Pregnancy is a time when most women are especially concerned about nutrition and diet as moms-to-be want to give their newborns the best possible chance to survive and thrive. There are also many dietary restrictions placed on pregnant women, as well as many pregnancy-related symptoms that can affect the ability to eat a balanced diet, making pregnancy a challenging time for many women. But, there are many steps you can take with your diet to ensure you will have a healthy and successful pregnancy.
Eat Nutritious Foods
Good nutrition during pregnancy should be based in whole foods as well as provide adequate calories and nutrients for both you and your developing baby, particularly from protein and healthy fats. Pregnancy is not a time to cut back on calories or try to lose weight. If you are overweight at the start of your pregnancy, discuss with your doctor how much weight gain is appropriate for you. A woman who starts out at a healthy weight should aim to gain approximately 25-35 pounds during the entire pregnancy.
It is a myth that moms should try to “eat for two” during pregnancy. Most women need about 200-300 extra calories per day to support the growth of a healthy fetus. More calories are needed during the last trimester when the baby is growing the most. Just adding 2-3 extra ounces of chicken or half an avocado to your day will give you the additional calories you need to support the growth of your baby.
The quality of the extra calories you consume is also important, as the baby is also eating everything you eat. Try to eat every 3-4 hours and include protein, high fiber carbohydrates like fruits and vegetables, and healthy fats into every meal. Green leafy vegetables are particularly important because they contain folic acid which helps prevent neural tube birth defects. Include eggs in your diet as they are a great source of carotenoids, which help with eye development and choline that helps improve brain function.
Fat is critical for brain development of infants. Babies need essential fatty acids, such as monounsaturated fats and omega-3 fats to help their brains develop properly. Most women do not consume enough omega-3 fats, specifically DHA, leaving their babies at risk for a poorly developed nervous system and brain. Omega-3 fats are mostly found in fish. But, there is a significant concern with the mercury content of many species of fish available on the market. Mercury is a toxic chemical that causes brain damage, especially to developing brains. The best thing you can do to get your critical omega-3s is to familiarize yourself with the list of low-mercury fish provided by the Natural Resources Defense Council and choose fish from that list.
Take Appropriate Supplements
Since women have so many specialized nutrition needs during pregnancy, it is difficult to meet all the requirements with diet alone, therefore some supplementation may be necessary.
Most doctors recommend women taking a prenatal vitamin which provides folate, iron, and other important nutrients to support a healthy pregnancy. You may also want to consider increasing your intake of probiotics, or healthy bacteria during pregnancy, due to the connection between probiotics and reduction of childhood allergies.
Consider getting probiotics from food, instead of supplements, such as yogurt, kimchee, tempeh, miso, Kefir, or sauerkraut. Be cautious of over doing it on supplements during your pregnancy as many dietary supplements are not appropriate for pregnant women. Discuss with your health care provider what supplements are best for you and your baby.
During pregnancy, there is no specific diet to follow, just a few simple rules to keep you and your baby as healthy as possible. A well-balanced diet with just a few modifications along with a few additional vitamins and minerals, will insure a healthy pregnancy for the both of you.