What can you eat during pregnancy that will reduce the risk of a pre-mature or low birth weight baby? I scoured through Cochrane Reviews, a medical nonprofit known for its rigorous, in depth reviews of the scientific literature. They’re known for being skeptical buggers, only accepting the highest quality studies, and being very ready to say that there is not enough data to say one way or the other. If there’s one source to trust, it’s Cochrane Reviews.
So what did I find? Of the six interventions I read through, only two interventions were found to be effective - vitamin D and zinc.
Zinc had a small but significant effect. In 16 randomized controlled trials including over 7,000 women, those who took zinc supplements during pregnancy were 14% less likely to have pre-term babies. That and you’ll be 36% less likely to get a cold, and if you do, it’s half as likely it’ll last more than seven days. Talk about an excellent little pill. I recommend taking it as a pill rather than solely relying on your diet to provide because it’s very easy to be deficient in it, even if you eat a healthy, balanced diet.
Vitamin D was quite a winner! Gathering data from three randomized controlled trials involving 463 women, those given vitamin D supplements were about half as likely to have low birthweight babies compared to those given a placebo. Vitamin D is found in all sorts of food, but if you live in a place where the winters are long you’re very likely to be deficient in it, so I recommend taking supplements. And during the summer, get plenty of sun, as your skin turns sunshine into vitamin D, which I will guiltlessly take as a perfect excuse to bask in the sun. You can also get liquid vitamin D and put it in everything, like cereal, coffee, juice, baked goods, etc.
What else was tested that didn’t make the cut?
- Caffeine. Thank god! Not to say that caffeine does not have any negative or positive effects, but as a complete caffeine addict, I’m happy to say that two randomized controlled trials using decaf as a placebo involving over 1200 women showed no effect of caffeine of your risk of premature or underweight babies.
- Aerobic exercise isn’t something you eat but I’ll include it anyways. This was a surprise. Usually aerobic exercise is associated with everything good in life, from happiness, health, and even a good sex life. Nonetheless, there was not enough evidence or high enough quality studies to show that it reduces the chance of pre-term or low birthweight babies.
- Folate, which is the form of folic acid found in foods. 31 randomized controlled trials found it had no effect to lower the risk of premature, stillborn, or low birhtweight babies. Folic acid is still good to take because it reduces the chances of “neural tube defects”.
- Take zinc and vitamin D daily during pregnancy.
- Cochrane reviews is a skeptical and trustworthy source for medical questions. Check out their summaries, they have all sorts of cool findings. Like does vitamin C prevent colds? Does stretching prevent soreness after exercise? The answers are no and no. Go Cochrane reviews for being a skeptical bugger!