Pregnancy Diet Myths vs. Realities

You'll hear many say they “tried diet” and it didn't work to prevent pregnancy complications. While there may be some complications that nothing will stop, the truth is diet has been effective at ensuring healthy pregnancy for many women, as well as many researchers, doctors, midwives, and their clients. Today we'll tackle a balanced pregnancy diet basics – and do a little myth-busting along the way.

Pregnancy Diet Myths

Myth: It's All About the Protein

Because I recommend the Brewer Diet (or diets built upon it, like the Weston A Price Diet for Pregnant and Nursing Mothers) I often hear backlash against it. Generally, that backlash is because it didn't work – and usually it's all focused on protein. There are a couple of popular variations of the protein myth:

First many people say “I ate all the protein the Brewer Diet said I should, and I still had X, Y, or Z happen.

The problem with this is that it's built upon the myth that Dr. Brewer taught protein, protein, and only protein. That's a major oversimplification of the diet and it does no service to mothers and babies (and that's who I'm here to serve).

Protein is very important to a great pregnancy diet.  Why?  Dietary protein provides the literal building blocks of your baby (and placenta).  And it provides the literal building blocks of your bloodstream (and your baby's amniotic fluid).  Dietary protein is used to produce albumin, which is used by the body to create proper osmotic pressure in the bloodstream.  Essentially that means your body can keep fluid where it belongs – in your bloodstream (and in the amniotic fluid).  This is important because during pregnancy your blood supply increases by 60% – an extra 2+ quarts of blood.  I talk more about this on my Diet Q&A podcast episode – have a listen if this paragraph has your head spinning.

But protein is not the only thing that's important – and in isolation, protein can't sustain a healthy pregnancy.

One of the reasons is that protein is so versatile.  I mentioned it's what your baby's body is built out of.  And it's used to make albumin and expand your blood supply.  It's also used by the body for energy – protein can be broken down into glucose if your body needs energy.  This is a process called gluconeogenesis.  Your body will do this before it will expand your blood supply if you're lacking energy.

Myth: 300 Calories a Day is Enough

What does that information about protein mean?  It means you also need enough calories every day.  All of my MamaBaby Birthing students have heard me say that the “extra 300 calories” a day advice in all the pregnancy magazines and government charts is ridiculous, and this is why:

If a woman is eating 2000 calories a day pre-pregnancy, then 300 extra calories a day is fine and will move her into that 2300-2600kcal “sweet spot” for a singleton (1 baby) pregnancy.  But many women don't eat that many calories.  Some eat only 1700, or 1500, and I've even worked with mamas who are coming from a place of eating under 1000 calories daily.  Getting just 300 extra calories a day for these moms spells out a prescription for lack of macronutrients, vitamins, minerals, and more.  Mamas need raw materials to build babies, placentas, amniotic fluid, blood supply, and strong a strong uterus.

You may only need 300 extra calories a day – and you may need drastically more.  The best policy is to follow a pregnancy diet designed to give a pregnant woman's body what it needs physically, physiologically, and metabolically.

Myth: Salt Causes Water Retention and Blood Pressure Issues In Pregnant Women

We're talking pregnancy here – no need to debate pre-pregnancy or postpartum (though if you examine the evidence, you may find that unrefined “real” salt is not worthy of the demonization it's been given).  Salt is vital during pregnancy, and experiments have shown women cannot get too much while pregnant.

Why is salt so important?  It's for the same reason protein is important – sodium, like albumin, help maintain osmotic pressure in the blood stream, which keeps fluid in the blood.

It's a physiological fact that blood volume expands during pregnancy.  An average woman has about 3.5 quarts of blood pre-pregnancy.  At about 8 weeks that begins to increase, hitting about 5.6 quarts by 28 weeks of pregnancy (and that needs to be maintained until birth, when it rapidly mobilizes and leaves you running to the bathroom a lot the first couple of days postpartum).

That's a lot of extra blood (again, about 2.1 quarts).

Your kidneys desperatately want to help with this blood volume expansion and continue to produce the fluid needed to do so.  But, if your blood doesn't have proper osmotic pressure, that fluid leaks into your tissues, causing swelling (light swelling at the end of the day is normal in pregnancy – massive swelling of the ankles, hands, and face are not).

Sodium (salt) and protein (to provide albumin) create the osmotic pressure your bloodstream needs to pull those fluids in – where they're supposed to be.

Your placenta requires a literal lake of blood to pull from to nourish itself and your baby.  Your baby needs adequate fluid to build his or her blood supply.  Low blood supply in you can lead to low amniotic fluid in your baby – fluids are not getting where they need to.  Too little blood supply means vital nutrients don't reach the placenta or your baby's organs – and they don't reach yours.  Your kidney and liver are doing major work during pregnancy because they process everything for you… and your baby.  Your body needs a generous blood supply during pregnancy.

Again, salt and protein keep the fluid in the bloodstream (in fact, getting enough can literally pull excess fluid back out of the tissues where it's pooling).  Adequate calories free protein up to be used for this purpose (and provide you tasty food to salt).  How much salt is enough?  Salt to taste – your body knows how exactly how much you need and uses your taste buds to get it.

Myth: The Brewer Diet is Not Balanced

A “balanced diet” is the idol of modern diet advice (though their typical, carbohydrate-laden diet is arguably not balanced).  So many pregnant women worry that they're not getting a “balanced” diet when they use the Brewer Diet.

This goes back to the “all protein” myth I covered above.  It's not “all protein” – and to get all the calories you need, you need to eat more than just protein.  Some of those calories can – and should – come from brain-building fat.  These fats keep your skin softer and more supple, build your baby's brain, ensure proper hormone levels to sustain pregnancy and prevent pre-term birth, and protect you from postpartum depression.

But again, when you think “balanced” you're probably thinking about fruits and vegetables because that's what governments and schools teach.

The truth is the Brewer Diet calls for veggies every day – and for foods rich in Vitamin C and other nutrients.  These are “checkboxes” on the diet plan just like protein.  The Brewer diet also recommends liver once a week, which is an inexpensive nutrient powerhouse with a vitamin, mineral, and nutrient profile that puts any piece of broccoli or leafy green to shame.  Regardless of your feelings on liver, the research is clear:  It's packed with tons of nutrients and it's beneficial.  Pastured liver is relatively inexpensive, too – primarily because people have been brainwashed into thinking it's icky 😉

The Brewer Diet is well-balanced and full of variety – you just have to realize that the “it's all about protein” myth is just that – a myth.  Take the time to get to know the real deal.

(NOTE: Trying to balance your pregnancy, life, and getting ready for baby? Use my checklist pack stay healthy (naturally), organized, and confident throughout your pregnancy! Get them here.)

Ultimate Pregnancy Checklist Pack

This also brings up the second common protein myth: that just about any protein will do.  That's not true.  Studies done on mamas consuming high protein amounts in isolation (not with calories, salt, or the veggies, etc. Dr. Brewer taught) often had more complications.  These mamas often got their protein via protein isolate (like large amounts of protein powder with not much variety).  That's not what Dr. Brewer or any of the other doctors he based his work on (or who have continued to study after him) taught.

Protein is only part of the story – and food is the whole story.  Don't go for high amounts of isolated anything.  This is a naturally healthy pregnancy diet.

Myth: I Can't Do The Brewer Diet Because I Can't Have Dairy (or Eggs)

This is actually one of the most frequent concerns my MamaBaby Birthing students have – I spend a lot of time helping them customize a diet that works for them :).  The Brewer Diet does feature milk and egg exchanges.  The reason Dr. Brewer included milk and eggs is because they're high-quality sources of protein as well as other nutrients: milk includes protein, fat, sodium, calcium, etc. and eggs include protein, iron, an choline (vital for brain development).  They were also very inexpensive, and his clinic consisted of low-income women (liver was also featured due to low cost and fantastic nutritional value).

But the reality is milk and eggs are not the only foods that provide these nutrients.  A mama who is worried about blood sugar levels or growing a really big baby (10lber) may choose to skip the milk and have lower-carbohydrate yogurt, kefir, or cheese for her dairy exchanges (keeping her blood glucose levels down and growing a modest 8lber).

But what about the mama who can't even eat milk or eggs?

She finds foods that provide that nutrition without the dairy.

  • 1 cup of milk = 8g of protein
  • 1oz of meat or fish is about 7g of protein
  • 1/2 cup cooked beans is about 8-9g protein (depending on the type of bean).

Other nutrients, such as the calcium from milk, can be provided with other foods (try a daily mug of warm, salted bone broth to provide calcium, sodium, and trace minerals, for example).  Choline is also rich in many meats… and that square of dark chocolate you love to savor every evening 😉

It's not the particular food itself that's vital to a good pregnancy diet – it's the nutrients provided by the food.  Mamas in diverse cultures around the world have had healthy pregnancies eating foods that occur in their regions.  You can build a great pregnancy diet around the foods you tolerate well.

Myth: It's Too Much Food For a Normal Woman to Eat

Nurse Joy Jones, who has studied Dr. Brewer's work intensively, recommends that a pregnant woman work up to the Brewer Diet by about the middle of her second trimester.  Remember, it's during the second trimester that the blood volume expansion is really taking off and then peaking (it stays at a maintenance 60% increase over pre-pregnancy levels during the 3rd trimester – and it is important that it stay at that level).

So during your first trimester, when eating may be tough, it's not vital to eat “that much food.”

After that point getting in the food on the Brewer Diet (especially if you were one of those 1500kcal  gals) may require a shift in how you plan your meals.  Skipping a meal is probably not going to work, so if you're used to skipping breakfast or skating by on just a cup of coffee, it's time to work on a new habit.  But you should plan on smaller meals + more snacks.  3 medium meals and 3 snacks a day let you get in everything on the Brewer Diet.

An example of a good snack: Sweet pepper slices and 1.5oz of cheese (thanks again to Nurse Joy Jones for that example).  That's a pretty small snack when you lay it out on a plate – easy for even a stuffed 3rd trimester mama to get in.  3 snacks of that size, plus 3 medium meals get in the food you need.

It may require some new habits and a little creativity if you want to vary snacks from day-to-day – but it's not impossible.

*I do feel it's important to acknowledge that mamas pregnant with twins or higher order multiples need to eat a lot more – and eating may truly become a chore!  Kudos to every mama who eats what she needs to to nourish her baby(ies).

Myth: Dr. Brewer Operated in a Total Vacuum and Nobody Else Thinks Diet Works

This last myth isn't really about the diet itself – it's to bust perception that Dr. Brewer is the only one who did this kind of work (I can only assume the reasoning behind this myth is that it means we can dismiss his work).  The truth is Dr. Brewer campaigned hard, and created a diet plan that was accessible enough to be used by many mothers.  So we have the Brewer Diet – much like many scientific and medical principles/discoveries are named after their primary researcher.

But Dr. Brewer had many predecessors, many contemporaries, and many researchers and care providers after him have continued his work.  Even respected midwives who feel some complications may have genetic or other causes feel that the diet he outlined is the best choice for all pregnant women.

Here are just a few names of researchers/resources working with maternal diet:

  • Dr. Adolph Pinard – 1900
  • Bertha Burke – 1943
  • Dr. James Ferguson – 1951
  • Dr. Tom Brewer – 1951
  • Agnes Higgins and the Montreal Diet Dispensary – 1976 (Ms. Higgins began her nutritional work in the 40's and is still honored with a memorial award presented annually by the March of Dimes!)
  • Dr. Peggy Howard – 1974
  • The Bradley Method
  • Hypnobabies
  • MamaBaby Birthing 😉
  • Dr. Barbara Luke (special focus on multiples – highly recommended) – present

Joy Jones, RN has a more extensive list than this.

As you can see, many researchers have focused on the field of maternal nutrition and its importance to a great pregnancy.  It makes sense.  Your body goes through hundreds of changes during pregnancy – and a good blood supply filled with plenty of nutrients and extra hormones supports that.  Good nutrition prevents complications, low birth weight, prematurity, and helps you feel great, have a healthy birth and smooth labor, and have a happy, healthy baby.  It's under your control, every single day.  And once you make a few adjustments, it's really pretty easy 🙂

I hope that this article has cleared up some myths on pregnancy diet – and given you a clearer picture on how you can make this work for your health… and your baby's health.

(NOTE: Trying to balance your pregnancy, life, and getting ready for baby? Use my checklist pack stay healthy (naturally), organized, and confident throughout your pregnancy! Get them here.)

Ultimate Pregnancy Checklist Pack

About the author 


Kristen is a pregnancy coach, student midwife, and a mama to 8 - all born naturally! I've spent nearly two decades helping mamas have healthy babies, give birth naturally, and enjoy the adventure of motherhood. Does complete support for a sacred birth and beautiful beginning for your baby resonate with you? Contact me today to chat about how powerful guidance and coaching can transform your pregnancy, birth, and mothering journey <3

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