A balanced diet is a basic part of good health at all times in your life. During pregnancy, your diet is even more important. The foods you eat are the main source of nutrients for your baby.
Before You Become Pregnant
The best time to begin eating a healthy diet is before you become pregnant. This will help you and your baby start out with the nutrients you both need. Please refer to out article on Preconception Counseling for more information.
A Healthy Diet
The first step toward healthy eating is to look at the foods in your daily diet. Early in pregnancy, morning sickness can affect your eating habits. You may crave certain foods or not feel like eating. If this happens, you still should try to eat a variety of foods each day to help ensure you are getting the right amount of nutrients.
Having healthy snacks that you can eat during the day is a good way to get the nutrients and extra calories you need. You may find it easier to eat snacks and small meals throughout the day rather than three big meals a day. This also may help you avoid nausea and heartburn.
Healthy eating also means avoiding things that may be harmful. This includes alcohol (beer, wine, or mixed drinks) and illegal drugs, which may cause birth defects and other problems for the baby. Smoking cigarettes is especially harmful to a pregnant woman and her baby.
You also may want to cut out or reduce your caffeine intake during pregnancy.
Planning meals in advance can help ensure that you and your family eat a balanced diet.
The recommended daily allowance on food labels shows the levels of nutrients you need every day. During pregnancy, the RDAs are higher for most nutrients. Table 2 shows the key nutrients you and your baby will need during your pregnancy.
Pregnant women need extra iron and folic acid, and these are usually prescribed in pill form as supplements. Sometimes a prenatal supplement that contains these two nutrients plus vitamins and minerals is recommended. Ask your doctor or nurse how your needs can be best met.
Women should take 400 micrograms of folic acid daily, in addition to a well balanced diet, for at least 1 month before pregnancy and during the first 3 months of pregnancy. This can help prevent neural tube defects, which affect the spine and skull of the fetus.
Women who have had a child with a neural tube defect are more likely to have another child with this problem. These women need much higher doses of folic acid—4 milligrams daily. It should be taken for at least 1 month before pregnancy and during the first 3 months of pregnancy. Women who need 4 milligrams should take folic acid as a separate supplement, not as part of a multivitamin.
Check with your doctor before taking any vitamins, herbs, or other supplements that are not prescribed for you. They might be harmful during pregnancy.
When you are pregnant, you need to eat more to help the growth and development of your baby, as well as for the changes in your own body that promote a healthy pregnancy. During at least the last 6 months of pregnancy, you need to eat or drink about 100 more calories per day than you did before you were pregnant.
How much weight you gain during pregnancy depends on your weight before pregnancy. A healthy gain for most women is between 25 and 35 pounds. If you are overweight, you should gain less, but some weight gain is normal. If you are underweight, you should gain more. Talk with your doctor about the amount of weight you can expect to gain. This may vary if you are pregnant with more than one baby.
Where does the weight go?!
For mothers to be with special dietary needs:
If you are a vegetarian, you can continue your diet during your pregnancy. Be sure you are getting enough protein and that it is the correct type. You will probably need to take supplements, especially iron, vitamin B12, and vitamin D.
Milk and other dairy products are the best sources of calcium in your diet. Some women have symptoms such as bloating, diarrhea, gas, and indigestion after drinking milk or eating dairy products. This is known as lactose intolerance.
During pregnancy, these symptoms often improve. But if you still have problems after eating or drinking dairy products, talk with your doctor or dietitian. He or she may prescribe calcium supplements if you cannot get enough calcium from other foods. Calcium also can be found in cheese, yogurt, sardines, certain types of salmon, spinach, and fortified orange juice.
Fish and shellfish are good sources of protein, omega-3 fatty acids, and other nutrients. However, pregnant women should not eat certain kinds of fish because they contain high levels of a form of mercury that can be harmful to the developing fetus.
You should avoid eating shark, swordfish, king mackerel, or tilefish during pregnancy. These large fish contain high levels of mercury. Albacore tuna also is high in mercury so you may want to choose canned chunk light tuna instead. Other types of fish are fine in limited amounts. You can eat up to 12 ounces (about two meals) of other varied fish and shellfish per week.
Check local advisories about fish caught in local rivers and streams. If there is no advice about them, it may be safe to eat up to 6 ounces (one meal) per week of fish from local waters. During that week, do not eat any other fish.
Listeriosis is an illness caused by bacteria that can occur in unpasteurized milk and soft cheese and prepared and uncooked meats, poultry, and shellfish. It can be particularly harmful to pregnant women and their babies.
Symptoms occur several weeks after you eat the food. They can include fevers, chills, muscle aches, and back pain. In some cases, there may be no symptoms at all. When a pregnant woman is infected, the disease can cause miscarriage or stillbirth.
Because the symptoms of listeriosis are like the flu, it can be difficult to diagnose. If you have a fever or flu-like illness, check with your doctor. If the bacteria are found, you and your baby can be treated with antibiotics. If there is a chance that a newborn is infected, he or she also can be tested and treated.
To prevent listeriosis, wash all fresh fruits and vegetables before using them. While you are pregnant, do not eat:
Always be sure to wash your hands and any utensils, countertops, or cutting boards that have been in contact with uncooked meats.
During pregnancy, some women feel strong urges to eat non-food items such as clay, ice, laundry starch, or cornstarch. This is called pica. Pica can be harmful to your pregnancy. It can affect your intake of nutrients and can lead to constipation and anemia. Talk with your doctor if you have any of these urges. He or she may be able to suggest other things you can do when you feel the urge to eat non-food items.
More information can be found on American College of Obstetricians and Gynecology
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