A Surprising New Prescription for Pregnant Women (Hint: You Won't Find It in a Pharmacy)

Forget multivitamins. Doctors in Austin are dishing up prescriptions for natural nutrition.

With pregnant moms hitting up farmers markets, babies are being born right into the slow food movement. (Jade Brookbank/Getty Images)
Megan is a sucker for sustainable agriculture and a good farmers market, she likes writing about food almost as much as eating it.

As anyone who's made a midnight run for pickles and peanut butter for a pregnant partner can attest, women with a bun in the oven can experience some pretty intense cravings. What is lesser known is that women are also more open to eating fruits and vegetables during their pregnancies—and that's exactly what a few doctors in Austin, Texas, are banking on. 

Working with a group of 30 pregnant women at the People's Community Clinic (PCC) in Austin, Texas, doctors are doling out some unusual prescriptions, ones that will get women fresh fruits and veggies, reports the Huffington Post. Known as FVRx produce prescriptions, the $1 a day (per person, per household) subsidies are good for fresh produce, mostly at local farmers markets. Participating women also partake in cooking classes, so that the produce they're buying goes to good use. Both components complement the regular prenatal care that women are receiving at the clinic.

The program came about when PCC was approached by Sustainable Food Center (SFC), a local food justice organization in Austin, and St. David's Foundation.

More: They'll Have a Merlot: Older, Educated Women More Likely to Drink During Pregnancy

"Our organization had recognized that we needed to start obesity prevention long before we were identifying children as overweight at four or five years old," Bianca Flores, Director of Health Promotion at the PCC, told TakePart. "We knew we wanted to get healthy habits started early and that the prenatal period was an important opportunity for getting women to adopt healthy habits that influences their children and families."

The vouchers aren't enough to cover all expenses, but they help women make a step forward.

"Some stated that in the beginning it was difficult to make the value of the voucher stretch, but once participants got used to it and learned how to plan their meals for the week, it worked out better," Flores said, noting that most of us have similar experiences when we don't plan our grocery trips in advance.

The hope is that the women will learn to love fruits and veggies during their pregnancy, then carry that interest in a nutritious diet into their daily lives. So far, it seems to be working.

"I am cooking more fruits and vegetables," Maria Gonzalez told Sustainable Food Center. "Now my daughter is eating vegetables, when before, she wasn't eating vegetables at all. This program makes vegetables more available to my family, making it the easy choice for them."

Flores says the educational component of the program is key to helping families make lifestyle changes. "Participants were surprised to find that healthy food could taste good and that their children enjoyed eating the food that they learned to prepare in the [cooking and nutrition] class," she says. "Several women have also reported that their entire family is eating more fruits and vegetables, and their children are even requesting vegetables as snacks."

The daily dose of fruits and veggies will help developing babies, and studies show mothers-to-be stand to benefit, too. A 2009 study out of Boston University's School of Medicine showed that women who ate up to seven servings of fruits and veggies a day had a lower risk of upper respiratory tract infections, like colds and sinus infections, because produce improves immunity.

Fruits and veggies also help boost metabolism—good news to any women who's not stoked about her added baby weight. A 2012 study out of Ireland suggested that excessive weight gain—often brought on by the misconception that women need to "eat for two"—can increase the need for delivery by Caesarian section. It can also up a woman's chances of keeping on her pregnancy weight after she's delivered, and predispose her to obesity later in life.

As for the women in this study, there's one more great reason to participate in this program: farmers market babies. With any luck, these soon-to-be-born babies won't even know the meaning of a fruit flown in from Chile. And that's pretty freaking awesome.

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