The importance of Salt in Pregnancy

Ever wonder why so many pregnant women crave pickles and olives?

It’s probably the salt.

Salt gets a bad rap in conventional nutrition, but you need salt to survive.

When you’re pregnant, your body has more fluids on board (blood volume expands + amniotic fluid) and when you have more fluids, you need more salt to balance it out. 

Think about it for a minute. If you’ve ever received IV fluids at the hospital, did they give you plain water? NO! They give you salt water because all of your bodily fluids also contain salt, where it serves as an electrolyte (among many other functions).

Many women are (erroneously) told to restrict salt as a means to avoid fluid retention or high blood pressure, but neither of these suggestions are scientifically sound.

A Cochrane review—a highly respected source of evidence-based analyses—concluded that advice to lower salt intake in pregnancy should NOT be recommended. This advice holds true even for women who have high blood pressure or preeclampsia (some research suggests that more salt, NOT LESS, is ideal in these situations).

In fact, restricting salt can have serious consequences, such as growth restriction in baby and even fetal loss.

As one study explains:
“Salt is one of the integral components for normal growth of fetuses. Salt restriction during pregnancy is connected to intrauterine growth restriction or death, low birth weight, organ underdevelopment and dysfunction in adulthood.” (Journal of Biomedical Science, 2016)

And another: 
“Extra salt in the diet seems to be essential for the health of a pregnant woman, her fetus, placental development, and appropriate function.” (Journal of Reproductive Immunology, 2014)

I could go on and on about this, but I cover all the relevant research on this topic in Chapters 2 and 7 of my book, Real Food for Pregnancy.

The short answer is that salt is nothing to fear during pregnancy and, perhaps surprisingly, there are legitimate concerns about not getting ENOUGH salt. 

So, salt your foods to taste and don’t ignore those salt cravings; your body is sending those signals for a reason.

Lily Nichols