If you're pregnant or planning to be, you need to give your baby the best and healthiest start in life that you possibly can. In order to do that, you must take special care of yourself and your diet even before you are pregnant.
Forget everything you've been told about fasting and dieting. You need to be eating at least three solid meals a day, balanced with foods from each of the four food groups. Keep your intake of sweets, preservatives and highly-processed foods to a low.
Just because you have a baby on board doesn't mean you should eat double. Eating for two actually reflects the idea of eating food that provides the right nutrition for you and your baby. Many women find it difficult to make essential adjustments to fit the needs of pregnancy. But you must realise that these don't have to be too dramatic, or happen all at once. Like with caffeine, going cold turkey can cause side effects and mental anguish, so try gradually cutting out the less desirable foods, and introduce the healthy ones.
Your appetite will increase as you progress through your pregnancy. This is because your body has an additional workload. To compensate for this your body will require an increase in energy of about 15% - or 500 calories per day (a little less in the first trimester - 300calories).
If you're a normal body weight when you start pregnancy, you should only require an additional 300 calories per day. What's really important though, is making sure that those 300 additional calories are nutritional ones! Your diet needs to be packed with nutrients, protein, and carbohydrates, and a good dosage of iron, calcium, and folate.
In general, your diet should follow the guide below:
- 6 to 11 servings of carbohydrates (bread, cereal, rice, pasta)
- 3 to 5 servings of vegetables
- 2 to 4 servings of fruits
- 3 to 5 servings of dairy products, such as milk, yoghurt and cheese
- 3 to 4 servings of meat and protein (meat, poultry, fish, beans, eggs, nuts)
- 6 to 8 glasses of water, and no more than one soft drink or cup of coffee per day to limit caffeine.
Also be sure to include a 400mcg supplement of folic acid daily if you're planning on becoming pregnant, following on right through to the months after conception.
Remember to avoid the following as they contain bacteria that can be harmful to your baby:
- Shellfish (fresh fish is okay)
- Unpasteurised milk and soft cheeses such as brie and feta
- Ready, prepared salads
- Raw/undercooked meats and eggs (and food containing raw eggs)
- Reheated food (or food that has been exposed to the air for extended periods time)
- To prevent toxoplasmosis, ensure that the kitty litter box is always clean.
- Wash (or peel) vegetables and fruit to get rid of sprayed chemicals
- Contact a dietician if you want comprehensive personal guidance.
- During pregnancy, increased levels of progesterone can relax bowel muscles causing constipation. To help eliminate this, drink fluids, eat prunes and high-fibre cereals.
Every calorie, vitamin, or gram of protein that your baby needs, must be eaten by you. Only you can make sure that the best quality food reaches your baby. Make sure your diet is as varied as possible, choosing from a wide range of foods like fresh fruit, vegetables, beans, peas, wholemeal cereals, fish, fowl and low-fat dairy products.
A good nutritional diet will help prevent common problems such as anaemia and pre-eclampsia. A good diet will also provide you greater ability to cope with labour, birth and recovery afterwards, including returning to your normal weight and shape (see post natal exercise). Most women will gain some extra non-baby weight during pregnancy. This is natural, as it will help you breastfeed. Fat is accumulated specifically to be converted into milk during lactation.
Good nutrition can also prevent junk food cravings that occur due to a lack of nutrients and minerals in your body. Snacking on healthy foods like fruits and vegetables are a healthy alternative to junk food snacks. Good nutrition may also help reduce mood swings, tiredness and an array of pregnancy complaints.
Problems such as morning sickness, constipation and leg cramps, may be exacerbated by what you do or don't eat - not getting enough salt or magnesium for example can result in leg cramps.
Drinking plenty of fluids (between one and two litres a day) will help prevent cystitis and constipation.
Some women will have to make special changes to their diet when they are pregnant. They include:
• Very young women
• Women who are underweight or overweight when becoming pregnant
• Women who have had more than three pregnancies in two years
• Women who eat a restricted diet (vegetarians, vegans, macrobiotics)
• Women who have any complications in pregnancy
If you fall within any of these categories then you may need nutritional advice. You can discuss with your LMC about whether you need to see a registered dietitian.