Editor’s Note: Thanks goes to Renee Leonard-Stainton, the creator and editor of Renee Naturally, for this helpful guest post on what to eat & what to avoid during pregnancy. In addition to her informative blog, you can find Renee on twitter @ReneeNaturally.
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The miraculous concept of creating another human life takes some careful planning and discipline to make it a smooth journey from pre conception to birth. It is essential for both the mother and the baby to optimally cover nutritional needs for a healthy and low risk pregnancy. While most people focus on making changes to their diet upon becoming pregnant, the time between making the decision to have a baby and the beginning of the pregnancy is actually the ideal time for a woman to make changes to her eating habits.
The basis of a pregnant woman’s diet is very similar to an adult woman’s recommendations, with a few changes in terms of caloric intake, supplementary vitamins and minerals, and precautions regarding food preparation. In addition to a well balanced diet, certain vitamins and trace elements via supplements are highly recommended. The energy requirements for a pregnant woman are greater than those of a non- pregnant woman, and these can be covered with an extra 340 k calories per day during the second trimester, and an extra 450 k calories during the third trimester. These calories should be included in nutrient dense foods like whole grains and cereals, legumes, fruits, dark green vegetables, low fat milk and milk products, lean meats, fish, poultry and eggs. The calories should not be included into the diet by way of foods such as sweets, pastries, soft drinks, and fried salty foods, as these lack adequate nutritional quality. Weight loss should not occur during pregnancy as a diet with 1600 kcalories or less can be harmful for fetal growth. Certain precautions should be taken to avoid food poisoning such as Toxoplasmosis and Listeria. These two food-borne illnesses can be prevented in the following ways:
- Not eating raw meat or fish, (sushi, sashimi etc)
- Thoroughly cooking pork, beef, poultry and lamb
- Avoiding raw milk and cheeses made from raw milk
- Not eating pates and rillettes
- Thoroughly washing fruits and vegetables
Folic Acid, which is also called vitamin B9, is essential to the development of the fetus. Increasing the intake of folic acid at the beginning of the pregnancy will help to meet the needs of the new embryo at the beginning of pregnancy. Folic acid affects embryonic growth, cellular division and tissue synthesis. Deficiency can cause malformations that affect the fetus’s brain or nervous system. This essential vitamin is found in many different foods such as green leafy vegetables, avocado, egg yolk, walnuts and almonds. It is also recommended to take a specific pregnancy supplement to ensure requirements are met.
Higher quantities of fibre should be introduced into the diet to prevent constipation, which is common during pregnancy. It is also vital that the mother is consuming enough calcium on a daily basis as this mineral plays a vital role in fetal bone mineralization as well as lowering the risk for high blood pressure and reducing the risk of postnatal depression. Sufficient amounts of Omega 3 should be an integral part of the diet as they are essential to the development of the nervous tissue of the fetus. The protein recommendation per day is an additional 25 grams per day higher than for non-pregnant woman.
Pregnant woman need iron to support their enlarged blood volume, and to provide for placental and fetal needs. Daily iron supplementation is recommended during the second and third trimesters for all pregnant women. Iodine, which is found in sea fish, vegetables, and dairy, helps prevent impaired intellectual development in the baby. Vitamin D is important as it plays a vital role in calcium absorption and utilization. Regular exposure to sunlight and consumption of vitamin D fortified milk is usually sufficient to meet the needs during pregnancy.
In summary, all of the nutrients required for a non-pregnant woman, are required, but at higher quantities. The consequences of even a small deficiency are much greater as the mother’s body requires extra energy, and the baby requires adequate supplies of the minerals or vitamins for normal growth and development, otherwise there can be severe consequences for mother and baby Energy and nutrient requirements are high during pregnancy. A balanced diet that includes an extra serving from each of the five food groups can usually meet these needs, with the exception of iron and folate (supplements are recommended).
Remember, maintaining a positive frame of mind and trying to relieve yourself of as much stress as possible really is the best ‘medicine’ you can give yourself during pregnancy. While being proactive in making healthy and safe dietary choices is important, as long as you follow recommended guidelines, you can still enjoy a varied, rich and delicious diet. All the best for your exciting, challenging and rewarding journey towards motherhood!