Healthy Eating for Your Baby
Eating healthily will ensure that both you and your fetus receive the nutrients that are essential for you both from the very start of pregnancy. But don't wait until you are pregnant. Researchers believe that eating a healthy diet once you become pregnant may not make up for earlier nutritional deficiencies.
Supplying Nutrients for Your Baby
In the very first weeks of pregnancy, often before you even realize you are pregnant, your baby will rely on your stores of vitamins and minerals for normal development. During pregnancy, optimal nutrition will be in high demand. Your body needs enough nutrients to support itself, as well as the baby, through all stages of development. All the nourishment your baby needs will come from the foods you eat, the reserves in your body, and the supplements that you take. The key to a healthy birth is to start eating a healthy diet and boosting your intake of certain essential nutrients before you become pregnant. It's all about planning ahead! You plan for the baby's room and for the supplies and clothes you need, and so on. Don't forget the most important plan — a healthy you!
To begin, you need to ask yourself whether your eating habits measure up and whether you are getting the nutrients you need to support a healthy pregnancy. If the answer is “no,” you have some work to do. Start by assessing your present eating habits. A good assessment tool is the USDA's Food Guide Pyramid. Keep in mind that it is important to get your partner started on a healthier lifestyle, too.
Assessing Your Diet with the Food Guide Pyramid
The Food Guide Pyramid can be used as a tool to assess your current food intake. The pyramid contains all the food groups essential to a healthy diet. It is meant as a guideline to aid people in recognizing what and how much to eat of each of the five major food groups daily. Following the Food Guide Pyramid will help keep your fat intake at healthy levels and ensure that you are consuming all the essential nutrients that make up a healthy diet for the average person. It will help you increase your intake of nutrient-dense foods or foods that contain more nutrients than calories. By following the Food Guide Pyramid, you can rest assured that you are getting all of the nourishment that your body needs to plan for a healthy pregnancy.
The USDA Food Guide Pyramid
Source: U.S. Department of Agriculture and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
On average, women who are not pregnant should consume the following servings daily from the Food Guide Pyramid (depending on activity level):
6 to 9 servings from the bread, cereal, rice, and pasta group — Include whole-grain and whole-wheat foods as much as possible.
3 to 4 servings from the vegetable group — Choose from a variety of vegetables, and stick to fresh or frozen for higher nutritional content.
2 to 3 servings from the fruit group — Choose from a variety of fruits.
2 to 3 servings from the milk group — Choose from low-fat or fat-free dairy products.
5 to 6 ounces (or 2 servings) from the meat group — Choose from lean meats and include nonmeat protein foods such as beans, lentils, and fish regularly.
Fats, oils, and sweets — Use sparingly.
Keep in mind that the stated number of servings is for women who are not yet pregnant. These serving sizes increase with pregnancy and are discussed in more detail in Chapter 3.
Food in one group should not replace foods from another group. Because each group supplies different essential nutrients, no food group is any more important than any other. It is important to eat from all of the food groups each day and to eat a variety for optimal nutritional intake. In addition to your food intake, don't forget your fluids, too!
Water is an important nutrient and one that is often overlooked when planning a healthy diet. For optimal intake, you should shoot for at least eight 8-ounce glasses per day. Water is present in just about every part of the body and has a vital role in almost every major function in the body, including pregnancy. The body has no provision to store water, so make sure you drink water every day.