Moms–to–Be Need Milk and D
By Kimberly Beauchamp, ND
Healthnotes Newswire (June 15, 2006)—Pregnant women: Drinking enough milk may help ensure the proper growth of your unborn baby, as new research reports that women who drink less than 1 cup of milk per day during pregnancy may have a lower birthweight baby.
The new study, published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal, suggests that a woman might increase her child’s birthweight by over 1/4 pound (123 grams) by drinking 3 cups of milk per day throughout pregnancy. Low birthweight, associated with serious health problems in the newborn period and beyond, affects 1 in 13 babies born in the United States. Most commonly seen in premature infants, low birthweight increases the risk of breathing problems, brain damage, sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS), and heart and intestinal problems. Babies born too small—that is, less than about 5 1/2 pounds—often have difficulty feeding and are more prone to infections than are their chubbier counterparts.
Fortified milk is widely recommended to expectant mothers as a good source of protein, calcium, and vitamin D. Some women, however, are allergic to cow’s milk or cannot drink it because of lactose intolerance. Others may avoid drinking milk during pregnancy to help limit weight gain or to decrease the chance that their child will develop a milk allergy later in life.
Researchers at McGill University in Quebec theorized that pregnant women who drink less than 1 cup per day might have lower birthweight babies. To test this, they gathered dietary information from almost 300 pregnant women over a two-year period.
Women who drank less than 1 cup of milk per day during pregnancy had lower birthweight babies than did women who drank more. For each cup of milk consumed per day, the infant’s birthweight increased by 41 grams. Similarly, for each microgram (40 IU) of vitamin D per day derived from diet and supplements, the babies gained 11 grams. (Note: each cup of vitamin D–fortified milk contains 2.25 mcg of the vitamin.) Women who restricted their milk intake during pregnancy did so at the expense of protein and vitamin D.
Currently, there is no accepted dietary recommended intake of vitamin D; however, an “adequate daily intake” of 200 IU (5 mcg) per day was set in 1997. Dr. Kristine Koski, spokesperson for the new study, points out, “We do not know what the vitamin D requirements are during pregnancy and therefore we could be setting too low a target.”
To underscore the importance of the study’s findings, Dr. Koski said, “The magnitude of the effect [of milk consumption] on birth weight was such that if a women failed to drink the currently recommended 3 to 4 glasses of fortified milk per day, her baby’s birthweight would be lower by some 123 to 164 grams. This is similar in magnitude to that produced by smoking during pregnancy.” She went on to say, “The issue is not specifically milk, but the fact that in North America milk is our principle source of vitamin D; it was the absence of vitamin D that caused the reduction in birthweight.”
For women who are unable to drink 3 to 4 glasses of fortified milk per day, taking a teaspoon of cod liver oil per day would provide a similar amount of vitamin D, as well as the omega-3 fatty acids that play an important role in brain development
Kimberly Beauchamp, ND, earned her bachelor’s degree from the University of Rhode Island and her Doctorate of Naturopathic Medicine from Bastyr University in Kenmore, WA. She cofounded South County Naturopaths in Wakefield, RI. Dr. Beauchamp practices as a birth doula and lectures on topics including whole-foods nutrition, detoxification, and women’s health.
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