Nutrition in Pregnancy
A well-balanced diet and nutrition during pregnancy ensures that the baby develops properly. The developing fetus draws all nutrients required from the mother's body. So, if the expectant mother takes a balanced diet and nutrition, developing baby receives all the nutrients required for its overall growth. Similarly, if she does not take a balanced diet and nutrition, the inadequate diet lacking in essential nutrients will show its effects on the developing baby in the form of retarded physical and mental growth, physical deformities, etc.
All women put on weight during pregnancy – some more and some less. A pregnant woman can expect a weight gain of approximately 10-13 kilograms. So, do not be too concerned about the weight gain. But if you are putting on too much or too less weight, it is good to consult your doctor for advice. Women put on weight to prepare their bodies to accommodate and meet the demands of pregnancy. So pregnancy is...
NOT a Time for Dieting.
On the other extreme, some women think that they have to consume food for two people, and increase their food intake more than needed. Though you have to consume adequate nutrition sufficient to meet the nutritional requirements of you and your baby and you have to increase your food intake, you do not need to literally double up the food portions.
It is the quality of the food you consume that matters more than the quantity.
A majority of women know that they have to consume a balanced diet and nutrition but are not sure what exactly to include in their diets. So, we have put all the essential information you need to know about your diet and nutrition during pregnancy to maintain your health and also have a healthy baby.
Pregnant women need to follow all the guidelines of a balanced diet and nutrition for normal women like consuming foods containing:
- Good carbohydrates
- Good amount of dietary fiber
- Lean protein
- Good fats like MUFA and PUFA
- Lots of fresh fruits and vegetables containing essential vitamins and minerals
- Plenty of fresh water
- Regular exercise
Though all the nutrients are very important and an expectant mother needs to take a balanced diet to meet all the nutritional requirements, there are certain nutrients that she needs to pay more attention to. These are:
Pregnant women need a little bit more folic acid than non-pregnant women. Daily requirement of folic acid increases by 0.4 mg per day for pregnant women. Daily requirement of folic acid in non-pregnant women is 0.6 mg per day, and so in pregnant women, it is 1 mg per day. Doctors also advise a daily folic acid supplement 1-3 months before pregnancy and also during pregnancy.
Folic acid plays a very important role in the synthesis of DNA and proper cell division. Consuming adequate amounts of this vitamin before and during the pregnancy, especially the first 12 weeks, can prevent birth defects like spina bifida.
- Dark green vegetables like asparagus, spinach, broccoli, kale, Brussels sprouts, etc.
- Dried beans, legumes and chickpeas.
- Other vegetables like green peas, tomatoes, cabbage, cauliflower, and fresh herbs like parsley, basil, etc.
- Nuts like almonds, peanuts, walnuts, etc.
- Fresh fruits like oranges.
Iron is necessary to improve the hemoglobin in blood. A good amount of hemoglobin in the blood is essential during pregnancy to meet the increased demands for the transfer of respiratory gases and nutrients to both the expectant mother and the developing baby. Iron from the mother's body is also drawn and deposited in the developing baby, which is needed to meet the iron requirements of the baby's for the first 5-6 months of its life or until solid foods are introduced. So, adequate amounts of dietary iron are essential for both the expectant mother and the developing baby.
- Dried beans and lentils.
- Nuts like walnuts, almonds, peanuts
- Dark green leafy vegetables
- Dried fruits like apricots, sultanas, dates, prunes
- Consuming iron-rich foods along with foods rich in vitamin C like citrus fruits (oranges, lemons, limes, mandarins, grapefruits, etc), strawberries, cauliflower, broccoli, green peas, tomatoes, etc will increase the absorption of iron in the gastrointestinal tract from foods. So, it is best to consume these foods together.
Iodine is needed for the brain development in the fetus, and also for the synthesis of thyroid hormones in both the mother and fetus.
Generally, fruits, vegetables and other plant-based foods grown in iodine rich soils have good amounts of iodine. But in some places, the iodine content of soil may be less. In such cases, it is good to consume iodized salt to increase the consumption of dietary iodine.
Calcium is needed for the development of bones in the fetus. Though, calcium needs to be taken throughout pregnancy, it is especially needed in the trimester of pregnancy, as that is when the bones are developed in the fetus. Calcium supplements are not required but sufficient dietary calcium is very important.
Common Problems During Pregnancy and How to Easily Avoid them with Proper Nutrition:
- Vegetables like Chinese cabbage, spinach, etc.
- Nuts and seeds like almonds, flaxseed, hazelnuts, sesame seeds, pistachios, sunflower seeds, etc.
- Constipation: Eat plenty of fruits and vegetables rich in dietary fiber. Dietary fiber helps to move the bowels regularly and relieves pressure in the abdomen.
- Acidity and Heartburn: Eat 5-6 small meals rather than 3 big meals. And avoid heavy fatty meals at night, just before going to bed. Avoid lying down immediately after meals.
- Nausea and Vomiting: Avoid large, heavy, spicy meals. Suck something sour like lemon, dried prune, dried mango, etc. Add fresh ginger to your meals, fruit drinks and smoothies. Ginger helps relieve nausea.
- Muscle Cramps: Muscle cramps in the calf muscles increase during pregnancy, especially during the night time. Dietary magnesium, potassium, and calcium help to relax the muscles and relieve cramps. Eat plenty of fresh dark green leafy vegetables, bananas, dried fruits, etc. Eating a banana half an hour before going to bed also helps.
Most women experience an increased appetite and cravings to eat at all times of the day. This is because there is increased demand for all the nutrients and also because you have to share the food and nutrients with the fetus. Make sure to eat food to satisfy your hunger, but not overeat and feel sick.
Keep some healthy snacks handy like small packs of nuts, dried fruits, fresh fruits, vegetable sticks, etc. These healthy snacks satisfy your hunger, provide the essential nutrients and keep you healthy.
A Note of Advice: All individuals have different nutritional requirements. Anything you eat and any decision you take during pregnancy affects both you and your baby. So, if you are not on a raw food diet already, do not start it now. Wait till you have your baby. If you are breast feeding your baby, wait till you wean your baby off to other foods and/or solid foods. This is not the time to experiment with diets.
If you have any other doubts or need more advice, please consult your doctor.
By TTS Nutritionist Ruth Courtis