Stephen J. Schueler, M.D.

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Preterm Labor Diet

A healthy diet during pregnancy can lower your risk for complications such as premature labor.

A well balanced diet during pregnancy consists of a variety of carefully selected, nutrient dense foods will ensure that both the mother and the baby are getting the nutrients they need.

Folic acid belongs to an important group of water-soluble vitamins known as the B-complex vitamins. This family of vitamins is important in both metabolism and red blood cell production. Folic acid deficiency is one of the more common B-complex deficiencies and results in a condition known as pernicious anemia. Another important cause of pernicious anemia is B-12 vitamin deficiency. Women who are pregnant and infants have an increased need for these vitamins.

Vitamin deficiencies during pregnancy can increase the risk for birth defects. The American Academy of Pediatrics now recommends all women of childbearing age take a vitamin that contains folic acid to decrease the risk of birth defects (e.g. spina bifida, related to vitamin deficiency). 400-800 micrograms of folic acid per day is a common supplemental dosage.

Energy Requirements
Ensure that energy sources (calories) are adjusted to 15% above average non-pregnant needs. To calculate your approximate baseline (non-pregnant) daily caloric needs multiply your current body weight (in pounds) by: 10, 15, or 20 (for light, medium, or heavy activity). The resulting number will equal the number of calories/day necessary to maintain that weight. Finally, multiply this number by .15 to get the additional number of calories you should be adding to the total to account for pregnancy.

Pregnant women usually require 300 calories more per day than their pre-pregnancy requirement. This number will vary according to height, body size, age, and level of activity. This number can increase to 500 additional calories per day if you are breast-feeding. Check with your doctor or nutritionist for your exact calorie requirements.

During pregnancy, a boost in the total calories and a gain in weight are necessary to nourish the growing fetus, sustain the normal increase in body size, and provide energy for the extra work of carrying the baby.

Daily Food Plan Adjusted for Pregnancy and Breastfeeding
The best diet during breastfeeding is similar to that during pregnancy, with some modifications. When there is a family history of eczema and other allergies, you may reduce the risk of allergic problems when breastfeeding by avoiding eggs, chocolate, licorice, nuts (especially peanuts), seafood and dairy products. Many medications, supplements, foods, and alcohol can pass into the breast milk and cause feeding problems in infants. See Nursing Your Baby for more information.

Food GroupServings Per Day
Dairy4 cups milk or equivalent
Meat2 servings (3-4 oz. each, 2% milk)
Grains4-5 slices or servings
Fruits/Vegetables4-5 servings

Good snacks:
  • Applesauce
  • Celery stuffed with peanut butter
  • Cubes of ham or cheese
  • Graham crackers and peanut butter
  • Granola bars
  • Hard cooked eggs
  • Low fat yogurt or cottage cheese
  • Raw fruits or vegetables
  • Small meat or cheese sandwiches

Other Dietary Considerations
  • Adjust total daily protein intake to 1.3 grams per kilogram of body weight. Two thirds of total protein intake should be of high biological quality, such as that found in eggs, milk, meat, or soy protein. Adequate total energy intake is essential for optimal protein utilization.
  • Allow pre-pregnancy intake of sodium and fluids.
  • During pregnancy you will want to maintain you calcium intake to 1,200-1,500 mg of calcium per day. Eat foods rich in calcium such as low-fat dairy products, broccoli, kale, and spinach greens, almonds, and soy milk. Calcium supplements (Tums) are available without a prescription and can be obtained at your local health food store, pharmacy, or grocery store.
  • Supplement diet with 30-60 mg of elemental iron daily throughout pregnancy (most ferrous sulfate pills with 325 mg of iron contain about 60-65 mg of elemental iron per pill).

Calcium Containing Food Sources
FoodServing SizeCalcium Per Serving
Sardines in oil3 oz370 mg
Milk1 cup290-300 mg
Swiss cheese1 oz (slice)250-270 mg
Yogurt1 cup240-400 mg
Canned salmon3 oz170-210 mg
American cheese1 oz (slice165-200 mg
Broccoli1 cup160-180 mg
Soybean curd (tofu)4 oz145-155 mg
Turnip greens1/2 cup, cooked100-125 mg
Ice cream1/2 cup90-100 mg
Kale1/2 cup, cooked90-100 mg
Cottage cheese1/2 cup80-100 mg
Corn bread2.5 inch square80-90 mg
Parmesan cheese1 Tbsp70 mg
Egg1 medium55 mg
Powdered milk1 tsp50 mg

Continue to Preterm Labor Warning Signs

Last Updated: Nov 22, 2010 References
Authors: Stephen J. Schueler, MD; John H. Beckett, MD; D. Scott Gettings, MD
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PubMed Preterm Labor References
  1. Besinger RE. Preterm labor, premature rupture of membranes, and cervical incompetence. Curr Opin Obstet Gynecol. 1993 Feb;5(1):33-9. [8425033]
  2. Gjerdingen DK. Premature labor, Part II: Management. J Am Board Fam Pract. 1992 Nov-Dec;5(6):601-15. [1462794]
  3. Mercer BM, Lewis R. Preterm labor and preterm premature rupture of the membranes. Diagnosis and management. Infect Dis Clin North Am. 1997 Mar;11(1):177-201. [9067791]
  4. Newton ER. Preterm labor, preterm premature rupture of membranes, and chorioamnionitis. Clin Perinatol. 2005 Sep;32(3):571-600. [16085021]
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