Having a baby can be a rather overwhelming experience and above all else you want to make the right decisions that will allow healthy growth from bump to baby. Eating healthily and understanding nutrition during pregnancy is especially important because the food you eat will provide the nutrients your baby needs.
Healthy eating advice during pregnancy is very similar to healthy eating advice for the general population – only with a few more specific requirements. Making long-term dietary changes can additionally help improve your overall health and the health of the whole family!
Should I be eating for two?
The whole “eating for two” is a bit of a myth and actually, throughout the first six months of pregnancy the energy requirements of mums-to-be do not increase. This is because your body will adapt and become much more efficient at utilising the energy and nutrients from the food you eat. However, during the last three months you may need an extra 200 calories or so – equivalent to just 2 slices of bread, 1 slice of cheese on toast or 2 bananas.
You may find that your appetite fluctuates during pregnancy, but it is still important not to eat too much – as this will lead to weight gain, and not to attempt to diet or lose weight during your pregnancy. Either of these can affect the health of you and your baby.
Gaining weight gradually during your pregnancy is important and although the amount of weight gain will vary amongst individuals, it is likely to be minimal during the first trimester and then increase gradually over the next two. Therefore you will gain most of your weight in the third trimester. Overall weight gain is likely to be around 10-12.5kg.
Eating regularly is important to make sure your baby is getting all the nutrients he or she needs, and so three main meals and two or three healthy snacks are recommended per day. However, some women find it beneficial to eat smaller meals more frequently to keep appetite stable and reduce those food cravings.
What should I be eating?
During pregnancy you should be eating a varied diet to make sure your baby is getting all the nutrients he or she (and you) need to be healthy. This means basing the foods you eat on the four main foods groups shown in the diagram opposite and the table below in more detail.
Reproduced with kind permission from the Food Standards Agency.
What food group?
|Breads, rice, potatoes, pasta and other starchy foods||These foods give us energy, B vitamins and plenty of fibre. Opt for wholemeal varieties.||Try to have these at every main meal and in one or two snacks during the day.|
|Fruits and vegetables||These contain a wealth of vitamins, minerals and antioxidants to help with every aspect of baby’s growth.||Aim for FIVE or more portions a day.|
|Milk and Dairy||These foods contain protein and calcium for healthy bone development for mum and baby.||We should be trying to eat three portions of these foods every day e.g. a glass of milk or a small pot of yoghurt/chunk of cheese.|
|Meat, fish, eggs, beans and other non-dairy sources of protein||These foods contain protein, Iron and omega-3 fatty acids which are essential for healthy blood and heart and nerve development for mum and baby.||Aim to have two or three portions of these foods daily (opt for three if you are vegetarian and choose lentils, beans and pulses). Aim to eat two portions of fish a week, including one oily fish but no more than two oily fish portions a week!
What should I be avoiding?
There are quite a few foods that you should be avoiding during your pregnancy because they may harm your baby. Below is a list of these foods. Make sure you take note of these foods and be a little cautious about what is in the foods you are eating as well as how foods are cooked and prepared.
- Certain cheeses – such as mould-ripened cheese (e.g. brie or camembert) or blue veined cheeses (e.g. stilton). This is because these cheeses may contain bacteria called listeria which may be harmful to your baby. Other hard cheeses such as cheddar, parmesan or mozzarella are fine to eat and will help you and your baby to top up on calcium.
- Undercooked foods – especially eggs, meats and any ready meals. These foods all need to be cooked thoroughly and warm all the way through. Make sure eggs are hard boiled and avoid food products that contain raw eggs such as mayonnaise.
- Unpasteurised goat’s, sheep and cow’s milk
- Raw shellfish e.g. oysters – due to risks of food poisoning.
- Shark, swordfish or marlin – additionally you should limit your intake of tuna (and other oily fish) to no more than 4 medium sized cans or 2 fresh tuna steaks/week due to unsafe levels of mercury which may be harmful to a baby’s nervous system.
- Liver and liver products – such as pate or liver sausage. This is because these foods are naturally high in vitamin A which can be toxic in high doses.
- Alcohol – current advice is to avoid alcohol throughout pregnancy and especially at the beginning but if you choose to drink you should have no more than two units of alcohol per week and never get drunk.
- Caffeine intakes – too much caffeine can increase the risks of having a miscarriage although a small amount is not harmful. Try to drink no more than two mugs of coffee or 4 cups of tea during a whole day.
- Foods and drinks high in fat, sugar and salt – these foods provide only “empty calories” to your body and your baby so try and keep these foods to a minimum during pregnancy and even after – for long-term improvements to your own health!
- Ensure good hygiene habits such as washing your hands before and after preparing foods and make sure you wash all fruits, vegetables and salads to remove any soil traces to prevent the transfer of bacteria from them to your baby.
What about supplements?
Be careful not to take too many supplements or you may end up overdosing on some vitamins. For example you shouldn’t be taking supplements which contain vitamin A as this can be toxic for your baby in high doses.
Generally eating well is all you need to get the right levels of nutrients and to maintain a healthy and well balanced diet however, during pregnancy, because life just isn’t perfect, it is important to take some supplements as a safeguard and to ensure the healthy growth of your baby.
Supplements that you should take during your pregnancy are:
Folic Acid – ideally you should take a 400mg supplement from the moment you decide to have a baby until the 12th week of your pregnancy. This will reduce the risks of your baby being born with neural tube defects (a deformed spine).
Vitamin D – taking a 10 microgram vitamin D supplement daily throughout your pregnancy is important as pregnant and breastfeeding women are often at risk of being deficient in this nutrient.
Your health professional will regularly measure your iron stores during the gestation period and may tell you that you should start taking an iron supplement if they feel you need it.
Taking a pregnancy multivitamin that contains folic acid, vitamin D, iron and calcium may also be beneficial throughout your pregnancy.
Good nutrition during pregnancy is so important, for you and your unborn baby. For more information please read some of my other pregnancy blog posts.