Food and Nutrition during Pregnancy

During pregnancy, your baby’s main source of nourishment is what you eat and drink.

You should eat well even before the start of your pregnancy and this attitude should be maintained throughout the pregnancy to ensure that your baby is healthy and well-nourished. Experts recommend that pregnant women consume a variety of health food and beverages to provide the adequate amount of nutrients that a baby needs for proper growth and development.

What food should you eat during pregnancy?

It is important to be consuming mostly nutritious foods during a pregnancy to ensure that the baby grows and develops well inside a woman’s body. To maximize the nutrition you get from your food during pregnancy, it is recommended to consume food belonging to the following four food groups:

1. Fruits and Vegetables

During the second and third trimesters of pregnancy, it is recommended that pregnant women consume a lot of fruits and vegetables.

The great thing about these foods is that they are low on calories but are high in fiber, vitamins and minerals.

2. Lean Protein

In consuming meat, poultry and fish, it is recommended to choose those that are low in fat. These foods support the growth and development of the baby inside the uterus. Lean protein can also be found in eggs, tofu, beans, nuts, seeds and dairy products such as cheese and milk.

3. Whole Grains

In a pregnant woman’s diet and nutrition, her main source of energy should be whole grains, such as oatmeal, whole-wheat bread and black or brown rice. These do not just provide carbohydrates, but also fiber, iron and B-vitamins.

4. Dairy

As a rule, a pregnant woman should consume 3 to 4 servings of dairy foods per day.

Milk, cheese and other dairy are good sources of calcium, lean protein and vitamin D, which are all essential nutrients for the developing baby. The recommended ratio of these food groups per meal is to fill your plate with:

  • 50% fruits and vegetable
  • 25% whole grains
  • 25% lean protein
  • 1 serving of a dairy product.

What are the key nutrients that you and your baby need during pregnancy?

Throughout your pregnancy, it is important to consume four key nutrients to ensure your health and your baby’s growth and development:

1. Folic Acid

Folic acid, which is known as folate in foods, is a B vitamin crucial in preventing birth defects in the baby’s nervous system.

For pregnant women, the recommended daily amount of folic acid to be consumed is 600 micrograms, and it can be difficult to get this amount solely from eating food. That’s why it is sometimes recommended to take prenatal vitamins daily, which typically contains this amount of folic acid.

Sources of folic acid:

  • breads and pasta
  • beans
  • leafy green vegetables
  • citrus fruits
  • fortified cereals

2. Iron

Iron is needed to be consumed so that the pregnant woman’s body can produce more blood which supplies the baby with oxygen. A shortage of iron can lead to anemia, which increases fatigue and risk for infections. The recommended daily amount of iron for a pregnant woman is 27 milligrams – twice the amount needed by women who aren’t pregnant. Iron is absorbed better by the body when taken with vitamin C, so it is advised that expectant mothers consume iron-rich foods at the same time with citrus fruits or drinks.
Sources of iron:
  • meat
  • fish
  • poultry
  • beans and peas
  • fortified cereals

3. Calcium

Calcium is a mineral that is most important for building your baby’s teeth and bones. The recommended daily amount of calcium for pregnant women aged 19 and above is 1000 milligrams, while for pregnant teens aged 14-18 need at least 1300 milligrams of calcium daily. If this daily amount is not provided, calcium will instead be drawn from the mother’s own calcium that is stored in her bones. It is recommended to consume dairy products as these are enriched not only with calcium but also vitamin D, which works together with calcium to further strengthen the baby’s teeth and skeleton.
Sources of calcium:
  • milk
  • yogurt
  • cheese
  • sardines or salmon
  • kale or bok choy
  • juice

4. Protein

During pregnancy, you need more protein than usual. Protein helps in the development of important organs and the baby, including the brain and heart. Pregnant women usually have no problem getting enough protein in their diet as there are a lot of food options that contain it.
Sources of protein:
  • meat
  • fish
  • poultry
  • eggs
  • nuts
  • dried beans
  • peas
  • tofu

What food should you limit in consumption while pregnant?

  1. The following three are generally safe to consume in small amounts:

    1. Caffeine

    It is generally considered safe to consume no more than 200 mg of caffeine daily. Studies have shown that moderate coffee consumption is not linked to higher risks of miscarriage or preterm birth.

    2. Fish

    Although fish is a good source of lean protein, some species such as albacore tuna, shark and marlin have high levels of mercury and are harmful to a baby’s brain, kidney and nervous system development. It is recommended that fish consumption should not exceed 6 ounces (170g) each week.

    3. Empty Calorie Foods

    Cakes, biscuits, cookies, candies and chips should be consumed sparingly. These foods are high in sugar and fat, and have very little nutrients, which can affect a pregnant woman’s body weight. These should only be consumed in moderation if you need to gain weight or when you feel nauseous during morning sickness.

Which food should you avoid throughout pregnancy?

The following foods and beverages should not be consumed during pregnancy:

1. Alcohol

You should avoid drinking alcohol during your pregnancy.

Whenever you consume alcohol, it goes to your blood which in turn can pass directly to the baby through the umbilical cord.

Studies have linked heavy alcohol consumption with fetal alcohol disorders, which cause physical problems and learning or behavioral disabilities in babies and children.

2. Raw, Uncooked or Partially Cooked Meat

Meat that isn’t fully cooked may contain bacteria and parasites that may be passed to your baby.

Two types of food poisoning can occur which are dangerous for the health of the baby – listeriosis, which is caused by bacteria or toxoplasmosis, which is caused by parasites.

These conditions can cause problems for the baby such as blindness and mental disorders.

Salmonella and E. coli bacteria are also present in raw or undercooked meat and can cause illness not only for the mother-to-be but also to her baby.

It is important to fully cook your meat, eggs, and poultry before consumption.

3. Unpasteurized Food

Similar to raw and uncooked food, unpasteurized dairy products carry the risk of infection from bacteria and parasites.

Ensure that the milk you drink is properly pasteurized before drinking.


Which myths about food and nutrition during pregnancy you should be aware of?

When you become pregnant, a lot of people, particularly family and friends, will give you advice, especially in the area of food. It is important to talk to your doctor before following these advice as some of them could be harmful for you and your baby.

Listed below are some myths that some people believe about pregnancy and the real truths behind them:

Myth #1: During morning sickness, if you don’t eat anything, you’ll eventually feel better.

Fact: The exact causes of nausea and vomiting during early pregnancy is unknown, but research show that hormonal changes and lowered blood sugar levels are the culprits. One of the better ways to reduce morning sickness is by eating small amounts of food such as biscuits or crackers.

Myth #2: A woman’s food cravings during pregnancy affect her baby’s intelligence and personality when he/she grows up.

Fact: There is no scientific evidence that the type of food that a pregnant woman craves affect the intelligence and personality of her baby.

When a pregnant woman craves a specific type of food, it is often her body’s way of telling her that she or the baby needs the specific nutrients present in that food. For example, craving sweets would mean that her body is looking for additional sources of energy.

Myth #3: 

Skinny women can eat whatever they like during pregnancy, since they are “eating for two”.

Fact: “Eating for two” doesn’t mean that you should consume twice as much food than usual.

There is a recommended amount of weight gain for each trimester of pregnancy and it is important that a pregnant woman’s diet is balanced well. Skinny women are advised to consume more calories than overweight or obese women during pregnancy but are not too much that they have to eat twice as much food.

Myth #4: 

Eating bird’s nest, tofu and soybean products during pregnancy will give your baby a lighter complexion.

Fact: There is no research that supports this claim. The baby’s complexion is mostly determined by both of the parent’s genes and nothing else.

Myth #5:

 Avoid eating papaya and pineapple as they can lead to miscarriages.

Fact: There have been no documented cases where eating papaya or pineapple cause a miscarriage.

Miscarriages happen because of infections and medical conditions where the baby develops abnormally during pregnancy. In fact, eating fruits is encouraged as they supply the body with fiber, vitamins and minerals. If you are still worried, you always have the option of eating other fruits besides papaya and pineapple.

Myth #6: 

Full-cream milk is better compared to low-fat or skim milk for pregnant women.

Fact: Low-fat and skim milk are actually better since they contain valuable nutrients such as protein and calcium that full-cream milk has with less fat.





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