Nutrition in pregnancy

Having been through 2 previous pregnancies and currently, in my third, I know all too well the struggles that many women face in pregnancy – from food cravings and aversions to heartburn and indigestion and of course the almost inevitable nausea. While the last thing that you might want to hear while you are dealing with these issues and more is that you need to make “healthy choices”, research has shown that a mother’s nutrition and lifestyle choices during pregnancy can affect the health of both herself and her baby. A healthy diet coupled with regular physical activity can help prevent/manage pregnancy complications such as gestational diabetes, pre-eclampsia or excessive weight gain.

If you are currently pregnant or planning to get pregnant, you might find the following nutrition guidelines useful.

Calories

Tracking your calories during pregnancy is not required, it’s something that I myself never do or advice. However, it is important to ensure that you are not eating too much or too little…but what exactly does that mean?

These are the general guidelines available for each trimester of pregnancy.

1st Trimester – There is no increased caloric requirement during the first trimester of pregnancy. Usually, during this time, women tend to experience nausea and food aversions that may make it hard to even meet their daily caloric requirements. I personally find it hard to keep anything down during this period of my pregnancies. I have found that starchy foods and foods high in fiber and protein can be very helpful during this time. Try to choose whole grain options as much as possible for your starches to ensure that you are not eating too many processed foods.

2nd Trimester – During the 2 nd trimester the recommendation is and additional 340kcal/day. This is the equivalent of a slice of bread with 1 tablespoon of peanut butter or a small meal of ½ a cup of brown rice with chicken. Many women find that they regain their appetite during the second trimester and are able to better tolerate food, which may lead to overeating. It is important therefore during this time ensure that you are choosing healthy options for your snacks and staying well hydrated (because often times thirst may manifest as hunger).

3rd Trimester – The increased calorie recommendation for the 3 rd trimester is 450kcal/day. This is the equivalent of 2 slices of bread with peanut butter or a turkey wrap. While this is the time with the most caloric need, it is also the time when the belly is at its smallest during the pregnancy, thanks to the growing baby. It is best during this time to eat more frequent smaller meals than to try eating a large amount of food in one sitting, which could leave you feeling extremely uncomfortable to cause heartburn. I find that smoothies are a great way to get calories in during this time. My favorite mixes include berries, banana and kale.

Macronutrients

In pregnancy a diet high in fiber which consists of whole foods (fruits, vegetables, and complex carbohydrates), lean protein and essential fatty acids is ideal. The only macronutrient that has an increased recommended daily allowance (RDA) in pregnancy is protein. It is important to ensure that you are getting adequate protein which is the building block for tissue – and therefore your baby.

Micronutrients

While there is a slight increase in caloric requirements during pregnancy, there is a more notable increase in some micronutrients that are important for fetal development and growth and well as the health of the mother. These include;

  • Folate – Folate is required for cell growth, and for reducing the risk of neurological tube defects in the fetus. Folate-rich foods include green leafy vegetables, legumes, and folate-enriched flour. However, a folic acid supplement is required because the increased requirement cannot be met through diet alone.
  • Vitamin B12 – Vitamin B12 is essential for the formation of red blood cells, brain development and for normal neurological function. Pregnant women who are vegans or vegetarians are likely to be deficient in vitamin B12 because it is mostly available in animal products such as, beef, fish and eggs. Such women may require supplementation.
  • Iron – Iron is required in pregnancy to support fetal and placental growth, as well as the increasing blood volume of the mother. Iron can be absorbed from meat, meat products, fish and dark vegetables. Women who are vegetarian or vegan may require a supplement if they are found to be anemic.
  • Calcium – The calcium requirement during pregnancy does not increase, however, it is important to meet the RDA because calcium is taken from the mother’s skeleton to support fetal bone development. Calcium is primarily found in dairy products, as well as in leafy vegetables, fortified soy products and cereals.
  • Vitamin D – An increase in vitamin D is not required. However, it is especially important to have sufficient vitamin D during pregnancy to enhance calcium absorption and deposition. Dietary sources of vitamin D include milk, eggs and oily fish.
  • Most of the above mentioned micronutrients can be derived from an adequate diet as mentioned as well as from using a good prenatal multivitamin as recommended by your doctor.