There is no question that a pregnant woman’s diet is very important for the development of the fetus. However, is there any link between maternal diet and preterm delivery? Several factors could trigger preterm labor. It is interesting to note that the factor that causes preterm labor in one woman may not cause it in another. Despite intensive research, the exact mechanisms of preterm birth (PTB) remain a mystery. Nevertheless, it is important to prevent preterm deliveries. The baby’s brain almost doubles in size in the last few weeks of pregnancy. Important organs, like the liver and lungs, are still developing up until the last few weeks of pregnancy. Furthermore, a baby born just a few weeks early may have vision problems, and there are many health issues that may affect premature babies. Here we are discussing foods to help prevent preterm labor.
Can I Avoid Preterm Labor?
It appears that maternal diets before and during pregnancy may affect rates of preterm birth, low birth weight (LBW), and small for gestational age (SGA) births1. Treatment to prevent preterm labor can include antibiotics, medicine to slow or stop labor contractions temporarily, and steroids. Instead of these expensive treatments, there are affordable natural ways to prevent preterm labor. When it comes to preventing preterm labor, nutrition interventions are an effective alternative. Some of the factors contributing to preterm delivery that can be influenced by nutrition include infection, inflammation, oxidative stress, and muscle contractility. Taking a healthy diet that features foods such as vegetables, fruit, whole grains, fish, low-fat dairy products, and lean protein and other pregnancy superfoods will reduce the risk of preterm birth2.
10 Foods That Can Lower The Risks Of Preterm Labor
Underweight and overweight women are more likely to suffer preterm labor. By eating a healthy diet, the risk can be significantly reduced. Several studies have suggested that inflammation plays a role in the onset of preterm labor. The antioxidants and anti-inflammatory nutrients found in traditional vegetables can play an important role in reducing the risk of preterm delivery.
Following are 10 foods to eat to avoid preterm labor:
As an onion family member, garlic has medicinal value and may be linked to a number of health benefits. It’s for this reason that it is also available in supplement form. Garlic during pregnancy is well-known for its antioxidant properties as well as its antimicrobial properties3. There is evidence that it contains antimicrobial components that can inhibit the growth of microbes associated with spontaneous preterm labor. They also contained dietary fibers recognized as prebiotics. These fibers are called prebiotics because they feed our beneficial microbiota. This also helps to reduce the risk of preterm delivery. So adding garlic to the dishes not only adds depth and flavor to it but also helps prevent preterm labor.
2. Dry fruits
Dried fruits are also packed with fiber and have antimicrobial activities against some of the bacteria suspected to play a role in preterm delivery. The consumption of dried fruits, especially raisins during pregnancy, is linked to a reduced risk of PPROM (preterm premature rupture of membranes)4. Preterm labor can be prevented by including raisins in your diet during pregnancy.
3. Food rich in vitamin c
Among its many functions, vitamin C plays a key role in collagen metabolism and helps maintain the chorioamniotic membranes’ resistance5. One of the leading causes of preterm delivery is premature rupture of membranes.
The best and easiest way to raise blood levels of vitamin C is to consume fruits and vegetables rich in vitamin C. Fruits and vegetables such as kiwi, oranges, rosehips, cantaloupe, strawberries, and guava, litchi, bell peppers, parsley, lemons, and broccoli are good sources.
Related Reading: Oranges During Pregnancy – Benefits, Risks And Precautions
4. Food rich in iron
Anemia may have variable effects on pregnancy because pregnancy is a time when physiological iron requirements are increased. An adverse effect of maternal iron deficiency is the occurrence of premature birth6.
Iron-rich foods, such as dark, leafy greens, such as spinach, collard greens, kale, tofu, beans, raspberries, lentils, fortified cereals, egg yolk, tuna, and meat, contribute to lowering the risk of preterm labor.
5. Food rich in calcium
It has been shown that supplementing calcium during pregnancy may prevent adverse gestational outcomes, including premature delivery7. A lack of calcium can lead to preterm labor. Hence include foods rich in calcium in the pregnancy diet. Adding dairy foods such as milk and cheese to the pregnancy diet along with green leaves, canned salmon, soybeans, etc. will help to boost calcium intake.
6. Food rich in omega-3
Premature births can be reduced by increasing omega 3 long-chain polyunsaturated fat intake during pregnancy8. Therefore it is important to include food rich in omega-three in the pregnancy diet. For non-vegetarians, mackerel, salmon, sardines, and canned light tuna are excellent sources of omega-three. Vegetarians can reap the benefits of omega three from chia seeds, flax seeds, soybean, and walnuts.
In addition, some research suggests that a diet high in polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs) is associated with a lower risk of premature birth. PUFAs are found in nuts and seeds. Magnesium deficiency has been associated with hyperactivity of the muscle cells in the uterus, which increases preterm birth risks9. Seeds like sunflower seeds and pumpkin seeds are high in magnesium, an element important for tissue growth and repair, and may play a role in reducing preterm delivery.
8. Hydrating food
One of the most common causes of preterm labor is dehydration. Staying well hydrated during pregnancy helps the body deliver nutrients to the baby through the blood. It also helps prevent constipation, hemorrhoids, and urinary tract infections during pregnancy. UTI during pregnancy increases the risk of preterm labor. A tasty way to stay hydrated during pregnancy is to consume plenty of hydrating foods.
The following list of Hydrating Foods can easily be incorporated into your daily diet.
- Lettuce – 95% water content
- Cucumbers – 95% water content
- Whole Fruit Popsicles – 94% water content
- Watermelon – 92% water content
- Strawberries – 91% water content
- Cantaloupe – 90% water content
- Yogurt – 85% water content
9. Food rich in inositol
Several recent small clinical trials have been conducted on the use of Myo-inositol in pregnancy. In addition to the primary objective of preventing gestational diabetes, Myo-inositol has also been shown to significantly decrease the likelihood of preterm birth10.
Food sources such as brown rice, creamy peanut butter, wheat bran, beans, sesame seeds, almonds, and corn naturally contain inositol. Citrus fruits, dried prunes, and cantaloupe also contain it in abundance. Myo-inositol was found to be more abundant in freshly-picked vegetables and fruits than in frozen, canned, or salt-free foods11.
10. Food rich in probiotics
Bacterial vaginosis (BV) during pregnancy can increase the risk of preterm birth (PTB). A specific feature of BV is the absence of lactobacilli in the vagina. Restoration of lactobacilli, through probiotic therapy, could restore normal flora in the vagina and improve the chance of having a healthy pregnancy12.
Taking foods like natural yogurt, Kombucha, sauerkraut, buttermilk, and kefir, rich in probiotics, reduces the colonization of harmful bacteria in the vaginal area.
Factors That Can Trigger Preterm Labor
Although it is not fully understood what causes preterm birth, there are a number of risk factors that contribute to premature birth and preterm labor. Several of these risk factors are indeed reversible, meaning that they can be modified in order to reduce risk. However, other risk factors are beyond our control.
Factors that put women at high risk for preterm labor or birth include:
- Preterm labor and birth are more likely to occur among women who have experienced preterm delivery or preterm labor before
- Women pregnant with twins, triplets, or more are more likely to deliver preterm. This more often happens with fertility treatments like IVF (in vitro fertilization)
- Preterm labor is more likely to occur in women who have certain abnormalities of the reproductive organs like a short cervix
Related Reading: 11 Common Complications During Pregnancy And Delivery
Some medical conditions that are only encountered during pregnancy, increase a woman’s risk of preterm labor and delivery.
Here are a few of them:
- Placenta previa is a condition in which the placenta grows in the lower part of the uterus. It partially or fully covers the opening to the cervix. Women with this condition can end up in preterm delivery
- A pregnant woman who is at risk for uterine rupture. Those who have had a prior cesarean delivery or been treated for uterine fibroids are more likely to rupture the uterus
- Developmental abnormalities in the fetus
If left untreated, some preventable medical conditions can cause preterm labor. The following medical issues may result in preterm labor:
- Underweight or obesity of mother
- High blood pressure
- Gestational diabetes
- UTI (Urinary tract infections)
- Pregnancies that occur within a short period of time (less than 6 months between births)
- STD (Sexually transmitted disease)
- Clotting disorders
- Vaginal infections like bacterial vaginosis and trichomoniasis
In addition to the above factors, preterm labor and premature birth may also be caused by:
- Mother’s age. Women under 18 and those over 35 years old are more likely to have a preterm delivery
- Certain unhealthy lifestyles like drinking alcohol, smoking, and using illegal drugs can cause preterm labor
- Standing for long periods during long work hours
- Abuse of any kind within the home, including physical, psychological, or sexual abuse
Related Reading: 10 Danger Signs Of Pregnancy To Watch Out For
Foods that cause preterm labor
There are foods that can trigger preterm delivery just as there are those that prevent preterm delivery. We all have heard that eating a lot of pineapple and papaya could trigger preterm labor. The story doesn’t end there. Following are some foods that increase the risk of preterm labor:
- Salty food: a diet high in salt can adversely affect blood pressure. High blood pressure contributes to preterm labor
- Raspberry leaf tea: Red raspberry leaf tea has been said to boost blood flow to the uterus and thereby trigger contractions
- Spicy food: Too much spicy food can irritate the intestines which may cause cramping and uterine contractions
- Licorice root: A chemical in licorice root called glycyrrhizin has been linked to preterm births
A woman’s main goal when she is planning to get pregnant is to ensure that she reaches full term while at the same time making sure that her baby is healthy. It is natural for any pregnant woman to be worried that something could go wrong during the pregnancy, or something could happen that would jeopardize the birth of her child. Being comfortable, healthy, and positive during pregnancy is the key to having a happy pregnancy. If anything stresses you, you should discuss and clear it with your doctor.
Evidence does not support the idea that bed rest – whether at home or in a hospital – can treat preterm labor or prevent premature labor.
The stress you experience during pregnancy can elevate your risk of having a small baby or having a premature delivery.
In a similar vein, if you overtax your body, your uterus may start having “false” contractions that in turn could end up in preterm labor.
There is evidence that exposure to air pollution in pregnancy increases the risk of preterm birth. By exposure to air pollution, toxic chemicals increase in the blood, weakening the placenta, and leading to preterm birth.