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Proper diet and nutrition during pregnancy help to keep the mother and the developing baby healthy. The need for certain nutrients, such as iron and folate, is increased at this time but only a small amount of extra energy is needed.

If you are pregnant, a good approach is to eat to satisfy your appetite and continue to monitor your weight. It is natural to have a weight gain over the course of pregnancy around 10–13kg for who were healthy women before conception.

A diet with variations usually provides our bodies with all of the required vitamins and minerals each day in good quantity. However, pregnant women may need supplements of vitamins or minerals as advised by the doctor.

Healthy foods for pregnant women

It is very critical to choose a wide group of foods to provide the nutritional needs of both mother and baby in adequate quantity.

  • Enough of fruit and vegetables, wholegrain bread, and cereals
  • A fair quantity of low-fat dairy foods, poultry, and meat.
  • Low intake of foods high in sugar, salt, and fat.
  • Low in meat, chicken, and low in mercury content fish.
  • Dried lentils and beans.
  • Dry fruits, Nuts, and seeds
  • Green leafy vegetables.

Folic acid (folate) and pregnancy

Folate (also commonly-termed as folic acid when added to foods) is a part of the B-group vitamin which is found in a variety of foods. Folate requirements and intake increase substantially in pregnancy. Hence women should consume at least 600mcg (micrograms) of folate regularly from their normal daily diet.

As a part of a healthy diet, it is also recommended that women who are planning for pregnancy should consume an additional 400mcg of folic acid each day for a month before and three months after conception. The consumption can be as a supplement or in the form of fortified foods (food in which folate is added during production). Folate consumption over this period can reduce to seven out of 10 cases of neural tube defects.

Iron and pregnancy

As the onset of Pregnancy occurs it eventually increases the need for iron in the diet. The developing fetus fetches iron from the mother to survive it through the first five or six months after birth so a woman has an increased need for iron during pregnancy.

Iron losses usually reduce during pregnancy as the woman is no longer menstruating and so has less iron loss from menstrual blood. It is very much essential to include foods that are good sources of iron in the diet every day (for example, red meat) and also foods that are rich sources of vitamin C (like oranges) which helps to absorb the iron.

Finally, the recommended daily intake (RDI) of iron during pregnancy is 27mg a day (which is almost 9mg a day more than that for non-pregnant women). The amount needed usually depends on the quantity of stored iron in her body before pregnancy. If a lady has low iron stores, she may require having more from supplements. It is recommended to discuss the need for supplements with your doctor as iron intake can be toxic (poisonous) if done in large amounts.

Iodine and pregnancy

  • Iodine is an essential mineral required to produce thyroid hormone, which is important for growth and development. Insufficient intake of iodine during pregnancy can increase the risk of mental impairment in the newborn baby.
  • Good sources of iodine include foods like seafood, eggs, meat, and dairy products. Pregnant Women are also recommended to use iodized table salt when cooking or adding salt to food.

Vitamin A and pregnancy

  • The consumption intake of Vitamin A increases during pregnancy. But Vitamin A supplements are rarely recommended for pregnant women as excessive intake of vitamin A can cause birth deformities.
  • Hence to increase the intake of vitamin A, if it is low, can be maintained through food like milk, fish, eggs, and margarine.

Multivitamin supplements and pregnancy

Multivitamin supplements are usually recommended for the groups of pregnant women like:

  • Vegetarians
  • Teenagers having an inadequate food intake
  • Substances that act as misusers (drugs, tobacco, and alcohol)
  • Obese pregnant women who restrict their energy intake to prevent large weight gains.

Hence it is always recommended to take advice from your doctor before intake of vitamin or mineral supplements.

There is no need for extra calcium during pregnancy

Eventually, there is a large transfer of calcium to the baby during the third trimester of pregnancy (as it starts to develop and strengthen its bones), hence the increased capacity of the mother to absorb dietary calcium manages the loss without the need for extra intake.

The recommended dietary intake of calcium for non-pregnant women is (1,000mg a day for women aged 19–50 years and 1,300mg a day for adolescents or those aged over 51). This remains unchanged during pregnancy and breastfeeding. Dairy foods like milk, cheese, yogurt, and calcium-fortified soy milk are very good dietary sources of calcium.

Eating for two

Eat more food during pregnancy is not required. It is suggested that for the first trimester, a woman should have energy intake the same as it was prior to the pregnancy. During the second and third trimesters, energy consumption increases by about 600kJ a day. This can be done by increasing fruit intake to four serves each day which is two serves for non-pregnant women, and it will provide all the extra energy needed.

The dangers of dieting while pregnant

Usually, women fear the extra weight gain during pregnancy and decide to eat less to avoid putting on body fat. But it can be dangerous by doing restricted eating or crash dieting in any form while pregnant as it can seriously affect your health and that of your baby.

Pregnancy in adolescence

Pregnant adolescents require more nutrients as compared to adult women because they are still growing themselves. Adolescents can give birth to smaller infants because they might be competing with the growing fetus for nutrients fullness. Anemia is a very common disorder among adolescents compared to older women. Calcium intake is very important as young women have not yet reached their peak bone mass. Inadequate calcium intake may result in an increased risk of osteoporosis developing later stage in life.

Nausea and vomiting during pregnancy

Nausea and vomiting, commonly termed as ‘morning sickness, are likely during pregnancy, particularly in the first trimester. Small carbohydrate snacks (a sandwich or fruit) if consumed every two to three hours can provide some relief.

The following suggestions may also help:

  • Consume some dry bread, biscuits, or cereal before getting up in the morning. One should get up slowly, avoiding sudden movements.
  • Consume liquids between meals to avoid bloating as this can trigger vomiting.
  • Avoid large meals and highly spiced foods.
  • Have sour things like a lemon.
  • Relax, rest, and have fresh air as much as possible. Rooms should be well ventilated and odor-free.
  • Slowly sip a fizzy drink when feeling like nausea.
  • Have food and drinks containing ginger as this at times relieve nausea.

Heartburn and pregnancy

Heartburn is a common symptom during pregnancy as the baby starts growing, there is more pressure created on the abdomen. Small, frequent meals to be consumed than large meals.

Try to avoid:

  • Eating late at night
  • Be careful while bending, lifting, or lying down after meals
  • Too much consumption of tea or coffee.

Alcohol during pregnancy

As such, there is no awareness of the safe level of alcohol consumption for pregnant women.

Consuming alcohol during pregnancy can increase the risk of miscarriage, low birth weight, deformities, and effects on the baby’s mind and brain.

Listeria infection and pregnancy

Listeria infection, or listeriosis, is an illness that is usually caused by eating food contaminated with bacteria known as Listeria monocytogenes. In the case of healthy people, there are no ill effects from listeria infection at all, but the risks are more for pregnant women. The high danger is to the unborn baby, with an increased risk of miscarriage, stillbirth, or premature labor. Listeria infection can be easily treated with antibiotics, but prevention is better than cure.

Exclude the foods from your diet which are more prone to contamination with listeria if you are pregnant:

  • Soft cheeses are safe if served cooked and hot.
  • Precooked or pre-prepared cold foods that will not be consumed by reheating. For example, pre-prepared salads.
  • Raw seafood such as oysters, smoked seafood such as salmon but the canned varieties are safe
  • Unpasteurized foods
  • Soft-serve ice-cream

The organism that causes listeria infection is usually destroyed by heat,hence properly cooked foods are not so much a risk.

Salmonella and pregnancy

Salmonella is a source of food poisoning that can increase miscarriage. The likely sources of salmonella are raw eggs and undercooked meat and poultry.

Good food hygiene

  • Good food hygiene is to be maintained to reduce the risk of salmonella and listeria infections.
  • Washing your hands before and after preparing food is a must.
  • Kitchen surfaces to be kept clean.
  • Uncooked food should not contaminate cooked food.
  • All fruit, vegetables, and salad should be properly washed before eating.
  • Foods should be cooked thoroughly.
  • Pets should be away from kitchen surfaces.
  • Foods to be stored at correct temperatures.

Mercury in fish

It is recommended to pregnant women eat 2–3 serves of fish every week for keeping the good health of themselves and their developing baby.  Pregnant women or women intending to become pregnant within the next six months should be very careful about which fish they should eat. Some types of fish have high levels of mercury, which can be dangerous to the developing fetus.

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