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Maternal nutrition during pregnancy plays a critical role in a child’s development. A new study suggests that low dietary fiber intake during pregnancy harms neurodevelopment. Children of women who consumed lower levels of dietary fiber during pregnancy were nearly 50 percent more likely to experience developmental delays.

The study involved more than 76,000 Japanese mother-infant pairs. The women completed questionnaires about their typical dietary intake and supplement use during their pregnancies and then provided information about their child’s development at the age of three years.

The questionnaires revealed that, on average, the women consumed roughly 10 grams of fiber daily during their pregnancies, far less than the 18 grams recommended for pregnant women according to the Dietary Reference Intakes for Japanese. Children of women with the lowest fiber intake were approximately 50 percent more likely to experience difficulties with communication, fine motor skills, and problem-solving and 30 percent more likely to experience problems with personal-social skills than children of women with the highest intake.

Dietary fiber is a broad term for the non-digestible components of plant-based foods. According to the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, the recommendations for combined fiber intake vary according to age and sex. Women need between 22 and 28 grams of fiber daily, and men need between 28 and 34 grams daily. Pregnant women need at least 28 grams of fiber daily. Most people in the United States only get about half the recommended amount of fiber.

These findings suggest that lower dietary fiber intake during pregnancy harms fetal neurodevelopment. The mechanisms driving this association may be related to dietary fiber’s role in modulating the gut microbiota. Studies in mice suggest that dysbiosis – an imbalance in the microbes that inhabit the gut – impairs development and [promotes gut inflammation[(https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/34879222/) in offspring. Learn more about the role the gut microbiota plays in health in this episode featuring Dr. Eran Elinav.

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