Friday, February 19, 2010

Nutrition during the pregnancy

Firstly, if you’ve been following a healthy diet before you fell pregnant, chances are you won’t have to make any major changes to what you eat. However there are some particular nutritional requirements you should be aware of, as a well-balanced diet contributes to:

normal birth weight for baby

improved fetal brain development

decreased chance of pregnancy complications such as morning sickness, fatigue, mood swings, anaemia and pre-eclampsia

a speedy recovery after delivery

Eating for two

Yes, you are eating for two, but that does NOT mean increasing your kilojoule intake — particularly in the first trimester. Rather, it means you will need to increase your intake of certain nutrients — mainly folate, iron and calcium — to maintain optimal foetal development and your own health. In the second and third trimesters you may need to increase your kilojoule intake by around 10% (or around 6000 kJ per day); but generally a healthy pregnant woman should aim to keep her weight gain around 10-15kg during the course of the pregnancy.

Pregnancy is NOT a time to aim for weight loss or restricting your diet, unless under doctor’s advice for overweight mothers, and then only under strict medical supervision. Crash diets during pregnancy are a serious risk for both mother and developing baby.

What to eat

The basis of a well-balanced diet is a balance of grains, fruits and vegetables, protein, dairy and fats. Ensure your diet contains the recommended amounts of the following food groups.

Grain products are the main source of complex carbohydrates, and should make up the majority of your diet. Complex carbohydrates provide you with energy and will keep your weight gain in check, prevent constipation and nausea, and give your baby essential nutrients including fibre, folate, Vitamin B and protein.

Eat at least six servings per day, preferably wholegrains such as whole-wheat bread, cereals, brown rice or pasta. One serving is two slices of bread, or a cup of cooked rice or pasta. Avoid refined grain products such as white bread and white rice, biscuits and cakes etc as these don’t have the same nutritional value as their wholegrain counterparts.

Fruit and vegetables will provide you with essential vitamins and minerals as well as fibre to aid digestion and prevent constipation. Vitamin A derived from green leafy veges and yellow fruits is important for the development of your baby’s bones, skin, hair and eyes; however when taken in supplement format, Vitamin A has been linked to birth deformities so it's doubly important to source it from whole foods. Vitamin C is important for bone growth and tissue repair, however your body cannot store large amounts of it so it’s important to ensure a regular intake – around 3 serves per day. Good sources include citrus, tomatoes, broccoli, melons and berries. Fruit and veges also provide you with folate, Vitamin B, iron and calcium.

Eat at least five serves of vegetables and two serves of fruit each day. One serving is a cup of salad leaves or 1/2 cup chopped non-leafy vegetables or fruit (cooked or raw), one whole raw fruit, a small glass of juice or dried fruit (such as 4 dried apricots, or 1.5 tablespoons sultanas).

Protein is composed of amino acids, the building blocks of human cells which are crucial for a developing fetus. It is also important in protecting you against developing pre-eclampsia later in pregnancy. Protein foods are also normally the iron-rich foods, which is important to keep your blood well-oxygenated.

Eat at least two servings per day. One serving equals 100g lean meat, poultry or fish; two small eggs, 1/2 cup cooked lentils, split peas, or dried beans; 1/4 cup sunflower or sesame seeds; 2 cups low-fat yoghurt; 200g tofu; 1 cup low-fat cottage cheese. Nuts are a good source of protein but be careful not to eat too many peanuts during pregnancy to avoid your baby developing a nut allergy.

Dairy The calcium found in milk products helps build your baby's bones and teeth, as well as muscle, heart and nerve development and blood clotting. If your calcium intake isn’t sufficient to meet your baby’s needs, especially later in the pregnancy, your body will draw on calcium from your bones and therefore expose you to the risk of osteoporosis. Choose at least four servings a day of low-fat milk, yogurt or cheese. A serving is one cup of milk or yogurt or two slices of cheese. If you have trouble digesting lactose, lactose-reduced milk products and calcium-fortified juice can help you get enough calcium. Another good source is canned fish with bones (such as salmon or sardines).

Fat Some fats are necessary for your baby’s development, but you should limit your intake to manage weight gain during pregnancy. Treat yourself to an occasional sweet treat: icecream, chocolate biscuit or piece of cake, but don’t include them as a daily part of your diet. Essential fats are found in polyunsaturated oils such as sunflower and soya bean oils, and monounsaturated oils such as olive and canola oils.

Water and fluids: you need to drink at least two litres of water a day; and more if you’re retaining fluid or if it’s very hot. Your need for fluids will also increase as your body’s fluids increase in the course of the pregnancy. An adequate fluid intake will help in the prevention of early labour, stretch marks, and constipation.

While water is best, you can make up some of your intake with other fluids such as juice, milk, and soup. However, try to limit caffeine-containing beverages such as coffee, tea and colas to only one cup per day.

In an ideal world we’d all be eating according to the above guidelines before we fell pregnant, if not from day one of the pregnancy. But changing from bad eating habits to good takes dedication and hard work, so if you find it difficult to follow this diet, make changes gradually. Don’t expect yourself to stick to it if you’re facing it alone: encourage your partner and family to improve their diet too.

You’ll also find it easier to eat well if you give yourself an occasional treat – so don’t beat yourself up if you indulge in a late-night hot chocolate before bed or something sweet with your morning cuppa. Wherever you can, try to make it a healthy alternative though: a slice of banana bread vs a chocolate ├ęclair, or a fresh strawberry smoothie instead of a vanilla milkshake.

And remember that every day you improve your diet means not only a healthier baby, but long-term health effects for you, too.