Nutrition During Pregnancy
When it comes to giving your baby the very best, many mums don't realise that providing the best begins before becoming pregnant. Your diet needs to be well rounded before pregnancy so that the building blocks for proper pregnancy nutrition are already in place once fertilisation of the egg has happened. As your pregnant body grows and changes so will your nutritional needs. However, some vitamins and minerals will be an essential part of your pregnancy diet, from start to finish.
The Importance of Eating Well
During your pregnancy, your baby will gain everything he or she needs in terms of nutrients and vitamins from the foods you eat. Filling your body with empty calories, such as sugars, sweets, and junk foods, won't give your baby enough of the nutrients that are needed to grow cells, build bones, brain and neurological development. Without certain nutrients, you could be shortchanging your baby in terms of giving them a healthy beginning. Your doctor will likely prescribe a vitamin designed to help you and your baby receive the nutrients you are lacking, but it will still be up to you to make sure your baby gets the bulk of their nutrition from you.
Without a well-rounded diet, you run the risk of harming your body as well. While you're pregnant the baby will take whatever nutrients it can get from you; which can leave you feeling worn out, tired, unable to focus, and not adequately nourished. If you've heard that pregnant mums are eating for two, in theory, you are. You have to maintain proper nutrition to maintain your health plus extra for the baby. Should you skimp on eating properly, your baby will use up the nutrient stores you have, but there will be little left for you.
Essential Vitamins while you're Pregnant
Every pregnant woman should aim for a balanced diet consisting of:
Folic acid is crucial to reduce the risk of congenital disabilities associated with the brain and spinal cord. This nutrient is a B vitamin (B9) sometimes called Folate and is essential for women to take especially before conception and during the very early stages of pregnancy (first 28 days) as this is when the defects can occur. Different research projects over recent years have also confirmed a positive connection between folic acid and a reduction in risk of childhood leukaemia. The best food sources are leafy green vegetables like spinach and kale, broccoli, oranges and citrus fruits, lentils, brown rice and chickpeas. You can also take pregnancy supplements that contain folic acid if you’re worried you might not be getting enough from your regular diet.
Calcium is crucial for the development of your baby’s teeth and bones. Calcium also helps to keep your muscles strong and healthy. If your body does not get enough of this mineral, your baby will use your calcium stores and then draw it from your bones. If you suffer leg cramps during pregnancy, it has been suggested that the correct calcium intake may help rectify this problem. Vitamin D is essential for effective calcium absorption and is found in sunlight as well as sardines, salmon, milk, cheese, yoghurt, and spinach.
Vitamin A, also known as retinol, is good for the development of your baby’s eyesight, cell growth, healthy skin, tooth enamel, hair, thyroid gland and resistance to infection. It is not usually advisable to take a vitamin A supplement as high doses may be harmful to your baby. If you are taking vitamin supplements, then beta-carotene (a nutrient that gets converted to vitamin A as needed by your body) is the best source for your requirements. For most women though, you will receive all the Vitamin A you need from your diet.
The best food sources of vitamin A are carrots, dairy products, leafy green vegetables and sweet potatoes.
Vitamin B6, also known as pyridoxine, is a vitamin that can help your body to adequately utilise energy from the protein and carbohydrates that we eat. It also helps oxygen-carrying haemoglobin to form. It will aid your baby’s overall development and can help reduce morning sickness during the first trimester.
The best dietary sources of B6 are found in salmon, eggs, green leafy vegetables, watermelons, bananas, soya beans, peanuts, milk, potatoes, bread, beef, liver, pork and some fortified breakfast cereals.
Vitamin B12 helps to process folic acid in our body. It also assists in making red blood cells and keeping our nervous system healthy. This vitamin is found in poultry, red meat, liver and fish, but also in cheese, yeast and eggs. This may present a problem for vegan or vegetarians, as there are limits to the amount of dairy you should be eating and therefore it may be prudent to find a supplement that contains this vitamin. Consult your GP or midwife for further advice.
Sometimes referred to as ascorbic acid, vitamin C is essential for the development of skin, bones and tendons of your baby. It helps tissue repair itself and heightens your body’s resistance to infection. It also helps your body to absorb iron properly.
The best food sources of Vitamin C come from citrus fruits, broccoli, tomatoes, spinach and potatoes.
Vitamin D is usually taken into our bodies from sunlight, so if you cover up your skin when you are outside (perhaps for religious reasons) it is wise to make sure you take around10mcg per day as a supplement.
Iron is needed to ensure a good supply of red blood cells, which transport oxygen to your baby and your own muscles and organs, thus ensuring you are not too tired. Vegetarian and vegan women may be more prone to anaemia, (iron deficiency), especially in the later stages of pregnancy, as vegetable sources of iron are more difficult for the body to process. Vitamin C also increases iron absorption. Tea (which contains tannin) inhibits iron absorption and should be avoided if possible.
There are good natural iron supplements on the market, available in good health shops, which may be taken. Food sources of iron are found in lean red meat, wholegrain bread and cereals, kidney beans, spinach and dried fruits.
Carbohydrates are important as a source of energy that will help your baby to grow. There are different types of carbohydrates available and as a rule, white bread, rice and pasta are not very nutritious.
Far better sources of carbohydrates come from wholegrain cereals, wholegrain and rye bread, wholewheat pasta, and fruit and vegetables.
Like water, herbal teas and fruit juices are essential to ensure you are hydrated. It is probable that you will be thirstier than before and it is essential not to let yourself dehydrate, as this can make you feel tired, dizzy, hungry, and prone to headaches. Fluids to avoid are caffeine containing teas, coffees and, of course, alcohol. Try some tea and coffee alternatives from your local health shop, if giving up feels like a big sacrifice.
Each one of these nutrients works individually and together as a team to make sure your baby is born healthy and strong. For instance, folic acid has been proven to help prevent neural tube defects, build brain development and spine. Calcium aids in bone development and also strengthens a mum's bones as well. Food rich in B6 vitamins such as pork and bananas, also help your baby's red blood cells while B12 foods aid in proper brain development and the nervous system.
Making Good Food Choices
Of course just because you can eat as much as you want doesn't mean you should. Certain foods should be avoided and making healthy choices are all a part of maintaining a proper pregnancy diet. When you're shopping, pay close attention to the food labels. Labels on food packaging can tell you if you are getting enough of the vitamins and minerals. It will also show how much fat and sodium is in a food product. While fat isn't bad for your pregnancy diet, you should limit your fat intake and be watchful of Trans fats.
Your diet and needs will change during the course of your pregnancy. Be wary of keeping your eyes on the scale and counting calories. Instead, choose a variety of foods so that you get the best of all the food groups. Doing so will ensure that your baby will get the proper nutrition it needs to meet the world, healthy and strong.