Adequate nutrition during your preconception and prenatal periods is important for a healthy pregnancy and healthy baby. Achieving a normal body mass index (BMI) prior to your pregnancy as well as improving your nutritional status prior to and during your pregnancy can lower your risk of pregnancy complications such as gestational diabetes and pre-eclampsia. Remember, you are not eating for two; you only need to increase your calorie intake by 300-500 calories. You should gain weight gradually during your pregnancy, with most of the weight gained in the last trimester.
Read your food labels! What are you consuming to help with your baby’s growth? Food labels will tell you what nutrients are in the foods you eat. The letters RDA, which you find on food labeling, stand for recommended daily allowance, or the amount of a nutrient recommended for your daily diet. When you’re pregnant, the RDAs for most nutrients are higher.
Pregnant women need a balanced diet including:
- Whole grains: Breads, cereals, pastas and brown rice.
- Fruits: All types of fruits, fresh, frozen or canned without added sugar.
- Vegetables: Eat a variety of colorful vegetables, fresh, frozen or canned with no added salt. Raw sprouts should be avoided.
- Lean protein: Choose lean protein from meat, poultry, fish, eggs, beans and peas, peanut butter, soy products and nuts. Pregnant women should avoid eating tilefish, shark, swordfish and king mackerel, and limit white (albacore) tuna to 6 ounces per week. Deli, luncheon meats and hot dogs should be reheated if consumed.
- Low-fat or fat-free dairy: This includes milk, cheese and yogurt. Unpasteurized milk and some soft cheeses that are made from unpasteurized milk should also be avoided.
- Healthful fats: Vegetable oils including canola, corn, peanut and olive oil are good choices.
Avoid extra calories from added sugar and fats, which can lead to unhealthy weight gain. Cut down on foods such as regular soda, sweets and fried snacks. These are empty calories and of no nutritional value.
Key Nutrients for Healthy Pregnancy
- Folate/Folic Acid: Folic acid reduces the risk of birth defects that affect the spinal cord. All women of childbearing age and pregnant women should consume 800 micrograms of folic acid each day. Sources include fortified foods such as cereals, pastas and breads, supplements and natural food sources of folate, including legumes, green leafy vegetables and citrus fruits.
- Iron: Maternal iron deficiency is the most common nutritional deficiency during pregnancy. A pregnant woman needs 27 milligrams a day. Your body uses iron to make hemoglobin, a protein in the red blood cells that carries oxygen to your tissues. During pregnancy your blood volume expands to accommodate changes in your body and help your baby make his or her entire blood supply, doubling your need for iron.
If you don’t get enough iron, you may become fatigued and more susceptible to infections. The risk of preterm delivery and low birth weight also might be higher.
Foods with high and moderate amounts of iron include red meat, chicken and fish, fortified cereals, spinach, some leafy greens and beans. For vegetarians and women who do not eat a lot of meat, increase iron absorption by combining plant-based sources of iron with vitamin C-rich foods. For example, try spinach salad with mandarin oranges or cereal with strawberries.
- Calcium: During pregnancy, calcium is needed for the healthy development of a baby’s teeth, bones, heart, nerves and muscles. When a pregnant woman does not consume enough calcium, it is taken from her bones for the baby. It is important to consume adequate amounts of calcium daily before, during and after pregnancy. The recommended amount of calcium during pregnancy is 1,000 milligrams per day for adolescents 14 to 18 years old and 1,300 milligrams per day for women aged 19 to 50. That means at least three daily servings of calcium-rich foods such as low-fat or fat-free milk, yogurt or cheese or calcium-fortified cereals and juices.
Vitamin D Promotes bone strength and helps build your baby’s bones and teeth. Fatty fish, such as salmon, is a great source of vitamin D. Other options include fortified milk and orange juice.
There has been many studies recently revealing how common it is women of childbearing age are either insufficient or deficient in their levels of Vitamin D. This can cause an adverse outcome in pregnancy if not addressed. Your vitamin D3 level should be > 40 ng/ml for a healthy pregnancy and for breastfeeding. Ask your healthcare provider to include your 25-OH-D concentrations of your Vitamin D level in your initial prenatal lab work.
Prenatal vitamins currently contain only 400 IU of Vitamin D3 which is inadequate.
Protein is crucial for your baby’s growth, especially during the second and third trimesters. You need 71 grams/day. Good sources of protein include: Lean meat, poultry, fish and eggs are great sources of protein. Other options include dried beans and peas, tofu, dairy products, and peanut butter.
When you look at your food choices on your plate, you should have a variety of color!
Fine-tuning your eating habits to ensure you are receiving adequate nutrition for the health of you and your baby is key. Healthy eating during pregnancy is critical for a healthy pregnancy, healthy mom and baby!
Shelia L. Kirkbride, MS, NC, VE.
Mayo clinic.org-Nutrients in pregnancy
maternal vitamin D supplementation reduces the risk of premature birth