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What Should Moms-To-Be Eat?

For lots of pregnant women, eating right can be a real challenge, especially if you suffer from morning sickness or food aversions.

Heidi Murkoff, author of the best-selling "What To Expect When You're Expecting," has simplified the choices in her new book, "Eating Well When You're Expecting."

In it, Murkoff says there are six foods that every pregnant woman should get to know because they can boost brain development, prevent postpartum depression, stave off nausea and may prevent cancer in your baby later in life. Best of all, they are simple and easy-to-find.

She visits The Early Show to talk about the benefits found in DHA eggs, walnuts, mangoes, red pepper, quinoa, and ginger.

Read an excerpt from her book:

Eating Well:
What's in it for Baby
Think you'll be undergoing a lot of changes during the nine months of pregnancy? Consider what's happening to your fetus during those 40 weeks. Cells are dividing at an unbelievable rate; organs are forming; the circulatory, digestive, urinary, and other systems are developing; the senses — hearing, sight, taste, and smell — are taking shape. And through your diet, your baby will have to receive all the vitamins, minerals, calories, protein, fluids, and other nutrients necessary for all that growth and development. Though most babies do grow and develop, even when their mothers eat a mediocre diet, study after study shows that, on average, healthier diets yield far healthier babies.

Think of healthy eating as one of the best gifts you can give your baby-to-be. And it's a gift that keeps on giving. Your diet can affect so many aspects of your baby-to-be's health, including the following:

Your baby's brain development. While the development of most organs is relatively complete midway through pregnancy, your baby's brain will have its greatest growth spurt during the last trimester. Since protein, calories, and omega-3 fatty acids are particularly crucial to optimal brain development, ensuring an adequate intake of these nutrients becomes even more important in the last months of pregnancy. Even if you find you've gained more weight than you would have liked in your first six months, the last trimester will not be the time to cut back. And even if you haven't been eating particularly well during the early months of pregnancy (many women find that the first trimester queasies keep them from eating anything, never mind eating anything healthy), making a concerted dietary effort in the last trimester will fuel that amazing brain expansion.

Your baby's personality. Believe it or not, much of your baby's personality is being formed in your uterus, partly owing to fetal DNA and partly, according to some studies, because of what you're eating. Researchers have found that babies born to malnourished mothers smile less and are drowsier compared with babies born to well-nourished mothers. There is also evidence that newborns whose mothers consume enough omega-3 fatty acid during the last trimester exhibit healthier sleep patterns than do other babies (something you'll definitely appreciate come 3 a.m.).

Your baby's eating habits. Research shows that what you eat during pregnancy (and while breastfeeding) affects not only your baby's health; it also affects your baby's tastes. Because a fetus can taste and become accustomed to the flavors that make their way from its mother's meals into the amniotic fluid, a baby's food preferences can be formed before he or she ever takes a spoonful of solids. In one study, infants whose mothers drank carrot juice while pregnant eagerly lapped up cereal mixed with carrot juice, while infants of mothers who steered clear of the orange stuff were more likely to turn up their little noses at the carrot juice–cereal mixture. The moral of the study: If you'd like your child to eat his broccoli later, you might be well advised to eat yours now. (And since breast milk picks up flavors, too, influencing a nursing baby's future gastronomic preferences, the same principle holds true during breastfeeding.)

Your baby's birth weight. Eating too little (or not eating enough of the right foods) can keep your baby from growing well in the uterus; eating too much can make your baby grow too big, too fast. Babies who are born small for their gestational age stand greater chances of having health problems after delivery than do babies of normal weight. Babies born too large can complicate delivery, making it more likely that an instrument (forceps or vacuum) or surgical (cesarean) delivery will become necessary. Eating just the right amount to maintain a steady and moderate weight gain for you (see Chapter Three) can keep your baby's weight gain on target.

It's not only the quantity, but also the quality of the food you eat that can impact how baby weighs in. Inadequate zinc intake is linked to low-birth-weight babies. A diet deficient in folic acid can cause fetal growth restriction (among many other problems). Eating the right amounts of the right types of food can help give baby a good bottom line at delivery.

Your baby's organ development. With all those body parts developing from scratch (the heart, liver, lungs, kidneys, and nervous system, just to name a few), and only nine months in which to accomplish this phenomenal growth, the baby-making factory is working at full-steam, day and night. The raw materials needed to turn a fertilized egg into a fully equipped bouncing baby are supplied by you through what you eat.

Fortunately, those raw materials aren't hard to come by. Even the average American diet today provides enough of most nutrients to ensure a healthy bouncing baby—and extra-good nutrition can offer extra insurance that your fetus will receive everything it needs to develop well. On the other hand, a diet that's severely deficient in the right types of nutrients (and such a diet is thankfully rare during pregnancy in this country) increases the risk that a baby may not develop normally. For instance, a lack of vitamin D and calcium can interfere with proper bone and tooth growth. An inadequate intake of folic acid can result in neural tube defects, such as spina bifida (a condition that has become far less common since folic acid supplementation has become routinely recommended for women of childbearing age).

Possibly, your baby's long-term health. Though still in its infancy —and still somewhat controversial—the study of how maternal nutrition during pregnancy affects a baby's long-term health has provided researchers and mothers-to-be with plenty of food for thought. Some studies have found that a predisposition to certain diseases (such as cancers and schizophrenia) and chronic conditions (such as diabetes, hypertension, and heart disease) may be programmed while the baby is still developing in the womb, if it received inadequate nutrition during pregnancy. Scientists have found that both babies who are undernourished in the first trimester and those who are overfed in the third trimester may be at greater risk for obesity. Nutrition during pregnancy, say some researchers, not only influences a baby's health at birth, but also affects his or her health years later, even into adulthood.

Eating Well:
What's in It for You
Baby's not the only one who benefits each time you grab a piece of fruit, make time for breakfast, or opt for a grilled chicken salad over a greasy taco. Eating well while you're expecting isn't actually as selfless as it may seem. In fact, what many moms forget is that eating well for their baby affects them, too. What you eat will have a profound effect on how well your body copes with and recovers from the physical and emotional challenges of carrying and delivering a baby.

A nutritious, well-balanced diet during pregnancy will have an impact on:
Your comfort during pregnancy. Let's face it: Most pregnant women don't really walk around all nine months with a rosy glow. In fact, in the first few months, they're more likely to walk around with a greenish tint. And morning sickness is just the tip of the iceberg. Other pregnancy symptoms include fatigue, constipation, hemorrhoids, heartburn, varicose veins, complexion problems, gum problems, swelling, and leg cramps—and that's just naming a few. While some of these symptoms are par for the pregnancy course (influenced by hormones and other factors, such as fluid retention or genes), many pregnancy inevitables are not inevitable at all. And some that are inevitable don't have to be inevitably miserable. Good nutrition can minimize, eliminate, and even prevent many unpleasant side effects of pregnancy. A diet with adequate complex carbohydrates, for instance, can reduce fatigue. A diet low in fatty foods can decrease heartburn. One rich in fiber and fluids can relieve (or even prevent) constipation. A diet with enough vitamin B6 can lessen nausea and vomiting. Even complexion problems can be flushed out by adequate fluids and overall good nutrition. For more on minimizing pregnancy discomforts through nutrition, see Chapter Two.

The safety of your pregnancy. No controversy here. It's really as simple and straightforward as this: Research shows that pregnant women who are well nourished are more likely to have a safe and uncomplicated pregnancy than women who are not well nourished. And studies continue to show strong links between deficiencies in diet and pregnancy complications. For instance, anemia, a common pregnancy complication characterized by low levels of red blood cells, is directly connected to iron deficiency. Some cases of another pregnancy complication, preeclampsia (high blood pressure), have been linked to a variety of deficiencies in a pregnant woman's diet. Researchers have found that high amounts of sugar and polyunsaturated fats increase the risk of preeclampsia. Others studies have found that women who have a low intake of vitamin C are twice as likely to develop preeclampsia. Still other research has linked some cases of preeclampsia to deficiencies in vitamin E and magnesium.

The flip side to this research is also the bright side: Eating a well-
balanced nutritious diet—adequate in vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients—will reduce your risks of pregnancy complications, ensuring a healthier pregnancy. And that's something to toast your orange juice to.

Your labor and delivery. Not only will a good diet benefit you during the 40 weeks leading up to labor and delivery, it may benefit you during labor and delivery, too. First of all, a good pregnancy diet may help prevent labor from striking too early. Though all nutrients in a balanced diet are important in helping a woman carry to term, research links deficiencies in zinc, vitamin A, vitamin C, and magnesium to an increased risk of premature labor. Second, childbirth is labor intensive, so to speak, requiring a prodigious amount of energy. Though a well-nourished woman won't necessarily experience a pain-free or shorter labor, she's likely to better cope with the labor she's dealt than the woman whose body lacks sufficient stores of nutrients—in much the same way a well-nourished athlete is able to perform better and endure longer than one who hasn't been eating well. (And when it comes to athletic events, there's none more challenging than childbirth. Just ask any Iron Woman who's also a mom.)

Your postpartum recovery. A baby's not the only thing you can expect after delivery, though it's definitely the best thing. Whether your labor and delivery turn out to be enviably effortless or disappointingly difficult, the effects of childbirth will be enormous. In the days, weeks, and even months postpartum, your body will need significant resources to recover from a variety of physical insults, ranging from stretching and tearing to blood loss and sleep deprivation—while simultaneously caring for a newborn. One of the best ways to speed that recovery (and find the energy you'll need to keep up with the endless demands and challenges of new motherhood) is to eat a nourishing diet throughout pregnancy and to continue to do so after delivery. (See Chapter Ten for more on eating during the postpartum period.)
Your long-term health. When it comes to most nutrients, nature first takes care of an expectant mom's nutritional needs from incoming food, then serves up the leftovers to her fetus. But that's not true when it comes to that essential bone-builder, calcium. If you don't take in enough calcium when you're pregnant, your body will drain this important mineral out of your own bones to help strengthen baby's—possibly setting you up for osteoporosis later on. That's yet another good reason to eat well for your own health, as well as for baby's well-being, when you're expecting. But keep in mind that good eating habits that continue even after your pregnancy ends can do even more to ensure you a healthier future—reducing your chances of developing a wide variety of diseases, from hypertension to diabetes to cancer. By setting up the groundwork for a lifetime of healthy eating, good nutrition during pregnancy offers you and your family benefits that extend far beyond delivery day...
Excerpted from "What to Expect: Eating Well When You're Expecting." Copyright © 2005 by Heidi Murkoff and Sharon Mazel. Workman. All rights reserved.

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