Should I drink whole milk during pregnancy?

As you work towards a healthy, nutrient-rich pregnancy, you may be making significant changes in the way you eat. The right fat content in milk is a question that can cause a lot of debate even before you’re pregnant, so pregnancy doesn’t make finding the answer any easier. But like so many other parts of creating the right healthy diet for your body and your life, the whole vs. skim debate issue depends on which of your dietary needs milk meets.

There are two elements to what type of milk is better for you during pregnancy – first, which is better for your steady, healthy weight gain, and second, which type of milk gives enough of the right nutrients to help with fetal development. For the most part, whole and skim milk provide the same vitamins and minerals, but with two significant exceptions.

The first exception is DHA. In some countries, whole and 2% milk tend to be fortified with DHA, which plays a crucial part in the development of the fetal brain and central nervous system. Skim and 1% milk are rarely enriched with DHA, since it is stored in the milk fat. DHA is also found in oily types of fish, seaweed, and DHA-enriched eggs, as well as nutritional supplements, so milk certainly isn’t the only way to get it, but most people don’t tend to include seaweed in their daily diets.

The second exception is calcium absorption. Milk is a great source of calcium, and people who need calcium are encouraged to consume dairy. However, calcium is best absorbed when it’s consumed with vitamin D, but skim milk does not naturally have vitamin D. Those who want to use milk as a source of calcium will want to get skim milk that’s fortified with vitamin D.

On the other hand, whole milk is known for its significant saturated fat content. If saturated fats are already a significant part of your diet, maybe through red meat and poultry, dairy can be a good place to cut some of it out.

The bottom line?

In the end, a balanced diet is formed by just that – balance. You’ll get about the same amount of calcium, protein, and vitamins from milk whether you’re drinking skim, whole, or anywhere in between. What you won’t get the same amount of is saturated fat or DHA. If you decide to cut down on your saturated fat, and the DHA goes with it, it’s important to make sure you’re getting it from somewhere else. If you decide to drink whole milk for the DHA, you’ll want to work on cutting down on saturated fat by being aware and cutting down on it from other sources.

  • “Ch. 17: Nutrition During Pregnancy.” ACOG. American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, Apr 2015. Web.
  • Jovana K. “The Milk Debate.” Nutrition. American Society for Nutrition, Aug 2009. Web.
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