Now that you’re a mum to be, eating healthy meals is even more essential. Maintaining a balanced diet will help to ensure you and your baby have the strength to grow and develop. After all, the food you eat is the baby’s main source of nutrition.
The types of food you need to consume will slightly alter due to the changes going on inside your body. Almost all pregnant women will need slightly more protein, for example, as well as more of certain vitamins and minerals, such as iron and folic acid. But there are also foods that you need to steer clear of. Soft cheeses, raw seafood and alcohol are a no no.
A common misconception that many pregnant women have is that they have to double what they are eating. Your body will become more efficient during pregnancy, working harder to make use of every ounce of energy. So, in fact during the first six months, if you began at a healthy weight, you don’t need to eat any more calories than you would pre-pregnancy. And even in the third trimester you only need an extra 200 calories per day.
These are the five essential nutrients for the next nine months…
1. Folic acid
It’s a nutrient all expectant mothers should be including in their diets. The B vitamin, also known as folate, is crucial in preventing birth defects in the baby’s brain and spine, including spina bifida.
Eating foods that contain folate boost your levels: sources include brown rice and green leafy vegetables. But it can be difficult to get enough folic acid into your body from diet alone, so it is recommended to take a vitamin supplement. Take a 400mg tablet daily for at least one month before conception, and until you are 12 weeks pregnant.
If you didn’t take folic acid before falling pregnant you should start taking it as soon as it’s confirmed.
Known as the ‘builder nutrient’, protein is extremely important during your pregnancy, especially in the second and third trimesters. Protein-rich foods such as lean meat, poultry, fish, beans and nuts all contain amino acids that help develop your baby’s vital organs. These foods also contain other vital nutrients such as B vitamins and iron.
Try to consume three servings per day (around 75g: the equivalent of two glasses of milk, a five ounce chicken breast, and two cups of yogurt, for example). Vegetarians or vegans may need to ensure they get right amount.
During the final trimester, upping your protein choices that are high in omega-3 is said to help lower your risk of postpartum depression.
While it’s an important part of a balanced diet, eating fibre is even more vital when you are pregnant. Carrying a child and the changes your body have to make can be tough on your digestion. Increased levels of progesterone, food cravings and nausea are just a few things that may mean your digestive systems doesn’t run as smoothly as normal. Adding fibre to your diet can help reduce constipation and will also aid in lowering your blood pressure.
You should aim to get around 25-28g of fibre a day. Good dietary sources include apples, nuts and seeds, oatmeal, brown rice, carrots and cucumbers. Try to avoid white bread and white rice as that will quickly raise blood sugar levels.
Some fibre-rich foods, such as broccoli and oranges, will also provide you with vitamin C - an important vitamin for mums-to-be for the protection of cells.
Feeding your body with enough calcium during pregnancy not only helps your baby develop, but it is also important for your future health. The foetus needs this form of nutrient to be able to build strong bones and teeth, as well as to grow a healthy heart, muscles and nerves. Calcium also aids in the development of a normal heart rhythm and blood clotting abilities.
It is advised for pregnant women to consume around 700mg a day. If your baby doesn’t get enough calcium through what you eat, your body will take calcium from your bones. This can decrease your bone mass and put you at risk of osteoporosis.
Try adding foods such as yogurt, hard cheese, kale, almonds, tofu and sardines to your diet. If you feel you are struggling to get enough into your meals, then you can speak to your GP about calcium supplements.
Pregnant women need 27mg of iron a day - nearly double the amount usually needed by women.
Iron helps to make more blood to supply the baby with oxygen and a lack of it can lead to anemia, increasing your risk of infections.
Red meat is the best source of iron (do not eat liver due to unsafe amounts of vitamin A) but you can also get the mineral from vegetables, grains and dried fruit.
If you get iron deficiency anemia your GP may prescribe iron tablets, but this should be a last resort.
Food to avoid
Varieties such as brie, camembert and feta may be unpasteurised and contaminated with listeria. This could trigger food poisoning.
RAW MEAT AND EGGS
Make sure all food is cooked properly to ensure you don’t consume harmful bacteria.
Certain fish contain unsafe levels of mercury which can impair fetal brain development.
Do not eat swordfish, shark or king mackerel. Tuna does contain a smaller amount of mercury so you can still eat it, but limit the amount you consume. Avoid all uncooked fish, too.
Don’t eat liver or products containing liver (such as paté) as they may have large amounts of a potentially harmful retinol form of vitamin A
Consuming alcohol during pregnancy an cause long-term health problems for your unborn child and increase the risk of miscarriage.