Mamas on Bedrest: The “Anti Preterm Labor” Diet

March 7th, 2014


We all know how important it is to eat a healthy diet-not only while pregnant but always. Well, researchers in Sweden and Norway have shown that women who eat a ‘Traditional” or “Prudent” diet, a diet consisting of vegetables, fruit, whole grains, and fish and primarily water to drink had lower rates of preterm labor. The study also showed that the “traditional” diet pattern emphasized boiled potatoes, fish, low-fat milk, and cooked vegetables. While it is no new news that a healthy diet promotes a healthy pregnancy and healthy birth outcomes, the specifics indicated in this study published online in the March 4, 2014 British Journal of Medicine show that this diet has the ability to reduce the risk of preterm labor and preterm birth.

Linda Englund-Ogge, MD from the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology, Institute of Clinical Sciences at Sahlgrenska Academy and Sahlgrenska University Hospital in Gothenberg, Sweden and her colleagues sought to determine if there was any association between a mama’s dietary intake and her birth outcome. The researchers looked at 66,000 pregnant women in Norway between 2002 and 2008 and they defined a “traditional” or “prudent” diet as having a proportionately high intake of Fresh and steamed vegetables, fruits, oils, whole-grain cereals, and fiber-rich bread, with water as the predominant beverage. (In contrast, the “Western” dietary pattern had high consumption of salty and sweet snacks, white bread, desserts, and processed meat products.) Controlling for all other cofounding factors, the researhers found that of the 66,000 women, 3505 (5.3%) had preterm births. Women who scored highest for the “traditional” or “Prudent” Diets had significantly lower risks for preterm delivery. Women who adhered to this diet also were less likely to experience spontaneous preterm birth or late phase preterm births. The women with the lowest risk were women pregnant for the first time.


The researchers were unable to say specifically why or what foods specifically influenced the pregnancy outcomes. They write,

“This study showed that women adhering to a ‘prudent’ or a ‘traditional’ dietary pattern during pregnancy were at lower risk of preterm delivery compared with other women”. “Although these findings cannot establish causality, they support dietary advice to pregnant women to eat a balanced diet including vegetables, fruit, whole grains, and fish and to drink water. Our results indicate that increasing the intake of foods associated with a prudent dietary pattern is more important than totally excluding processed food, fast food, junk food, and snacks.”

In light of these findings, Dr Englund-Ogge and her colleagues recommend that health care providers emphasize these dietary selections and recommend that women who are at risk for preterm labor be counseled to make these dietary changes.

So mamas, I know that many of you are on bed rest for preterm labor. Many of you also have lamented that you feel like you are not doing enough to take care of your baby. Well, here is something that you can do! Insist on and eat this “traditional”/”Prudent” diet. Increase your fruit and vegetable intake, as well as whole grain and fish intake. This is very interesting as may American Obstetricians tell women to avoid fish, especially tuna, as it may contain mercury. The researchers did not identify any specific types of fish or foods, but as was stated, this “prudent” diet was quite a contrast to the Western (American) Diet. Reduce your intake of sugary and salty snacks. Drink mostly-if not exclusively-water. As some may argue, who knows if this will help? But I argue, it won’t hurt you and if this diet has any benefit whatsoever in helping you to have a healthy, full term baby, then why not??

If you adopt this diet, share your findings and your results in the comments section. It would be great to have such an easy and accessible tool for mamas to use to help prevent preterm labor. Keep us posted!


“Maternal dietay patterns and preterm delivery: results from a large prospective cohort study” BMJ 2014;348:g1446

MedScape OB/GYN & Women’s Health 

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