From conception to birth, you and your baby have a lot of healthy growing to go through together, so your bodies will need a steady supply of nutrients. Getting the nourishment you and your baby need is simply a matter of making good eating choices. No single food-source can give you all the protein, vitamins and minerals you need. But by choosing a balanced variety of nutritious foods, you can enjoyably satisfy your needs through the course of the day.
Consider the nutritional value of the foods you eat and plan a balanced diet. Resources like Health Canada’s Food Guide can help. Remember that during pregnancy you need extra amounts of various nutrients, especially iron, calcium, folic acid, and protein.
Protein is a building block for growth. So during pregnancy you need increasingly more protein. Good sources of protein include lean meats, poultry and fish which also supply other hard-to-get nutrients, such as iron, B vitamins and trace minerals. Dried beans, lentils, nuts, eggs, and cheese, are also high in protein. Each day you should eat at least two servings of meat or these other protein-rich foods. A well planned vegetarian diet, especially if it contains dairy products, can meet the needs of pregnancy.
Iron is essential to support the increased volume of maternal blood and to prevent anemia. Especially during the last six months of pregnancy, your need for iron almost doubles, increasing from 13 to 23 milligrams per day. Iron is found in some fruits, vegetables, cereals and eggs, but iron from meat, fish and poultry is more easily absorbed. Even with a well-balanced diet, you’ll probably need a supplement. For details you should consult a healthcare professional. Iron supplements are best absorbed when taken between meals with liquids other than coffee, tea or milk.
Calcium is a mineral needed to maintain bones and teeth and regulate nerve and muscle activity. Calcium is necessary for the baby’s growth, but it’s also important to meet your own needs, especially if you’re younger than 30, as your own bones are still developing. During pregnancy, calcium daily needs increase by 500 milligrams to 1300 milligrams, for a total daily need equal to a litre of milk. Go for low fat varieties of milk and other dairy products. And if you have an aversion to milk, other good sources include canned salmon (with the bones mashed) and sardines, almonds and leafy dark green vegetables. If you don’t drink milk and you spend little time outdoors, you may need extra vitamin D.
Folic acid is another vitamin which is important for healthy cell development, especially in the early stages of pregnancy. This important nutrient is found in vegetables, especially green leafy vegetables, legumes, enriched grain products and fruits. Still, you may need a supplement during the first few weeks to meet the higher needs of pregnancy.
As your body uses more energy during pregnancy, your need for calories increases. Additional calorie intake is only recommended during the second and third trimesters of pregnancy because women typically do not gain much weight in the first trimester. Women need about 350 extra calories per day in the second trimester and 450 extra calories per day in the third. To prevent excessive weight gain, avoid foods loaded with sugar and fat, and get your calories from foods that are rich in other nutrients.
High-fibre foods such as fresh fruits and vegetables, whole-grain breads and cereals are also important. Foods high in fibre stimulate the intestinal muscles, and are especially useful in alleviating constipation and haemorrhoids which many mothers experience in the later stages of pregnancy.
Drink plenty of liquids
Also be sure you drink plenty of liquids as they aid the circulation of blood, build body fluids and stimulate the digestion of food. But it’s a good idea to reduce your intake of caffeine, from drinks such as coffee, tea or colas. While one or two cups per day is acceptable, caffeine can interfere with the absorption of nutrients, add to your stress levels, and in excess, may be harmful to your baby.
Your healthcare professional may recommend vitamin supplements to complement a well-balanced diet. But you can’t get all your needs from vitamin pills alone. And overdoing certain vitamins can be hazardous. So pregnant women should consult their healthcare professional before taking any vitamin supplements.
You want your child to have the best possible start in life. But being a good mother also means attending to your own needs. By eating nutritiously, you’ll feel healthy, you’ll curb the desire to overeat, and you’ll minimize digestive discomfort. Instead of swinging from periods of craving to periods of starvation, you’ll have better control of your appetite.
Though you may not always be hungry, your baby probably will be. After all, nourishment is one of your child’s only desires. So even if you’re not up to eating a big meal, at least eat smaller portions, more often. Your well-fed baby will be stronger and healthier, and the same is true for you.