When you become pregnant you will likely look forward to eating for two. However, in reality you only need a few hundred more calories a day. Everything that goes into your body also goes to your newly developing fetus, so eating right is even more important now than ever before.
Proper nutrition can not only ensure that your baby develops as planned, it will also help you have a healthier pregnancy. Many pregnancy related issues such as anemia, leg cramps and constipation can be relieved by ensuring that your body is getting the right nutrients.
Types Of Nutrition
Your body and your baby need many different types of nutrients, so ensure that you are eating from every food group:
|Nutrient||Required For||Good Sources|
|Protein||Cell growth, blood production||Lean meats, fish and poultry, egg whites, beans, peanut butter, tofu|
|Carbohydrates||Energy||Bread, cereal, rice, potatoes, pasta, fruits and vegetables|
|Calcium||Builds strong bones and teeth, required for muscle contraction and nerve function||Dairy – milk, cheese, yogurt, canned sardines or salmon, spinach|
|Iron||Create red blood cells||Red meat, spinach, fortified cereals and bread|
|Vitamin A||Healthy skin, good eyesight and growing bones||Carrots, leafy greens and sweet potatoes|
|Vitamin C||Healthy gums, teeth and bones, increases iron absorption||Citrus fruits, broccoli and tomatoes, fortified fruit juice|
|Vitamin B6||Forming red blood cells, use of protein, fats and carbohydrates||Pork, ham, whole grain cereals and bananas|
|Vitamin B12||Forming red blood cells, maintaining a healthy nervous system||Meat, fish, poultry and milk (vegetarians will need B12 supplements|
|Vitamin D||Healthy bones and teeth, increases absorption of calcium||Fortified milk and dairy, cereals and breads|
|Folic Acid||Production of protein and blood, effective functioning of enzymes||Leafy vegetables, dark yellow fruit and vegetables, beans, peas and nuts|
|Fat||Energy storage||Meat, whole fat dairy products, peanut butter, margarine and vegetable oils (should be limited to 30% or less of daily caloric intake)|
In early pregnancy folic acid is one of the most important nutrients as it drastically reduces the chances of neural tube defects (such as spina bifida), so a good prenatal vitamin that includes folic acid is vital. Even if you are not pregnant, if you are trying to get pregnant folic acid is extremely important. Although you can get folic acid through food a supplement will ensure that your body always has enough of this important nutrient.
Calcium is also extremely important, and as your baby’s bones develop he or she will require more and more calcium. If you are not consuming enough calcium your body will take it from your bones, which is why ensuring you get regular calcium in your diet is so important. Since calcium is mostly found in milk products those who can’t or won’t drink dairy or eat fish may need to amend their diet with other calcium rich food like tofu, broccoli, spinach and calcium fortified juices and other foods.
Vegans and vegetarians may have to add other supplements to make up for what they might miss by excluding meat and dairy. Adequate protein intake is important, and vitamin B12 and D supplements may be necessary. For those who want to make sure that they are getting the right nutrients an appointment with a dietician is recommended.
Most women experience food cravings during the first few months of pregnancy, which is totally normal. Spicy, sweet, chocolate or comfort food, it’s all part of the fun of pregnancy hormones. There is no problem giving into these urges, as long as they are within reason. If you find that that all you want to eat is chocolate cake and ice cream, then you will have to moderate your eating pattern so you have healthy foods as well. Usually the cravings will diminish after the first trimester.
Foods And Drinks To Avoid
Of course all alcoholic drinks should be avoided during your pregnancy, as well as any herbal drinks or supplements unless your health care provider gives you the okay. Meanwhile you should try to cut back on your caffeine intake to two cups of coffee or tea per day, as more can increase the risk of miscarriage.
There are also some foods that carry the risk of listeriosis or toxoplasmosis with them, which can lead to miscarriage or birth defects. These foods can include:
- Unpasteurized cheeses – like Brie, goat cheese or feta
- Unpasteurized mild, juice or apple cider
- Raw eggs or foods that contain raw eggs like mousse or tiramisu
- Raw meat or undercooked meat, fish or shellfish
- Large fish which are high in mercury – shark, swordfish, mackerel or tilefish
It is common for women in early pregnancy to worry about what they have already eaten or drank, however you and your baby should be fine as long as you don’t continue to consume these foods or beverages that should be avoided.
Fish – Good Or Bad?
One of the big debates you will hear while pregnant is whether or not you should eat fish, which types of fish you should eat and how much. Fish is healthy and good for pregnancy in that it contains omega-3 fatty acids, is very high in protein and low in saturated fat. However, the levels of mercury that accumulates in some types of fish can make it unhealthy, even dangerous for your developing baby should you consume too much.
Nearly all fish contain mercury, but some fish contain much higher levels than others. Avoid large types of fish, especially those that eat other fish as their mercury levels will be higher. Limit your intake of canned tuna to 6 ounces or less a week, and supplement your diet with other types of seafood that contain lower mercury levels – like salmon and smaller types of fish, clams, shrimp and tilapia. If you have doubts about whether you should eat fish at all talk to your health care provider.
Common Food Problems During Pregnancy
Iron and Constipation
Most prenatal vitamins contain iron, which helps the body deal with the increased blood volume it needs to supply mother and baby with what they need. Those who already have low iron levels may need an additional supplement to avoid anemia. Unfortunately increasing your iron intake also increases the likelihood that you will get constipated.
Avoid this conundrum by increasing your fiber intake to 20 to 30 grams per day and making sure you drink lots of liquids. Add more fresh fruits and vegetable, whole grain cereals, breads and muffins. If you are still struggling to stay regular you can add fiber tablets or drinks to your diet, with your physician’s approval. Avoid laxatives unless your doctor decides they are absolutely necessary.
Heartburn & Indigestion
At many times during your pregnancy you will wonder why your body seems to be working against you, and one of the most evident proofs of this fact is when you get heartburn and indigestion. After all, should your body want you to eat and drink well? Why then, does it make it so difficult?
Actually, your body is trying to help by allowing you to get more out of each meal. Some of the hormonal changes that occur after conception are aimed at slowing down your digestive system so you can absorb more nutrients from what you eat. The downside is that since everything is moving more slowly you will find that you have heartburn and indigestion more often.
You can help reduce the occurrence of heartburn and indigestion by eliminating any foods that seem to make it worse. Carbonated beverages, spicy foods and large meals can also contribute, so cut back where you can.
It’s definitely hard to eat well during pregnancy when everything makes you want to throw up. The best way to eat well and avoid the toilet during the first trimester is to keep something in your stomach at all times. Carry crackers around with you and nibble throughout the day, this will cut back on your nausea and give you more energy. Also avoid taking your prenatal vitamin without something to eat at the same time. Many women have found that if they eat something before they get out of bed in the morning their nausea is much more manageable.