Maternal Nutrition: What You Need To Know About Nutrition During Pregnancy

Good nutrition is one of the best things you can do during pregnancy. Proper nutrition helps your body stay strong and support your growing baby. It is a necessary part of maintaining a healthy weight for both you and your baby. A well-balanced diet during your pregnancy can also help give your baby a healthy start.

Key takeaways:

Why good nutrition is a top priority

Most women do not meet healthy nutrition standards before or during pregnancy. Recommendations are “eat better, not more”. Women who are more conscious of their health and nutrition during pregnancy tend to report fewer complications and healthier children. Women also report improved birthing experiences and fewer babies with low birth weights.

Healthy eating is an important part of working toward a healthy pregnancy. Good nutrition helps provide many of the nutrients necessary to make both mom and baby healthy. Increasing the number of fruits, vegetables, dairy, whole grains, and seafood in your diet can improve your nutrition.

Poor nutrition can mean a few things

Poor nutrition doesn’t always just look like eating junk food, snacking, or eating too much. Poor nutrition comes in several forms.

Not getting enough of the right nutrients, even when trying to “eat well,” can result in poor nutrition.

Not eating enough can result in poor nutrient intake.

Eating foods without enough nutrients won’t provide what you and your baby need.

All of these can affect your baby’s growth and health. Babies who don’t receive enough of the proper nutrients during pregnancy may be born small for gestational age, sick, or end up having a chronic (long-term) health problems later in life.

Misunderstandings about eating during pregnancy

There are a lot of misconceptions when it comes to eating and pregnancy. For decades, women believed that when pregnant, you should eat for two. This is a myth that leads to unhealthy weight gain and improper nutrients. Mothers should increase their nutrients by adding 300 calories per day in the second and third trimesters. It will help support the increasing energy needs.

Another misunderstanding is that not gaining weight will make the pregnancy easier. Mothers who don’t gain enough weight are at risk for complications during pregnancy. These mothers risk having a premature birth, which could cause their babies significant health problems.

An additional myth about pregnancy is a healthy pregnant woman will not have discomfort. Normal discomforts of pregnancy, like nausea, constipation, and heartburn, are not dictated by who is healthy or unhealthy. However, a healthy diet, plenty of water, and regular exercise may help limit these symptoms naturally because the causes generally are low fiber, water, and exercise.

Cravings do not indicate what your body needs. Many women have believed that cravings tell you what your body needs during pregnancy. Cravings come in a wide variety of foods and are not a sign of what your body needs or lacks. Nutritionally speaking, no one ever lacked pizza, ice cream, or pickles, even on days, it feels like it.

Making healthy choices

Making healthy choices is the best way to go. You don’t have to go on a diet. Diets are strongly discouraged during pregnancy. You are encouraged to choose healthy, nutritious foods that will fuel your body and sustain you and your baby.

Dieting is discouraged because it often leads to a lack of proper nutrition and calories. Pregnant and breastfeeding mothers should not restrict nutrients of any type. They need to be sure to get enough calories and eat all of the major food groups.

What to eat

Healthy eating during pregnancy is the same as what is recommended outside of pregnancy. Getting the right amount of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, protein, and healthy fats is recommended.

Folate and folic acid help prevent neural tube defects – development problems of the brain and spinal cord.
How much: 400 micrograms (mcg) daily.
Found in: fortified cereals; dark, leafy green vegetables; citrus fruits; lentils.

Calcium helps you and your baby have strong bones and teeth.
How much: 1,000 milligrams (mg) daily.
Found in: dairy products; broccoli; fruit juices; kale; fortified cereals.

Protein will help your baby grow.
How much: 71 grams (g) daily.
Found in: lean meat, poultry, seafood, and eggs; peanuts, peas, soy, and beans.

Iron helps prevent anemia which can lead to low oxygen, headaches, tiredness, premature birth, babies with low birth weight, and postpartum depression.
How much: 27 milligrams (mg) daily.
Found in: lean red meat, poultry, and fish; fortified cereal; vegetables.

Vitamin D helps calcium support strong bones and teeth.
How much: 600 international units (IU) daily.
Found in: fortified milk; orange juice; fatty fish like salmon; eggs.

However, while these nutrients can be found in foods, the amounts eaten or absorbed by the body are not sufficient. This is why prenatal vitamins are necessary. It is also important to note you should discuss other supplements with your healthcare provider as they may not be safe during pregnancy.

Prenatal vitamins help too

Prenatal vitamins will supply the extra needed vitamins and minerals that are not absorbed by your body even with a healthy diet. Prenatal vitamins are not used in place of healthy eating, nor are they intended only for those lacking particular nutrients.

They provide the additional nutrients that you may not receive from food. Prenatal vitamins are particularly good for the added amount of folic acid required to prevent neural tube defects. These vitamins are available over-the-counter or with a prescription from your obstetrician or healthcare provider.

What foods to avoid

When you are pregnant and looking at your nutrition, it is also necessary to understand there are certain foods you should not eat. Avoiding the following foods can prevent problems for you and your baby:

Hot dogs, lunch/deli meats, or bologna – can cause listeria unless thoroughly heated.

Soft cheeses that are not pasteurized – high in bacteria.

Bigeye tuna, king mackerel, marlin, orange roughy, swordfish, shark, tilefish – high in mercury.

Raw fish and shellfish – high in bacteria.

Undercooked meat, poultry, eggs, or meat spreads.

Unwashed fruits and vegetables.

Excess caffeine – more than 200 milligrams (mg) per day. One 8-ounce cup of coffee has 95 mg, and 12 ounces of cola has 33 mg.

Alcohol – No level of alcohol has been determined to be safe during pregnancy. Alcohol can lead to miscarriage, stillbirth, or fetal alcohol syndrome. Avoiding all alcohol is the safest option.

If you are concerned

Talk to your doctor or healthcare provider if you have any concerns about your nutrition or if you have any special health concerns like:

  • Diabetes.
  • Gestational diabetes.
  • Weight loss during pregnancy.
  • Other concerns.

Your healthcare provider can help guide you or refer you to a nutritionist or dietician who can assist you.

Good nutrition is vital during pregnancy. Healthy eating can help provide a healthy pregnancy for you and your baby. Dieting is not recommended during pregnancy. Eat the recommended amount of fruits, veggies, whole grains, lean meats, and good fats each day. This will not only help you feel better and give you more energy but increase the likelihood of your baby being healthy as well.

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