Maternal Nutrition and Perinatal Outcomes

Maternal Nutrition and Perinatal Outcomes


Maternal diet in pregnancy is super important—it can affect three generations: the mother, the baby, and the reproductive cells in the fetus. To help her colleagues better understand maternal nutrition and perinatal outcomes, Dr. Mary Barger (MPH, CNM), associate professor at University of San Diego, talked about healthy eating in pregnancy at a recent SDCBC general meeting.

Omega-3-fatty acids

One thing that is important for pregnant mother is Eicosanoids. “Good” Eicosanoids inhibit platelet aggregation, promote vasodilation, and inhibit cellular proliferation, while “bad” Eicosanoids promote platelet aggregation and vasoconstriction. Anti-inflammatory eicosanoids, which Dr. Barger referred to as the “good” ones, come from eating a diet rich in long-chain omega-3-fatty acids that can be find in fish oil.

“We should eat fish!” Dr. Barger said that Americans no longer eat enough fish, because the EPA oversold the risk of fish. For mercury concerns, Dr. Barger gave a guideline, “don’t eat shark, swordfish, king mackerel, tilefish, and limit other fish intake to 12 oz per week.”

Breastfeeding mothers should eat a Omega-3s rich diet, too.


Not only is maternal diet during pregnancy important, it is important even before pregnancy. Studies found that healthy eating, which means more protein and less carbs, decreased risk of infertility by 70%.

Folic Acid

Dr. Barger also described evidence of how the intrauterine environment affects gene expression. “A pregnant mother’s diet may turn the genes around,” she said.

With the help of some fat yellow mice, scientists have discovered exactly how a mother’s diet can permanently alter the functioning of genes in her offspring without changing the genes themselves.

The unusual strain of mouse carries a kind of trigger near the gene that determines not only the color of its coat but also its predisposition to obesity, diabetes, and cancer. When pregnant mice were fed extra vitamins and supplements, the supplements interacted with the trigger in the fetal mice and shut down the gene. As a result, obese yellow mothers gave birth to standard brown baby mice that grew up lean and healthy.

What are the “supplements”? “It’s folate,” said Dr. Barger. She recommended pregnant women eat food containing folic acid.

Mediterranean Diet

Dr. Barger said, “the single most important thing that a pregnant woman puts in her body is food.” Studies found that the “mediterranean diet” can lower the risk of preterm birth. The Mediterranean diet, also known as low-glycemic diet, is associated with less gestational weight and less glucose intolerance. The goal is to eat nutrient-rich, low glycemic foods or minimum five fruits and vegetables a day.


Only a small increase of vitamin A is needed in pregnancy. American women have low vitamin D levels and a daily supplement of 20 ng/ml during pregnancy is recommended; larger amounts are required during breastfeeding for infant vitamin D sufficiency. Vitamin B12 supplement is recommended for RNA/DNA synthesis, such as brain and spinal column and RBC formation.


Iodine supplement is recommended for thyroid functioning and prevention of congenital mental retardation. Recommended intake of Calcium during pregnancy is 1300mg per day.

A normal pregnancy is not a “fragile” event. Mothers should still enjoy their favorite foods, just make a little changes, eat a little bit healthier for their babies. In general, Dr. Barger recommended pregnant mothers:

  • Have three meals and two snacks a day, because infrequent eating or fasting is associated with preterm birth.
  • Drink plenty of water as primary source of liquid and avoid alcool.
  • To avoid food borne illnesses that can cause maternal or fetal disease by eating, eat only well-cooked meat.



About the Author:

Leonard is a website designer and graphic designer for the North Park Group. He has been working with SDCBC for the past year on developing the website.