Your Diet During Your Pregnancy
Congratulations, you're pregnant!
Finding out that you are pregnant can be one of the most amazing experiences of your life. So many things whizz through your head; you may feel really excited, but at the same time a little daunted by what this pregnancy may bring and how you suddenly have responsibility for a brand new life.
You may have already been careful with your diet and lifestyle when you were trying for a baby. But for some, finding out you are pregnant can be a bit of a shock. Once you know that you have made a baby, it is really important to keep an eye on what you eat and drink during your pregnancy to help sustain and grow the healthiest baby you can.
I can eat for two now I'm pregnant...
Not so fast! Although this is often something you hear people saying, you shouldn't be doubling the amount of calories you normally consume. The daily recommended amount of calories before you are pregnant is 2,100 calories, and this increases to 2,500 calories every day now that you are pregnant. Your required calorie intake may vary though depending on your age, height, build and how many babies you are carrying, so speak to your midwife about the right diet for you.
The fact is that your role during your pregnancy is to provide good nutrition for you and your baby. Your baby will get all of its nourishment from you through the umbilical cord and so what you eat and drink is really important. If you lack in any essential nutrients or vitamins, or if you eat and drink the wrong things, your baby will too, so you need to try to consume 'quality calories'. Fresh food will give you much better nutrition than processed 'convenience' and 'junk' foods.
What should I be eating during my pregnancy?
To get the amount of energy that you and your baby need every day, you should try to eat a healthy, well-balanced diet. This should include all of the main food groups:
- Fruit and vegetables - aim for 5 portions a day to lower your risk of diabetes, heart disease, stroke, cancer and osteoporosis.
- Carbohydrates - to give you lots of energy and nutrients. Carbohydrates are found in starchy foods. Try to eat wholemeal bread and wholegrain rice, pasta and cereals.
- Protein - to help your body grow and repair itself. Protein comes from meat, fish, eggs and beans. Aim to eat mainly lean meats with the occasional red meat indulgence (such as a beautiful steak, which is rich in iron).
- Dairy - choose low-fat milk (skimmed or semi-skimmed), unsweetened yogurts and cheese.
- Very small amounts of foods that are high in sugar and fat (like chocolate, cake and sweets).
About one third of your daily diet should be carbohydrates and another third should be fruit and vegetables. The final third should be made up of protein and dairy foods.
Try to have three meals a day with two snacks to help sustain your energy levels.
If you are a vegetarian or vegan (no animal products) you should discuss your diet with your midwife or doctor - you will need to supplement what you eat to make sure your nutrition is good enough for your baby's development.
Will I be getting all the vitamins and minerals I need or should I take any supplements during my pregnancy?
You are different to every other pregnant woman and so too are your dietary and supplement needs. Your midwife or doctor can help advise you on the exact supplements you should be taking.
Folic acid - It is really important to make sure that you are taking daily folic acid supplements for the first three months of your pregnancy. This is because it has been proven to dramatically reduce the chances of your baby developing a neural tube defect, such as spina bifida. You can buy folic acid supplements in the recommended daily dose of 400 micrograms from any chemist. There's no harm in also eating foods rich in the natural form of folic acid (called folate). Find it in green leafy vegetables, broccoli, sprouts, papaya and jacket potatoes. However, be aware that as much of half of the folates in food can be lost through cooking or storage.
Iron - when you are pregnant, your body needs more iron than normal. This is because your body increases its blood supply to keep the placenta and baby well-nourished. Iron deficiency is pretty common in pregnancy, with around one in five women being affected. Really good sources of iron can be found in green vegetables like broccoli and spinach, strawberries, wholemeal bread and muesli. Iron is absorbed better by your body if you take vitamin C at the same time, so perhaps drink a glass of orange juice with your food. Tea and coffee can reduce your body's ability to absorb iron, and also contain the stimulant caffeine, so it is a good idea to reduce the amount of cups you drink a day.
Zinc and calcium - you should get enough of these minerals if you eat a healthy, well-balanced diet. Zinc is vital for the development of your baby's nervous and immune systems, and calcium is needed to form all those tiny teeth and bones. Zinc is found in extra-lean minced beef, chicken, fish, whole grains, cheeses and baked beans. You get calcium from dairy foods such as cheese (parmesan in particular), milk and yogurt, and from broccoli, spinach, tinned fish and tofu. You need about a third more calcium every day (3 or 4 glasses of milk or the equivalent cheese or yogurt) than you did before you were pregnant.
What should I avoid during my pregnancy?
It is important to avoid vitamin A when you are pregnant, because it can damage your baby and result in birth defects including cleft palate and heart malformation. Don't take any supplements that contain vitamin A while you are pregnant. Foods with high levels of vitamin A include liver and pate, so only eat these very occasionally.
Unpasteurised cheeses, blue-veined cheeses (such as blue stilton) and pate should be avoided because there is a risk that they can carry infectious disease suck as Listeria. Cheeses made in the UK have to be pasteurised and so it is best to stick to those rather than cheeses from other countries that aren't as heavily regulated.
When it comes to alcohol, if you want to have the occasional drink it should not harm your baby. But it is widely believed by experts that heavy or frequent drinking during pregnancy can seriously damage your baby's development. Heavy drinking can cause foetal alcohol syndrome causing the baby to have slow growth, mental retardation and a range of physical abnormalities and behavioural problems. It is best to limit the amount of alcohol you drink, or cut out drinking completely. If you do drink, don't have more than one or two units of alcohol once or twice a week. One unit of alcohol is about half a pint of beer, or half a standard (175 ml) glass of wine, or a single measure (25 ml) of spirits - but bear in mind this can vary depending on the strength of the drink.
How can I avoid constipation?
Many pregnant women find they can get a bit constipated during their pregnancy. Constipation happens because of the hormonal changes that are going on inside you. To help ease constipation, increase the amount of fibre you eat, by upping your intake of fruit (especially things like prunes) and vegetables, wholemeal bread and cereals. Also try to drink at least 2 litres (three and a half pints) of water every day and do some light exercise as this will keep things moving! Drinking more water is also beneficial because you will have more blood pumping around your body and also the amniotic fluid that surrounds the baby needs to be continually replaced.
Your pharmacist can advise you about over-the-counter remedies for constipation that are suitable to use during pregnancy.
How much weight will I put on during my pregnancy?
It is actually very important for almost everyone to put on weight during their pregnancy and it is perfectly normal to gain between 10 and 12 kg (22 to 26 lb). Try not to worry too much about the amount of weight you gain as you need to build up some fat stores to support your baby. Also remember that you will be gaining the weight of the placenta, baby and amniotic fluid that will all disappear when you step on the scales after giving birth. You should speak to your midwife if you are concerned about becoming obese. Once you have had your baby, and especially if you breastfeed, the extra weight you have gained will soon start to drop off again.
There's nothing wrong with trying to stay fit and healthy during your pregnancy, read here for tips on good ways to exercise during pregnancy.