As you probably know, the body goes through lots of physical and hormonal changes during pregnancy. So, pregnant women should fuel themselves and the growing baby. They need to make great food choices from a variety of sources.
Eating well is one of the best things to do during pregnancy. Good nutrition helps to handle the extra demands on your body as your pregnancy progresses. The goal is to balance getting enough nutrients to support the growth of your foetus and maintaining a healthy weight.
The popular saying is that pregnant women “eat for two,” but now we know that it’s dangerous to eat twice your usual amount of food during pregnancy. Instead of “eating for two,” think of it as eating twice as healthy. Your body has increased nutritional needs during pregnancy because you’re feeding a whole new person. So you require more micronutrients and macronutrients to support you and your baby.
If you are pregnant with one foetus, you need an extra 340 calories per day starting in the second trimester (and a bit more in the third trimester). Women carrying twins should consume about 600 extra calories a day, and women carrying triplets should take in 900 extra calories a day.
Most women can meet their increased needs with a healthy diet that includes plenty of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and proteins. According to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (ACOG), you should try to eat a variety of foods from these basic food groups. If you do, you are likely to get all the nutrients you need for a healthy pregnancy. The Key nutrients needed in pregnancy according to ACOG are;
This mineral is used to build a baby’s bones and teeth. If a pregnant woman does not consume enough calcium, the mineral will be drawn from the mother’s stores in her bones and given to the baby to meet the extra demands of pregnancy, according to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. Many dairy products are also fortified with vitamin D, another nutrient that works with calcium to develop a baby’s bones and teeth.
Pregnant women ages 19 and over need 1,000 milligrams (mg) of calcium a day; pregnant teens, ages 14 to 18, need 1,300 milligrams daily, according to ACOG. Food sources of calcium: milk, yoghurt, cheese, calcium-fortified juices and foods, sardines or salmon with bones, some leafy greens (kale).
Pregnant women need 27 milligrams of iron a day, which is double the amount needed by women who are not expecting, according to ACOG. Additional amounts of the mineral are needed to make more blood in order to supply the baby with oxygen. If a pregnant woman gets too little iron, she could develop anaemia, a condition resulting in fatigue and an increased risk of infections.
To increase the absorption of iron, a healthy pregnancy diet should include a good source of vitamin C with meals containing iron-rich foods, ACOG recommends. For example, have a glass of orange juice at breakfast with an iron-fortified cereal.
Food sources of iron: lean meat, poultry, fish, dried beans and peas, iron-fortified cereal.
3. Folate (Folic Acid)
Also known as folate when the nutrient is found in foods, folic acid is a B vitamin (vitamin B9) and is crucial in helping to prevent birth defects in the baby’s brain and spinal cord, known as neural tube defects
It is difficult to get the recommended amount of folic acid from diet alone. For that reason the March of Dimes, an organisation dedicated to preventing birth defects, recommends that women who are trying to have a baby take a vitamin supplement containing 400 micrograms of folic acid per day for at least one month before becoming pregnant. During pregnancy, the organisation advises women to increase the amount of folic acid to 600 micrograms (mcg) per day, an amount commonly found in daily prenatal vitamins. This is echoed by the National Institutes of Health’s Office of Dietary Supplements. Pregnant women who took a 400-microgram folic acid supplement reduced the risk of neural tube defects in their babies by 50%, according to a 2019 paper in the journal Obstetrics, Gynaecology & Reproductive Medicine.
Food sources of folic acid: leafy green vegetables, fortified or enriched cereals, breads and pastas, as well as beans and citrus fruits.
More protein is needed during pregnancy because protein is “a builder nutrient,” because it helps to build important organs for the baby, such as the brain and heart. Experts recommend pregnant women eat at least 60 grams of protein per day, according to the University of California San Francisco.
Food sources of protein: meat, poultry, fish, dried beans and peas, eggs, nuts.
5. Vitamin A
You need this vitamin for healthy skin, eyesight, and bone growth. Carrots, dark, leafy greens, and sweet potatoes are good sources. During pregnancy you need 770 micrograms daily.
6. Vitamin C
Promotes healthy gums, teeth, and bones, and helps your body absorb iron. Good sources include citrus fruit, broccoli, tomatoes, and strawberries. During pregnancy you need 85 mg daily.
7. Vitamin D
Aids your body in the absorption of calcium to help build your baby’s bones and teeth. Sources include exposure to sunlight, fortified milk, and fatty fish, such as salmon. During pregnancy you need 600 international units (IUs) daily.
8. Vitamin B6
Helps form red blood cells and helps your body use protein, fat, and carbohydrates. You can find vitamin B6 in beef, liver, pork, whole-grain cereals, and bananas. During pregnancy you need 1.9 mg daily.
9. Vitamin B12
Helps form red blood cells and maintains your nervous system. You can find this vitamin only in animal products. Good sources include liver, meat, fish, poultry, and milk. During pregnancy you need 2.6 micrograms daily.
A healthy pregnancy diet should include lots of fruits and vegetables, particularly during a woman’s second and third trimesters. These colorful foods are low in calories and filled with fibre, vitamins and minerals.
A pregnant woman should also include whole grains in their diet. These foods are an important source of energy, and they also provide fibre, iron and B vitamins. At least half of a pregnant woman’s carbohydrates each day should come from whole grains, such as oatmeal, whole-wheat pasta or breads and brown rice.
Alcohol, Caffeine, and Fish
Pregnant women and women who may become pregnant should not drink alcohol. Drinks containing alcohol include beer, wine, liquor, mixed drinks, and malt beverages.
Even moderate drinking during pregnancy can cause behavioural or developmental problems for a baby. Heavy drinking during pregnancy can result in serious problems for the baby, including malformation and intellectual disability.
While it’s unclear whether or not high caffeine intake leads to miscarriage, it appears moderate caffeine intake (about two 8-ounce cups of coffee) does not.
Still, it’s probably a good idea to limit caffeine in your diet during your pregnancy. Too much caffeine can interfere with sleep, contribute to nausea, and lead to dehydration.
Fish can be a great source of protein, omega-3 fatty acids, and other healthy nutrients. But pregnant women should take care to avoid certain kinds of fish because they contain high levels of mercury, which can harm a growing baby. Fish you should avoid include shark, swordfish, king mackerel.
Aside from eating well, it’s important to drink at least eight glasses of water each day and to take prenatal vitamins. It’s difficult to obtain sufficient amounts of certain nutrients, including folate, iron, and choline, from food alone.
Make sure to speak with your doctor about which prenatal vitamins you should take.
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