Nutrition for a Healthy Pregnancy
What should I be eating to ensure a healthy pregnancy?
What a mum-to-be eats will be the main source of our nourishment for her baby’s growth and development. To ensure a healthy pregnancy, make sure to gain as many vital nutrients from food sources by eating plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables and limiting highly processed food. However, there may be occasions where eating a variety of nutritious foods may not be possible because of allergies or intolerances, dietary choices or practical factors.
In these circumstances, a food supplement may be necessary to assist with the nutritional demands during pregnancy. Additionally, lifestyle factors are a contributor to a healthy pregnancy through reducing toxic substances such as alcohol and smoking, participating in pregnancy groups or a light activity or exercise.
What are the essential nutrients during pregnancy and where can I find them?
Vitamin B12 - Lack of vitamin B12 can lead to fatigue and exhaustion. Following a vegetarian or vegan diet can restrict consumption of B12 within food sources, as this vitamin is available in animal products only.
To increase your Vitamin B12 intake, try consuming the following foods:
- Fortified breakfast cereals
- Vitamin B12 Supplementation (If following a vegan/vegetarian diet)
Iron – A study in the UK found that 40% of pregnant women between the ages of 19-34 years had iron levels lower than the recommended doses. Pregnancy is associated with higher iron demand and consequently can increase of risk of iron deficiency anemia.
Adequate iron intake should be highly considered prior to pregnancy and during. Consumption of foods high in iron include:
- Dark leafy greens e.g. spinach, kale
- Dried fruit e.g. apricots, prunes, raisins, figs
- Fortified cereals and grains
- Red Meat
- Pumpkin seeds
Iodine – Demand for thyroid hormone increases during pregnancy which increases need of supply of iodine. Deficiency in this nutrient could increase the risk of miscarriage or of neurological or psychological impairments in your baby.
Foods for increasing Iodine intake:
- Iodized table salt
- Cow’s milk
Supplementation of iodine may be required, if you are following a vegetarian or vegan diet, as most food sources are from animal products. Dietary supplements including iodine or iodine-containing kelp (seaweed) are available.
Folate – Vitamin B9 is required for essential foetal growth protecting an unborn child from neural tube defects. For the mother of the baby folate deficiency can lead to anemia and neurological concerns.
- Dark leafy greens
- Legumes, beans, nuts
- Fortified cereals, pastas, rice and flour
Supplementation of 400mcg folic acid is advised by governmental bodies for at least one month before and up to three months after conception.
Vitamin D – deficiency can affect child’s peak bone mass in later life. The recommended dose of vitamin D is 400iu, best in the form of D3 naturally derived from lichen is effectively absorbed in the body.
Increase vitamin D by eating more of the following foods:
- Fortified milk and cereal
- Fatty fish
- Beef liver
- Egg yolks
Vitamin C – Adequate vitamin C will boost immunity in addition to helping you maintain a healthy pregnancy.
Increasing vitamin C:
- Citrus fruits
- Potato skins
What changes in the body should I expect during pregnancy?
During pregnancy a mother’s body will undergo several transformations over the nine months. Physical and mental changes are common and completely normal, you have nothing to worry about! Some physical changes noticed could include weight gain, enlarged uterus, morning sickness and backaches, changes and blurriness in vision can occur. Changes of body temperature, oral health, hair skin and nails may also take place.
Do I need to increase my calorie intake during pregnancy?
Contrary to what people think, eating for two does not mean eating twice as much. Research suggests gradually increasing your calorie intake as the baby grows.
It is important to ensure a balance is maintained throughout this duration. Protein requirements are important to maintain material tissues and foetal growth, especially during the third trimester. Quality of fats docosahexaenoic (DHA) are important as these are essential to maintain growth and development of brain and retina.
The recommended additional calorie intake for the three stages of pregnancy:
1. During the first trimester: A study indicated benefits of an additional requirement of about 70 calories a day.
2. For the second trimester: For optimal health, it is advised to increase by about 265 calories daily.
3. In the third trimester: An additional 500 calories daily.
These requirements are similar to those of the European Food Standard Authority, who suggest an increase of 500 calories daily during the first six months of exclusive breastfeeding.
Why do pregnant women have cravings?
Cravings for food tend to occur during the first and second trimester but can happen any time during pregnancy. These can be because of a number of factors including, hormones, a heightened sense of smell and taste and nutrition deficiencies. Cravings and aversions are closely related to one another, cravings are more likely the outcome of an impaired sense of taste in pregnancy (9)
What should I look for in a pregnancy multi-vitamin?
Choose high quality supplements which are purely active and contain the required, therapeutic and safe level of all the essential nutrients during pregnancy. The main ingredients to look for include iron (Bisglycinate), vitamin D3, Iodine, folic acid and vitamin B12.