Fiber is an integral part of a healthy pregnancy diet. A new study has found that insufficient fiber intake during pregnancy can lead to neurodevelopmental delays in children.

Including fiber in the diet helps to curb irregular digestion and bowel movements associated with high progesterone levels during pregnancy. In addition to resolving constipation, fiber-rich food helps lower the risk of eclampsia, regulate blood sugar levels, and reduce the risk of heart problems. The American Pregnancy Association recommends taking 25 to 30 grams of fiber each day.

"Most pregnant women consume far less dietary fiber than what is the recommended intake," said Kunio Miyake, the first author of the latest study published in the Frontiers in Nutrition.

The research team evaluated 76,000 mother-infant pairs from Japan Environment and Children's Study, an ongoing nationwide prospective birth cohort study. The dietary information of pregnant women was collected using a questionnaire that gathered details of their food intake during the second and third trimesters. The child's development was assessed by sending another questionnaire to the parents as their child turned three.

Researchers evaluated the children's communication, problem-solving and personal-social skills, along with their development in terms of movement and coordination. It showed neurodevelopmental delays correlated with the amount of dietary fiber in the expectant mother's diet.

"Our results provided reinforcing evidence that undernutrition during pregnancy is associated with an increased risk of neurodevelopmental delay in children," Miyake said.

However, the study did not evaluate if the delays in brain development were due to other nutrients in the diet.

"Human studies cannot assess the effects of dietary fiber alone. Although this study considered the impact of folic acid intake during pregnancy, the possibility of other nutrients having an impact cannot be completely ruled out. In addition, dietary fiber intake from supplements could not be investigated," Miyake added.

Here are some fiber-rich food pregnant women can include in their diet:

  • Fruits: dried fig, avocado, banana, apple, orange
  • Vegetables: green peas, sweet potato, artichokes, acorn squash
  • Grains and cereals: barley, quinoa, brown rice
  • Legumes and nuts: kidney beans, lentils, almonds, pecans

Drinking plenty of water, along with a fiber-rich diet, helps to ease bowel movement and digestion.