Nutrition During Pregnancy
During pregnancy and nursing, your body needs extra nutrition and calories to help ensure your health and the growth of your baby. Certain nutrients are particularly important if you’ve been pregnant (even if only briefly) more than two times in the past two years.
One way to manage your diet is to know which nutrients your body needs, and to eat accordingly. A healthy diet is high in vegetables, fruits and grains and low in sugar, fat and cholesterol. Look at the packaging labels on the foods you eat, including serving sizes, daily value percentages, and nutrition facts. Remember that daily values are not based on pregnant women, who usually need more calories, iron, folic acid, protein and calcium. For example, most women who are not pregnant require 1,800 to 2,200 calories per day. If you are pregnant, you need about 300 more.
Every diet should include:
- Folic acid
Your body’s main source of energy, carbohydrates come in two forms: starches and simple sugars. Starches come from rice, bread, pasta, fruits and some vegetables, such as corn and potatoes. Different starches offer different nutritional benefits, so variety is important. Fruits and vegetables contain other nutrients, so they have more nutritional benefit. Starches also contain fiber, which helps your body flush out excess fat and cholesterol and helps prevent constipation. Simple sugars come from table sugar, honey, syrup, hard candies, fruit juice, and many processed foods. Try to limit the simple sugars you eat. Simple sugars have more calories and take less time for your body to process, and the energy they provide lasts less time than the energy from starches.
Meat, poultry, fish and dairy products, legumes and grains are good sources for proteins, which help your body grow and repair muscle tissue. During pregnancy, proteins help your baby’s cells multiply.
While excess fat can lead to heart disease and high cholesterol levels, your body needs fat to function normally. Fats also help your body to process proteins, carbohydrates and various vitamins. Your body’s fat stores will also be important if you choose to breastfeed your baby. There are three main types of fats: saturated fats, trans fats, and unsaturated fats. Saturated fats come from meat and dairy products and tend to be solid, like butter and shortening. Trans fats are a type of saturated fat and are found in margarine and many snack foods. Olive, canola, peanut, sunflower and fish oils are all unsaturated fats, which tend to be liquid. Unsaturated fats should make up most of your fat intake. The following guidelines can help you reduce the amount of fat in your diet:
- Avoid fried foods
- Skim fat from soups
- Remove fat from meat and skin from poultry
- Reduce butter, margarine, mayonnaise, cream and oil
- Use unsaturated fats instead of saturated fats and trans fats
Remember to drink water and other non-alcoholic liquids throughout the day, not just when you’re thirsty. Water helps your body build new tissue and helps create amniotic fluid around your baby. Water also aids in digestion by helping your body process nutrients and eliminate waste.
During pregnancy, your body needs extra iron to help produce extra blood. Beef, pork, organ meats, whole grains, dried fruits and beans, and dark leafy beans are all high in iron. Remember that calcium can block iron absorption, so try not to eat foods containing iron and calcium in the same meal.
Your body uses folic acid to create extra blood during pregnancy. By maintaining a healthy folic acid intake before and during pregnancy, you may reduce the likelihood of birth defects, especially defects of the spine and skull (known as neural tube defects). Dark green leafy vegetables, beans and citrus fruits all contain folic acid. Most store-bought breads, pasta, cereal, rice and flour have had folic acid added.
Used to build your baby’s teeth and bones, calcium comes from milk and other dairy products. Your body can also get calcium from fortified orange juice, sardines, nuts, seeds, salmon with bones, and many greens: collard, kale, spinach, mustard, and turnip.
While a balanced diet should provide all of your vitamin needs, Dr. Garofalo may prescribe a prenatal multivitamin if your diet is not providing you with enough of a particular substance or if you have a special condition, including diabetes or kidney disease. Certain medications may also interfere with your body’s ability to process nutrients needed for a healthy pregnancy. Let Dr. Garofalo know if you have a special condition or are taking medication or a vitamin supplement.
Fish that contain mercury
Pregnant women should not eat tuna, swordfish, shark, king mackerel, or tilefish. These fish contain high levels of mercury, which can damage your baby’s nervous system.
Certain soft cheeses and lunch meat
Certain foods contain bacteria called listeriosis, which can cause health problems with your baby, or even miscarriage. While pregnant, do not eat the following types of foods:
- Unpasteurized milk
- Soft cheese made with unpasteurized milk
- Lunch meat
- Hot dogs
- Smoked seafood
While the average newborn baby weighs seven or eight pounds, it’s normal to gain 25-35 pounds during pregnancy. Don’t be dismayed by these “extra” pounds – they come from amniotic fluid, increased blood volume, enlarged uterus and breasts, and many other natural factors.
If you’re overweight, pregnancy is not the right time to go on a diet. Certain diets may not provide the nutrients your body needs during pregnancy. If you have undergone surgery for obesity, let Dr. Garofalo know. You may require special care or supplements during your pregnancy.
Anorexia, bulimia and other eating disorders can interfere with your body’s health and nutritional levels. If you have an eating disorder or have had one in the past, discuss your situation with Dr. Garofalo.
Many pregnant women experience cravings for a specific type of food. As long as these cravings do not interfere with a balanced diet, it’s usually okay to indulge. If you crave a non-food item, do not give in.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture has come up with guidelines for a healthy diet based on the following six food groups:
- Bread, cereal, rice and pasta
- Milk, yogurt and cheese
- Meat, poultry, fish, beans, eggs and nuts
- Fats, oils and sweets
Bread, cereal, rice and pasta provide a good source of vitamins, minerals and fiber, which your body converts into energy. Try to choose whole-grain breads and cereals whenever possible. The following amounts equal about one serving:
- One slice of bread
- Half a cup of cooked cereal, rice or pasta
- One cup of cold cereal
Vegetables provide minerals such as iron and magnesium, along with vitamins A and C. To help ensure that your body gets a wide variety of nutrients, you should eat a variety of vegetables, including:
- Dark green leafy vegetables (spinach, broccoli)
- Deep yellow or orange vegetables (sweet potatoes, carrots)
- Legumes (beans)
- Starchy vegetables (potatoes, peas and corn)
The following amounts equal about one serving:
- One cup of salad greens
- One-half of a cup of other vegetables (raw or cooked)
- Three-quarters of a cup of vegetable juice
Fruits. Whether fresh, frozen, canned, dried or juiced, fruits provide fiber, potassium, and vitamins A and C. Citrus fruits, melons and berries are excellent choices. The following amounts equal about one serving:
- One medium banana, apple, pear or orange
- One-half cup of chopped, canned or cooked fruit
- One-quarter cup of raisins or other dried fruit
- Three-quarters of a cup of fruit juice
Milk, yogurt and cheese. Along with calcium, which is an important nutrient during pregnancy and nursing, dairy products provide protein, phosphorus and various vitamins. Remember to choose low-fat or skim products when you can. The following amounts equal about one serving:
- One and a half ounces of natural cheese
- Two ounces of processed cheese
- One cup of milk or yogurt
Meat, poultry, fish, beans, eggs and nuts provide protein, iron, zinc, and B vitamins and are especially important, since a fetus requires plenty of protein and iron for growth and development. Remember to trim off fat and skin, and choose lean cuts of meat. The following amounts equal about one serving:
- Two eggs
- One cup of cooked dry beans
- Two to three ounces of cooked lean fish, poultry or meat
- Two tablespoons of peanut butter
- One-half cup of nuts
Fats, oils and sweets have few vitamins or minerals, and they tend to be full of calories. Since no more than 30% of your daily calories should be from fat, you should eat these types of foods sparingly. Remember to choose low-fat foods as often as you can, and try to save sweets such as soft drinks and candy for special occasions.