It is not uncommon for women to admit that they do not have the best eating habits upon finding out they are pregnant, and then decide to change their eating habits in order to prevent complications and have a healthy baby. Of course, all women of child-bearing age should maintain a healthy lifestyle to help reduce the risk of birth defects and chronic health problems in their children. During pregnancy, nutrition is one factor which affects fetal growth and development, and is within a women’s control. For these reasons, it is important that pregnant women eat a variety of nutrient-rich foods from all of the recommended food groups.
Most pregnant women need 2,200 to 2,900 calories a day. Note that doctors take into consideration a women’s pre-pregnancy BMI (body mass index), rate of weight gain, maternal age, and appetite when determining how many calories she should be consuming daily. A gradual increase of calories throughout pregnancy and as the baby grows is standard.
- The first trimester does not require any extra calories.
- The second trimester requires an additional 345 calories a day.
- The third trimester requires an additional 450 calories a day.
The recommended weight gain for pregnancy is:
- Underweight women (BMI < 19.8): 28 – 40 pounds
- Normal weight women (BMI 19.8-26): 25 – 35 pounds
- Overweight women (BMI 26-29): 15 – 25 pounds
- Obese women (BMI > 29): 13 pound minimum
- Twin pregnancy:
- Normal weight women: 37 – 54 pounds
- Overweight women: 31 – 50 pounds
- Obese women: 25 – 42 pounds
Where does this weight gain go? Only about 1/3 of the total weight gained during pregnancy actually goes to the fetus – most of the rest of the weight gain is accounted for by the increase weight of the maternal tissues.If you are concerned about gaining too much weight, understand that dieting during pregnancy, even for a short period of time, can be hazardous, as diets can be deficient in the nutrients that are vital to fetal growth. To help avoid consuming too many calories, cut down on sugary and fatty foods. Replace regular soda, sweets, and fried foods with healthier options, such as low-fat milk, whole fruit, and whole grains.
Folate, iron, and calcium are essential nutrients that should be consumed in the recommended amounts both before and during pregnancy to help ensure a healthy pregnancy and baby.
Folate and Vitamin B12:
Folate, or folic acid, plays an important role in preventing neural tube defects. Shortly after conception, folate helps develop, and then close, the baby’s neural tube, which in turn becomes the baby’s spinal cord and brain. A neural tube defect occurs when the neural tube does not close properly. Women who consume enough folate, particularly in the weeks prior to conception and during the first six weeks of pregnancy, may reduce the chances of this occurring.
The recommended daily intake for folate is 400 micrograms during childbearing age, and 600 micrograms during pregnancy. Food items rich in folate include citrus fruits and juices, avocados, asparagus, spinach, chick peas, pinto beans, lentils, liver, and nuts. In addition, some food items are fortified with folate, such as breads, cereals, and pastas. Some women may want to consider taking a vitamin supplement that contains folic acid because vitamin B12 assists folate in manufacturing new cells, pregnant women need to consume a higher amount of this as well. Food items high in vitamin B12 include meat, eggs, and dairy products.
A women’s body conserves iron during pregnancy; however, because the developing fetus is drawing upon this iron to create its own iron stores for its first few months of life, the pregnant women’s iron stores decline. Therefore, if a pregnant woman does not consume enough iron, there is a risk of maternal iron deficiency anemia. Therefore, it is recommended that pregnant women consume at least 30 milligrams of iron a day. Food items high in iron foods include spinach, kale, leafy greens, beans, fortified cereals, red meat, chicken, and fish.
During pregnancy, calcium is needed for the healthy development of a baby’s teeth, bones, heart, nerves, and muscles. If a pregnant woman does not consume enough calcium, it is taken from her bones for the baby. To prevent this, pregnant women should consume at least 1,000 milligrams of calcium a day both before and during pregnancy. Food items high in calcium include low-fat or fat-free milk, yogurt, cheese, and calcium-fortified cereals and juices.
Even though there are no studies stating that caffeine causes birth defects in human beings, women who consume too much caffeine during pregnancy may increase the risk of spontaneous abortion. Therefore, it is recommended that pregnant women limit their caffeine consumption to one cup of caffeinated coffee a day.
Healthy eating during pregnancy can also help relieve some common discomforts during pregnancy. To help prevent or alleviate constipation, be sure to eat food that is high in fiber, and drink plenty of fluids during the day. If you are experiencing heartburn, it is important to eat slowly and consume small, frequent meals; drink plenty of liquids; and avoid spicy and greasy food.