Pregnancy is a wonderful thing; it is a time of great joy, excitement and hope for what the future holds. But at the same time, it can be nerve wracking, scary and often even stressful.
One factor that concerns many new mums to be is their diet. There is so much confusion out there about what you shouldn’t and shouldn’t eat, how much extra you actually do need and when you may require extra nutrition.
This short, four part blog has therefore been developed to help alleviate some of those concerns so that expectant mothers, or those planning a pregnancy, can enjoy one of the most magical times offered to them.
Why does good nutrition in pregnancy matter?
Good nutrition is crucial for optimum child development throughout the first 1000 days of life and beyond. (Black et al. 2016)
Even before conception, the nutrition and lifestyle choices a mother makes can have a significant impact on the long-term health of her unborn child. This spans until a child’s second birthday. It is therefore crucial that good habits are established as early as possible, it should not wait until the weaning or pre-school stage.
Excellent nutritional foundations increase a child’s:
- cognitive function
- motor skill development
- socio-emotional development
- learning capacity
- work capacity and productivity
Great nutrition before and during pregnancy can not only impact a child for the entirety of his or her life, it is also vital for the mother to feel as happy and healthy as she can throughout the magical experience.
Despite this, the reality is that 68% of women reported that they did not receive any nutrition advice from their GP or midwife and 64% said that they would welcome it! So, this short blog is my gift to you.
Nutrition advice and guidance for women is lacking in the UK.
What does a healthy diet in pregnancy look like?
As with any nutrition regime, there is no one size fits all and certainly no magic pill! One thing is certain, however, you do not need to be eating for two when pregnant.
In fact, energy requirements do not change at all for the first six months. During this time, the focus is on ensuring that a pregnant mother is getting all the nutrients she requires through a healthy, balanced diet that includes plenty of variety and lots of fresh, whole foods.
Things like whole grains and lots of colourful vegetables are important to ensure a range of vitamins, minerals and fibre are being provided.
Another important consideration is iodine; this nutrient is vital for the development of the fetal brain and a deficiency can have severe consequences. A women’s daily requirement increases by 50% when pregnant yet 50% aren’t getting enough!
Foods containing iodine include dairy, shell fish and sea fish.
The demand for calcium and iron also increases during pregnancy. Lean meat, green leafy vegetables, dried fruit, and nuts contain iron whilst dairy products and fortified cereals will provide calcium.
Iodine, iron and calcium are essential nutrients that a mother passes on to her baby; ensuring she has adequate stores is therefore crucial to both so be kind to yourself and provide your body with what it needs
Supplements to consider
Some nutrients are very difficult to get adequate amounts of through the diet and as the need for them increases in pregnancy, it is important to supplement them. These are Folic Acid and Vitamin D.
Folic Acid reduces the risk of neural tube defects such as spins bifida (NICE, 2014) and is crucial during the first 12 weeks of pregnancy. It is also very prudent to take when trying for a baby so that stores are sufficient and not depleted. The recommended amount is 400mg a day. There is no need to continue supplementing after 12 weeks but if it is contained within a multivitamin then it is perfectly safe to do so.
Vitamin D is important for muscular skeletal health; we are, however, experiencing a worldwide Vitamin D deficiency. Supplementing before, during and after pregnancy is therefore advised, for more information and recommended dosages please read this.
Folic Acid and Vitamin D supplements are recommended before and during pregnancy
The third trimester
During the latter 3 months of pregnancy, when a baby is developing its fat stores and body mass, a pregnant woman’s energy requirements do increase. Not as much as many media outlets will have you believe however.
During this stage, the average woman only requires 200 Kcals a day more than normal. This equates to:
- 2 bananas
- 2 slices of wholemeal bread
- 2 glasses of milk
It is important that these extra calories come from nutrient dense foods; it is not an excuse to eat unnecessary junk.
The diet of a pregnant mother is crucial to both the emotional and physical health of her unborn child, not to mention herself. It is crucial that healthy habits are established as early as possible to ensure that our future generation are given the very best start to a long, happy beautiful life.
There is no magical ‘pregnancy diet’, it simply revolves around the key themes of any healthy nutritional regime; a focus on unprocessed, whole foods that meet an individual’s energy requirements.
There is also no need to excessively increase calories when pregnant. With that said, if you do find yourself hungrier at times, then eat, no matter what stage you are at. Just ensure that the choices you make are as nutritious as possible so that you are giving your body, and your baby, everything it need to stay healthy and energised.
For more information on the foods that you should avoid in pregnancy and why, please read PART 2 here.