What are Some Nutrition Considerations for Pregnant Women?

If you’re pregnant, your diet needs to change to accommodate the extra energy you will need as your baby grows. You are not exactly “eating for two,” since a developing embryo is not even visible at conception. Normal birth weight is about seven pounds, so eating in excess may simply add extra pounds to your waistline. Dieting, however, is risky and should be avoided. Your body needs good nutrients while you are pregnant to sustain both your health and the health of your developing child.

Some very overweight women who are pregnant may be on a slightly restricted diet. However, most women should expect to add about 300 calories a day to their normal diet. Ideal weight gain is about 27 pounds, but this varies.

The first nutritional consideration when pregnant is folic acid supplementation. A woman who plans to get pregnant should ideally start taking folic acid about three months before trying for a baby. Sometimes pregnancy is a happy surprise, and if you use no birth control, then folic acid should be part of everyday supplementation. Folic acid reduces the incidence of birth defects of the spine, like spina bifida.

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Most women can easily get a prescribed supplement containing folic acid, iron, vitamin A, and others. Many health food prenatal vitamins are also safe. However, one should watch the level of vitamin A in these products. Vitamin A from fish liver can be particularly dangerous, so avoid this source. Increase safe levels by consuming fruits and vegetables with orange flesh, such as winter squash, sweet potatoes, carrots, or apricots.

Aside from supplementation, other nutritional recommendations for pregnant women include eating high levels of protein and fiber. Try to find medium to good sources of dietary fiber by skipping the white bread or pasta and choosing whole wheat instead. As well, include lots of green veggies in your diet, since these are great sources of both dietary fiber and iron.

Meat, eggs and dairy products are excellent protein sources. Fish should be avoided when one is pregnant, because of its high mercury content. Although soft cheeses may be yummy, some can contain brucellosis, a nasty bacteria that can affect both you and your baby, so these should be avoided. If you tend toward a vegetarian lifestyle, be sure to include lots of dairy and eggs, since these have a high yield of protein.

If you are lactose-intolerant, you may still be able to digest yogurt with active cultures. If you really can’t digest any milk product, consider purchasing products that are calcium enriched. You can purchase calcium rich tofu for example. When a calcium supplement is required, don’t take it with iron, because iron inhibits the absorption of calcium.

As well as avoiding soft cheeses, pregnant women are particularly prone to several other bacteria that can cause illness in mother and child. Listeria, which is a bacteria found on deli meat and improperly washed vegetables, can cause severe vomiting and diarrhea. Salmonella may be contracted from uncooked eggs, or uncooked chicken. E. Coli, the worst of the bunch, is most frequently found in raw meat. When pregnant, use particular caution when preparing and eating these foods to avoid dangerous illness.

To combat morning sickness while pregnant, it helps to have a starchy food available to you first thing in the morning. Many women keep some crackers by their bed. Eating before you get out of bed is important. Just a few crackers can help keep minor morning sickness at bay.

Though you are still only eating for 1 plus, it’s okay to occasionally indulge in a treat. However, if you have high sugar content in your urine, your obstetrician may ask you to refrain from sugar consumption to rule out gestational diabetes. When this is not a concern, go ahead and have that extra helping from time to time. Just don’t have one at every meal, and every day.

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Discuss this Article

MissDaphne
Post 2

@EdRick - You're right, but sometimes a pregnant woman has trouble keeping down her prenatal vitamin. That's something the article didn't really address, the relationship between nutrition and morning sickness. Folic acid is most important early in pregnancy when morning sickness is worst, so anyone who keeps throwing up her vitamin should tell her doctor!

I personally didn't have trouble with the vitamins (my sister did), but I kept feeling like I didn't want to eat anything but crackers and toast, lots of carbs and no protein. Once I forced myself to load up on protein, though, I found that my symptoms actually improved.

EdRick
Post 1

Even if they do use birth control, all women of childbearing age should take folic acid. It doesn't have to be a special prenatal vitamin; many women's multivitamins (often sold in orange jars) have enough for pre-conception. You may not be thinking about becoming pregnant, but if you do get that surprise (no birth control is 100%, after all), the last thing you want to be worrying about it neural tube defects.

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