a way you can safeguard the health of
yourself, your baby, and prevent most complications of
pregnancy and birth. There is a way you can sort through all the information you receive and come up with a working plan for you. It is the intent of this article
to show you the role that nutrition plays in pregnancy; in
terms of actual physiological processes that go on in your body and the nutrients you need to support all the adaptations your body undergoes to maintain a healthy pregnancy.


In order to appreciate the role that a good diet plays
in maintaining a normal pregnancy, it is important to
become acquainted with four major adaptations that the b
ody has to make for pregnancy to proceed normally.
One of the first obvious adaptations is the growth o
f the uterus. The uterus is an amazing, hollow, muscular
organ which is really quite small in the pre-pregnant stat
e, about 1/2 the size of your hand. It doesn’t just stretch
to accommodate the fetus with its amniotic fluid and placenta, but it grows. The capacity of the womb from the time conception occurs to the time pregnancy is at term
increases about 40 times.
In order for this to happen, new connective tissue is
formed and a substance called collagen (which acts to
cement the cells in our tissues together) is abundantly
produced by the body. Two nutrients vitally important for
the production of collagen are protein and vitamin C. lf th
e uterus is going to be strong and function well during
labor, it must be nourished well during pregnancy.
Of course, for a baby to be healthy, strong and deve
lop to its maximum genetic potential, it must have all of
the essential nutrients available at all phases of it
s growth and development. Yet, sometimes a mother will
withhold vital nourishment from herself and her baby. Why?
A common myth still abounds that big babies
cause difficult births. Yet, the most difficult labors
and the most of complications tend to occur with mothers
who have low birth weight babies. A well-nourished mother
gives birth to larger babies with shorter labors, less complications, and fewer tears to the perineum. Also, a well nourished mother, who is allowed to eat, drink and
rest as she feels the need to in labor, embraces the
intensity of normal labor contractions with much more
energy and acceptance than a poorly nourished mother.
The unborn baby is completely dependent on its life
support system, the placenta. The placenta is actually a
special organ which is part of the baby’s body and functi
ons as lungs, kidneys, stomach, liver, as well as an
endocrine organ which produces hormones that maintain the
pregnancy. Anything which impairs placental
function jeopardizes the baby. The placenta in turn is
dependent on the maternal blood supply. It filters nutrients
and oxygen from the mother’s blood stream and returns them
to the baby. In turn fetal waste products are filtered out to be carried away by the mother’s blood stream. This exchange occurs through the capillary walls
with the maternal and fetal blood supply in intimate contact but not mingling.
This whole arrangement with mother, baby and placenta produces a unique circulatory adaptation. In the non-pregnant state, the circulation of blood operates on
a closed basis, meaning that unless some laceration or wound opens to allow blood to flow elsewhere, the blood circulates through a definite route in the body and
doesn’t depart from it to go elsewhere. However. in pregnancy, this changes at the placental site. What happens is that with each beat of the mother’s heart, blood
from the spiral arteries in the uterus jets out and completely
bathes the surface of the placenta in a lake of maternal blood. Blood is returned to the circulation by draining into the veins much like water from a shower drains into
the drain. This brings us to the third critical adaptation that
must be made to maintain a normal pregnancy, the increase
in blood volume. In order to maintain the flow of materna
l blood through the placenta, ever increasing
quantities of blood are needed.
From the time the placenta is implanted and devel
oping, a very gradual rise of blood volume begins. When
the placenta and baby are small, it isn’t very noticeabl
e. However, around the middle of pregnancy when the
baby and placenta are rapidly increasing in size, the blo
od volume begins to rise quite dramatically and
continues to do so until close to the time when the pre
gnancy has reached term. In a normal well-fed pregnant
mother, the blood volume rises 40-60% It may be as high as
80-100% in a mother with twins.
This adaptation is so important because there is no other
way that the body can meet both its own demands and
those of the placenta which, of course. services the b
aby. Interference with the rise in blood volume will
interfere directly with the growth and development of
the baby. In order to keep the placenta supplied with
nutrient and oxygen enriched blood, protein and salt are nee
ded to maintain the rise in blood volume. The rise in
blood volume is protective of the mother, also, because i
t gives her a margin of safety against blood loss at
The liver must respond to the stresses imposed o
n it by pregnancy which brings us to the fourth major
adaptation. The liver, sometimes called the master glan
d of nutrition, is responsible for over 5OO different
metabolic functions. Yet. the liver isn’t often given mu
ch attention for the important role it plays in maintaining a normal pregnancy. Three functions of the liver play an especially critical role in pregnancy. The first is
the creation of a complex protein called albumin. The amino
acids needed to create albumin are supplied by the
protein in the woman’s diet. Albumin acts to attract flu
id into the blood stream and is an essential element along
with sodium in maintaining the increased blood volume so n
ecessary in the last half of pregnancy. The second
and third pertain to detoxification. A tremendous amount of
hormones circulate in the pregnant body. The
placenta puts out the equivalent of a hundred birth contro
l pills worth of estrogen per day. In order that these
hormones can be metabolized and excreted there by avoid
ing toxic overload, the liver must work harder than
usual. The same is true in metabolizing out toxins from th
e lower bowel. The digestive system slows down
some in pregnancy: an advantage in terms of absorbing the m
ost nutrients but a disadvantage because toxins can
accumulate. A healthy well nourished liver takes care of
this problem.


What all this means is that the body must have a di
et to equip it to meet the stresses imposed by pregnancy.
Research over the last 50 years has provided some definite
evidence as to what constitutes a minimum adequate
prenatal diet for every pregnant lady. It has been foun
d that each woman carrying a single pregnancy needs at
least 80-100 grams of protein per day. That may sound like a lo
t but it is the minimal amount of protein needed
to maintain the four major adaptations of pregnancy – growth
of the uterus, growth of the baby, building a
placenta, and maintaining an expanded blood volume.
Fifty years of medical research has proved that i
nadequate protein intake during pregnancy can cause; l.
stillborn babies, 2. low birth weight or premature babies,
3. brain-damaged babies with less intelligence, 4.
hyperactive babies with more irritability, 5. infection-pr
one babies with more illness. A good diet during
pregnancy will protect your baby from these troubles. Resea
rch has shown that a good diet with 80-100 grams
of protein will virtually eliminate toxemia. intrauterin
e growth retardation, prematurity, abruptions (premature
separation of placenta), anemia, miscarriages, stillbi
rths, and severe infections.
In terms of food, what this translates roughly in
to is a quart of milk (or the equivalent in other dairy
products) or soy milk per day plus two eggs plus two other ser
vings of complete protein. A person who objects
to dairy products and eggs is going to have to find another ade
quate substitute for the protein, vitamins and
minerals in those foods. A quart of milk and two eggs daily s
upply approximately one half of a woman’s need
for protein.
Also needed are a lot of unrefined grains, which provide
carbohydrates (which are our fuel foods) and spares
our protein for use in building, maintaining, and repairing tis
sues. Grains are also fine sources of many minerals
and the B-complex vitamins, essential for normal pregnan
cy. Five servings daily is a minimum. A slice of
whole wheat bread constitutes a serving or a cup of brown
rice or cereal.
A woman should have at least two servings a day of
foods which are high in vitamin C; citrus, strawberries,
green peppers, potatoes, sprouts, and two servings of leafy da
rk green vegetables such as chard, broccoli,
spinach, romaine lettuce and so on. A serving of greens is ab
out one cup raw or 3/4 cooked. Also yellow and
orange fruits and vegetables should be included at least f
ive times per week. This is fairly easy year round and
can include; carrots, apricots, pineapple, pumpkin, yams, et
Liver should be included once a week or desiccated live
r tablets daily (about 5). The liver is an organ of
detoxification. Pesticides and such tend to accumulate in
fat, not the liver. An alternative to liver is two
tablespoons of nutritional (Brewer’s) yeast daily. The
sweet kind tastes best. All of these foods are high poten
sources of the B-vitamins, iron and trace minerals. A goo
d source of B-vitamins really works to prevent or
alleviate the fatigue that ladies often experience towar
d the end of pregnancy. If you are anemic at the
beginning of pregnancy, taking more Brewer’s yeast will he
not replace an inadequate diet. They simply help out nutriti
onally, especially in view of the fact that processed
foods and foods grown on poor soil are not as high in vitamins
and minerals as fresh foods grown on good soil.
Most importantly salt your food to taste and drink water
according to thirst. Your body will tell you how much
you need. Pregnant women need more salt in their diets t
han at other times. Lactating mothers also need more
salt than non-lactating mothers. Salt helps the body
retain the extra fluid it needs during pregnancy and
The closer a food is to its natural state the hi
gher it’s content of available vitamins and minerals. Vi
and minerals are destroyed at high temperatures or are lee
ched out in cooking water. Temperatures of 130-140
degrees kill enzymes essential for digestion, 160-200 degrees de
stroy many vitamins, and at 200 degrees
minerals begin to crystallize. Fresh raw foods contai
n enzymes that aid digestion and absorption of nutrients.
Raw foods protect your immune system.Recent research h
as shown that the white blood cell count decreases
after a meal of cooked foods but that is prevented by eat
ing a raw food with it. The white blood cells protect
you against bacterial infections so you stay healthier e
ating more raw foods. Raw vegetables and fruits are
easier to digest and absorb and do not put the digestive syst
em under as much stress as cooked foods. Raw
foods speed the waste products through the digestive system
and prevent constipation and other problems that
go with it.
Considering the facts about fresh, raw foods, you m
ay want to increase your consumption of raw foods. Ask
yourself, “Do I have to cook this?” Learn to be creative
in salad making. Almost any raw vegetable can be
added. Try a large fruit salad with any combination of wate
rmelon, cantaloupe, honeydew melon, strawberries,
raspberries, pineapples, apples, oranges, bananas, etc. T
his salad along with freshly baked whole wheat bread,
cottage cheese, and sunflower seeds makes a wonderful dinner
for the summertime. Try sprouts. Sprouts are
nutritious; they contain vitamins, minerals, protein and enzy
mes that multiply during sprouting and are a natural
source of fiber. One of the few complete foods; they a
re low in carbohydrates and calories but rich in essent
nutrients. They can be used in salads, on sandwiches as s
nacks, garnishes or in a green drink. To make a
fabulous nutrient rich green drink, put a cup of pineapple jui
ce, alfalfa sprouts, green leaves (spinach. comfrey,
celery tops, etc.) in to a blender and blend. This drink is
a wonderful pick me up for the late afternoon blahs. A
great source of protein is fresh, raw goat’s milk. It is
probably the easiest digestible protein you can obtain.
People who are allergic to pasteurized milk have no problems
with fresh goats milk.


One of the best ways to make sure your diet is adequa
te for pregnancy is to keep a daily diary of what you
eat. Just keep a notebook handy and write down what you ea
t during the day including snacks and midnight
nibbles. Obtain a book or chart that shows the grams o
f protein per food and at the end of the day total up how
much protein you are obtaining in your diet. Compare your diet
to the pregnancy diet to make sure you are
getting adequate amounts of fruits, vegetables, carbohydrates
, fats and oils. This is the most important prenatal
record that you can keep. The records the doctors or midwive
s keep only reflect whether or not you are eating
well. Many people believe that if they just give birth na
turally in a homey setting, they will have a perfectly
healthy birth. Others believe that if they give birth i
n a fancy hospital with lots of gleaming technology, t
hat this
will insure them a healthy birth. The sad truth is that
if a woman does not eat well, she will not be able to
birth naturally. In spite of the latest technology, ba
bies can die in hospitals; technology cannot always s
ave them
from poor prenatal diets and/or the overuse of drugs during pr
egnancy and labor and/or inherited birth defects.
It cannot be stressed enough that the safety of any birt
h (home or hospital) lies in the health of the moth
By keeping the simple rules of nutritional health dur
ing pregnancy, an expectant mother can relax and enjoy
her pregnancy, knowing that her baby is receiving the best
care and love there is.
Healthy babies are a gift from Yahweh. A gift to b
e loved, nurtured, and cared for the best way we know


What about weight gain and swelling?
Both are normal conditions of pregnancy. If you ar
e eating the diet that is outlined in this article, you
probably do both. A weight gain of 35 lbs. on a good diet s
eems about average but the range or normal is quite
wide. Breastfeeding is nature’s way of helping to get rid o
f any excess weight (which may actually provide you
a reserve during the first months of nursing). Studies compa
ring maternal weight gain and infant health showed
that the highest incidence of cerebral palsy and other bi
rth defects occurred in babies of women who gained less
than l5 lbs. The lowest incidence of cerebral palsy and
other birth defects occurred in babies of ladies who
gained over 35 pounds with a diet of high quality foods. So, yo
u see, there is no sane rationale for limiting
weight gain.
Swelling occurs in over half of all normal pregnanc
ies in the feet, hands and face. It is nothing to worr
about if you’re eating an excellent diet and is probably r
elated to the output of hormones by the placenta. Never,
ever restrict salt to stop swelling. In fact, restricti
on of salt often produces more edema (swelling).
Isn’t swelling a symptom of toxemia?
It can be. Metabolic toxemia of late pregnancy (M
ILD), also known as pre-eclampsia, is a disease of
malnutrition. The initial symptoms are a rise in blood pre
ssure of 30/15 above normal, generalized edema. and
protein in the urine (plus one or more). The problem is t
hat symptoms of a normal pregnancy can mimic this.
For instance, blood pressure can rise under stress, or uri
nary tract infections can cause protein to be found in t
urine, and many women have generalized swelling. Therefor
e it is an easy disease to misdiagnose.
What happens when a woman becomes toxemic is tha
t she is deficient in protein, calories, and/or salt. T
adaptations that her body needed to make didn’t happen because
she was poorly nourished. Thus, toxemia is
often a disease of poverty. However, toxemia can be
caused by low-calorie, salt restricted diets or by eatin
g too
much junk food and not enough real food. Inadequate diets ca
n deplete the blood volume. MILP is a frightening
disease, by far one of the most serious complications
of pregnancy. In its severest form, it may cause a w
to convulse and die. Often it is associated with other
complications such as prematurity and growth retardation
and more serious, abruption of the placenta (premature se
paration) which threatens the life of mother and baby.
Deprivation of calories, salt, and protein means th
e liver can’t keep up with albumin production. It means
that the blood volume falls, endangering the life of moth
er and baby. The body raises the blood pressure in an
attempt to compensate. The fluid which should be in the blo
od stream leaks out into the tissue causing
pathological swelling. Damage occurs to the kidneys and t
hus albumin leaks out into the urine. The body tries to
conserve salt and fluid and urinary output is decreased, a v
ery serious symptom, indeed.
Toxemia is TOTALLY PREVENTABLE. If there is any
doubt, your diet should be thoroughly evaluated,
using the guidelines mentioned before. You should be checked
for the possibility of multiple pregnancy, Twins
or more create an extra stress. You need an extra 30 gr
ams of protein per day and 500 calories for each
additional baby (it can be done, triplets have been bor
n weighing over 7 lbs apiece). This means about 130
grams of protein and about 3100 calories daily (2600 for a singl
e pregnancy). This could translate out to an
extra quart of milk per day or something equivalent.
What is the advantage of having a bigger baby?
Bigger babies are the result of good nutrition (exce
pt in diabetics). Average birth weight for babies of we
nourished mothers is around 8 lbs.
A low birth weight baby (under 5 l/2 – 6 lbs) has 30 t
imes more chance of dying in the first year of life th
his heavier brothers and sisters. A low birth weight chi
ld is also 30 times more likely to develop cerebral palsy,
mental retardation, and other learning disabilities. The
mother of a low birth weight baby is more likely to h
complications of labor and birth.
One of the biggest advantages of having a fat, healthy
baby is that they resist stress better. A baby that i
subject to any form of stress during labor is far more like
ly to survive if he is big. Babies store glycogen (a form
of sugar converted to blood sugar as needed) throughout intra
uterine life. A growth retarded, or premature
infant doesn’t have such glycogen to draw upon in the even
t it is needed. Glycogen, which is stored in the liver
and heart muscle, is rapidly used up in the event of oxygen
deprivation. So your baby’s ability to survive in the
face of stress is greatly enhanced by good nutrition.
I am 8 months along. I feel great and am eating e
verything on the diet (eggs, liver. meat and greens are great
sources of iron) and yet, I have a low hematocrit. Why?
Since most of the rise in blood volume is plasma
(the watery part of the blood; it’s not unusual for the
count to be lower than in a non-pregnant state and this r
ise in blood volume can contribute to a “physiological
anemia” of pregnancy. which is normal for a well-nourish
ed mother. If you have any doubts or questions,
consult a pregnancy caregiver that understands the role n
utrition plays in the physiology of pregnancy. Diet and
health all have to be looked at closely.
The information for this article came mostly from the work of Tom Brewer, M.D., an obstetrician who has dedicated his life to research on healthy pregnancies. Based on extensive research in prenatal clinics.
Dr.Brewer formulated the “No Risk” Pregnancy Diet. He and his wife Gail have written many books on pregnancyand nutrition.
PREGNANCY. by Gail Brewer with
Tom Brewer, M.D.
by Tom Brewer, M.D.
Shanklin and Jay Hodin


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