Being pregnant is definately a time to focus on nutrition. I did this for the Afternoon Show last May and again this January. Hopefully it helps you along….
Pregnancy is such a magical and exciting time for a woman. One of the most important factors during this time is our diet. During pregnancy a baby will get all of their nutrients from the mum’s diet so all mums need to take extra care to ensure they have a healthy diet. Healthy food choices before, during and after pregnancy will help your baby grow healthy and importantly keep you healthy too. Healthy eating during pregnancy may also help to protect your baby against diseases in later life. The baby will take all the nutrition it needs to help it grow but you need to ensure there are enough nutrients left to keep you strong and healthy too for both during the pregnancy and afterwards when the baby has been born.
Increasing your intake of certain vitamins and minerals such as folic acid and iron is necessary at this time and also increasing your calorie intake a little too. Remember every mouthful you take will also feed your baby so try to limit your intake of junk food which will provide lots of calories but little nutrition.
One of the biggest myths surrounding pregnancy is that you are ‘eating for two’. However this is not the case, your body actually becomes more efficient when you’re pregnant and makes even better use of energy and nutrition from food. You only need about 200 extra calories per day for the second and third trimester. Your own appetite is the best indication of how much food you need to eat and you may find it fluctuating during the course of your pregnancy but probably the most important thing is to eat if you are hungry.
Weight gain and pregnancy
It is good to start your pregnancy at a healthy weight. Never try to lose weight during your pregnancy. You will need to put on at least 7kg (15 lbs) while pregnant to cover the growth of your baby. The average weight gain during pregnancy is 11.5 to 12.5kg (25 to 28 lbs). Most of this weight gain will take place in the second half of your pregnancy. If you are underweight, you may need to gain more weight than outlined here. If you are overweight, you may need to gain less. Your doctor, midwife or dietitian will be able to advise you.
Nutrients that need special attention during pregnancy
Folic acid, also known as folate, is one of the B group of vitamins B9. Folic acid is an important vitamin for a healthy pregnancy. It helps prevent conditions such as spina bifida and other neural tube defects that can affect the baby’s spine. It is important to take a folic acid supplement along with a good dietary supply pre-pregnancy and for the first 12 weeks of pregnancy. You need 400 µg per day. All women of child bearing age should be taking a folic acid supplement daily whether planning a pregnancy or not. About 50% of pregnancies are unplanned.
Good dietary sources of folic acid include;
Green vegetables, such as broccoli, brussel sprouts & spinach
Beans and peas
Some fruits, such as oranges
Yeast or malt extract e.g. ovaltine
Some brands of bread, breakfast cereal, milk and other foods may have folic acid added to them.
Iron and vitamin C
Iron is important to help make the extra blood needed by you and your baby and is needed for the growth of your babies brain. It is estimated that your blood volume increases by up to 50% during pregnancy. As you go through pregnancy your baby will build up a store of iron which will last them until they reach six months. In Ireland 75% of women do not eat enough iron. Vitamin C is helps your body absorb iron from plant sources of iron. Try to include an iron rich food in your diet daily.
Good sources of iron
Red meat e.g. beef
Breakfast cereals with added iron
Pulses, such as beans, peas and lentils
Dried fruit, such as prunes
Dark green vegetables e.g. broccoli and spinach
The need for vitamin C increases by 33% during pregnancy. Choose rich sources of vitamin C daily.
Good sources of vitamin C
Fruit e.g. oranges, berries, tomatoes, juices.
Try including a glass of juice with breakfast.
Calcium and vitamin D
Your baby’s teeth will begin to develop as early as the sixth week of pregnancy and calcium is also needed for bone development. The baby will generally take enough calcium from the mother so it is important that the mother includes enough calcium rich foods in her diet to ensure she maintains good bone health too. We have an increased requirement for calcium during pregnancy so a good dietary intake is imperative for good bone health.
Good sources of calcium include;
Dairy including milk, cheese and yogurt. Only use pasteurised dairy produce when pregnant.
Soya milk fortified with calcium.
Vitamin D helps the body absorb calcium and good sources include;
Some fortified milks and margarines
Omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids
Omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids are important for developing your baby’s brain and eyes.
Good dietary sources include;
Oily fish, such as herring, mackerel, salmon, sardines & trout
Seeds, such as linseed, sunflower, pumpkin and sesame
Try to eat 1 portion of oily fish each week.
Drink water regularly – at least 8 glasses a day.
Food Safety, it is very important to practise good food hygiene
• Buy, store and prepare food correctly
• Always wear gloves when gardening or handling cat litter
• Always wash your hands before a meal
• Avoid salad bars or open display food areas
Food Safety – foods & drinks to avoid
• Lightly cooked or raw eggs
• Unpasteurised dairy produce
• Raw or undercooked meat, poultry, fish and shellfish
• Excess vitamin A & liver
• Peanuts if there is a family history of allergy
Food Safety – foods & drinks to limit
• Marlin, swordfish or shark
• Keep tuna to 2 medium sized cans or 1 fresh tuna steak per week
• Caffeine – max of 4 caffeinated drinks per day
• Herbal teas – max of 2 cups per day. Use teabags and avoid drinking it too strong
• Herbal remedies – avoid these unless a qualified professional has advised they are safe. Always
check with your doctor
Common pregnancy complaints;
1. Morning sickness…
• Eat small carbohydrate based snacks
• Aim to eat 6 times per day instead of big meals
• Drink plenty of fluids especially between mealtimes
• Get plenty of fresh air
• Ginger can help reduce nausea so try ginger nut biscuits or ginger ale
• If sickness is very bad seek professional help
2. Constipation…prevention is better than cure!
• Diet – including high fibre foods in diet; wholegrain bread, high fibre cereals, porridge, linseed,
dried fruit, fruits, vegetables
• Fluid – increase the amount of fluid everyday. Drink at least 8 glasses of water per day.
• It may also help to try prune juice if constipated
probiotic yogurts may help promote reagular bowel activity
• Exercise – regular gentle exercise will help
• Medicine – never without medical supervision during pregnancy
3. Heartburn…generally happens nearer the end
• Eat small regular meals, avoid big meals
• Eat slowly and chew food really well
• Avoid fried, fatty or spicy foods
• Avoid fizzy drinks and caffeine
• Don’t lie down for an hour after eating
• If very severe symptoms seek medical advice
1. Food cravings…
An American survey on cravings during pregnancy showed that 85% of women reported at least
one food craving. Of those; almost 40 per cent of women craved ’something sweet’, 33%
something salty, 17% something spicy & 10% craved citrus fruit, green apples and other tart or
You should acknowledge pregnancy cravings but don’t necessarily give in to them…make sure that it’s food you want and not a hug! Try to incorporate your craving into your mealtime. If craving a non-food item seek professional advice.