Healthy Eating During Pregnancy
Eating for one is sometimes challenging enough, with all of the tasty temptations currently offered. Here are some general guidelines that will help you make smart choices when it comes to your food intake.
Take the prenatal vitamins your doctor has prescribed. They contain all of the supplements you'll need during the pregnancy — and then some. Folic acid, now a mainstay in prenatal vitamins, has been shown to combat spina bifida, a disease affecting the baby's central nervous system.
However, don't rely solely on your prenatal vitamins to carry you through your entire pregnancy. You'll still need to eat well-balanced meals, since the vitamins are only a supplement to regular eating. Of course, many foods already contain the vitamins you need — the prenatal vitamins are simply extra protection for you and baby.
While fish can be full of nutrients, it can also have contaminants like mercury, which can affect baby's brain development and nervous system. FDA guidelines for pregnant and prepregnant women state that no more than twelve ounces of low-mercury fish should be consumed weekly. Limit high-mercury fish consumption to three six-ounce servings a month — and avoid highest mercury fish (king mackerel, shark, swordfish, and tilefish) completely.
Follow the Food Pyramid
Remember the food groups you learned about in grade school? Never have you needed them more than when your body is developing a healthy baby. Eat foods from each of the food groups every day.
You'll need at least four servings of protein foods (such as meat, cheese, eggs, milk, beans, and tofu); at least one vitamin C — filled food (including fruits and vegetables such as grapefruit, oranges, mangoes, papaya, cantaloupe, strawberries, cabbage, cauliflower, and spinach); two or three green leafy vegetables or yellow fruits or vegetables (such as peaches, raw carrots, broccoli, lettuce, spinach, and yams); four to five servings per day of breads, cereals, and grains (such as whole wheat bread, rice, grain cereal, wheat germ, and pasta).
Snack on grapes, apples, nuts, and granola when you can; these foods are easy to pack and carry with you even if you're on the road or at work.
Folic acid is an important ingredient in prenatal vitamins recommended by your doctor because it is proven to help prevent neural tube defects in babies. Most of these kinds of defects can be avoided by proper daily amounts of folate in the mother's diet. On their own, most women simply do not consume enough to make a positive difference.
Consume More Calories
You'll need to consume a lot more calories than you used to — but only the good kind, so lay off the chocolate mousse! Also, simply eating more food than you usually do is not going to cut it; your body needs to have calories with high value — not the empty calories found in cakes, cookies, and pies. You don't have to gain a lot of weight to have a baby, and many doctors prefer that you eat better and weigh less rather than eat everything in sight and weigh more.
Most women gain between 25 and 30 pounds during pregnancy. You need only an additional 300 to 500 calories per day for the baby's development. (But see your doctor for advice concerning your own individual requirements, as you may have underlying issues or health problems that require different plans of action.)
What if eating seems to make me sick?
If you are experiencing lots of morning sickness to the extent that nothing seems to stay down, call your doctor to see whether there's a medical solution that will enable you to eat better. Anti-nausea medications, or simply trying smaller amounts of bland foods at different times of the day, may help.
Drink Plenty of Fluids
You'll need to keep your body hydrated and refreshed, especially with water and milk. Water will flush out any impurities in your system and keep you hydrated. This is particularly important in early pregnancy, when your body is at work cleansing its system in preparation for building a new life.
Especially in the last trimester, your milk (or soy milk) intake should be three to four glasses per day; this helps your body build calcium levels sufficient for strengthening the baby's bones — with the added benefit of warding off those miserable leg cramps you might be getting. In fact, the leg cramps are nature's way of telling you to consume more calcium. (This also means you should limit the amount of caffeine you consume, since caffeine is notorious for depleting calcium levels in women.)
Have a Snack or Two … but Not Three
If you're not getting enough iron, your doctor may put you on supplements. If this happens, be sure to take only what the doctor prescribes, since too much iron can damage a developing fetus.
Small, healthy snacks such as wheat or saltine crackers, granola bars, cheese sticks, oatmeal cookies, raisins, or fruit can help keep your stomach focused on processing food versus creating more nauseating acids. It's a good idea to eat small, high-protein snacks throughout the day even when you're not pregnant, since this is a good way to curb hunger and avoid excess binging.
If you eat too much at one time while you're pregnant, your stomach will have a more difficult time processing all that food at once, which could lead to diarrhea, nausea, or even vomiting. If it's still early in your pregnancy and you're having morning sickness, avoid the more acidic fruits, as they tend to upset the stomach.
Keep a Food Diary
Your food selection is not as limited as you may think — you'll still have choices! For example, a Mexican meal consisting of refried beans (protein), avocados and salsa (fruit and vegetable), low-fat sour cream (protein), and flour tortillas (bread) offers a tasty and fairly nutritious meal.
To stay on top of how much and how well you're eating, one of the best things you can do is keep a food diary. This will not only help you record the number of calories you're consuming, it will also provide a clearer picture of your eating habits, helping you learn where you can improve in order to provide the best “room service” for your growing baby.
Share your food diary with your health care provider at your monthly appointments, and ask for suggestions or ideas for improvement. For instance, your doctor may recommend restricting certain foods, such as peanuts and peanut butter, if food allergies run in your family. Even if you don't have a particular allergy, your baby might have inherited one from someone else on your family tree!