Pregnancy and Preeclampsia

An excerpt from Marilyn M. Shannon’s book, Fertility, Cycles & Nutrition.


You may have wondered why prenatal care includes blood pressure monitoring and urine checking more and more frequently as you approach your due date. These are done in order to detect early signs of a potentially serious problem, preeclampsia, or metabolic toxemia of late pregnancy. “Toxemia,” as it is still often called, can be recognized clinically by high blood pressure and protein in the urine. Severe edema (fluid retention) often occurs with it.

If early signs of toxemia occur, the expectant mother is usually advised to rest in order to help keep her blood pressure down, and to limit salt in order to reduce the edema. If the situation worsens, the doctor frequently induces labor or performs an emergency caesarian section to prevent the dangerous stage that follows, called eclampsia. If it is left untreated, eclampsia can progress from seizures to coma, and even to death of the mother and unborn child.

Perhaps you know a woman who has had her labor induced early due to her elevated blood pressure and other abnormalities, even though it meant that the baby was born several weeks prematurely. The induction of labor was not undertaken lightly. The attending physician had to weigh the risk of eclampsia against the long-term problems that often occur when a baby is born early. That is how serious toxemia of pregnancy is. Inducing labor can prevent a disaster.

As with so many other things in life, prevention is infinitely preferable to dealing with the problem once it has occurred. Avoiding toxemia is by far the best strategy, yet toxemia along with premature birth to avoid the effects of this disease is distressingly common.

The Brewer diet to prevent toxemia

Tom Brewer, M.D., spent a long career advocating the use of a healthy daily diet aimed at preventing toxemia in pregnant women. The diet he developed is high in protein and rich in plant foods, and he implemented it successfully with thousands of women in various parts of the United States. As part of his dietary plan, he specifically advised pregnant women against restriction of weight gain.[1]

The Brewer diet is simple to learn and is made up of ordinary foods. It recommends the following daily: One quart of milk, two eggs, one or two servings of meat or fish; two servings each of dark green vegetables and a vitamin C sources; five servings of grains or starches, three servings of fats and oils, and one source of vitamin A.[2]

Dr. Brewer additionally recommended that pregnant women salt their food to taste, drink plenty of water, and eat at least one snack daily. His website, The Blue Ribbon Baby Pages, contains further information on this topic and includes a checklist that you can use to make certain you have eaten all the recommended foods daily. It also contains food substitutions for a vegetarian diet.

As you begin your pregnancy, the hearty intake of food recommended by the Brewer diet is neither necessary nor possible, but as you get into the second and especially the third trimester, your appetite picks up and eating healthy food becomes almost a craving!

— Marilyn M. Shannon is a tenured, part-time instructor of biology at Indiana University Purdue University at Fort Wayne, Indiana, where she has taught human anatomy and physiology for more than 30 years. Her book, Fertility, Cycles & Nutrition is a staple for many NFP families and is available here

[1] Puotinen, C. “Preventing eclampsia: an interview with Tom Brewer, M.D.” (Townsend Letter for Doctors and Patients, Nov., 2004).

[2] Brewer, T. “If You Are Pregnant” ( If You Are Pregnant Subpages, c. 2007).
[Editor’s note: The URL cited here has since been changed, but is hyperlinked properly in the body of the excerpt. The new URL is]