Nutrition during Pregnancy

As soon as you start thinking about having a baby, you should start thinking about what you eat. Begin loading up on the foods that are rich in vitamins and minerals, learn the five food groups and balance your meals. And once you do become pregnant, make good nutrition a priority. Talk to your doctor about the foods that will provide the nutrients important to your baby’s growth, as well as to your own well-being.

While nutritional needs and your own tolerance for eating will change during the different trimesters of your pregnancy, there are some general guidelines that will be important to follow throughout the nine months. For starters, eat balanced meals, do not skip meals, eliminate caffeine and drink lots of water, six to eight glasses a day.

Calcium is one of the most important minerals you will need during pregnancy. The current recommended amount of calcium intake during pregnancy is 1,200 mg, an increase of 400 mg a day over your usual needs. An increase in dairy products such as skim milk, cheese, yogurt, pudding and ice milk, is an easy way to consume lots of calcium. There are also many good non-dairy sources of calcium, including salmon, kale, broccoli, beans and calcium-fortified orange juice.

Folic acid is essential for a healthy baby and helps in the development of the fetal brain and spine. It is especially important during early pregnancy when many women don’t even know that they are expecting. Women should take 400 micrograms of folic acid every day throughout their pregnancy and may need to take a multi-vitamin or prenatal vitamin to meet this requirement. Some excellent sources of folic acid include dried beans, tofu, peanuts and peanut butter, as well as fortified cereals. Many breads are now also fortified with folic acid. Folic acid can also be found in many dark green vegetables, corn, cantaloupe, squash and beets.

Vitamin B12, found in animal products, is essential for proper nerve and brain functioning for both mother and baby. This is of special concern for women who are vegetarians. Vitamin B12 can be found in fortified soy milk and/or soy meat replacements, as well as vitamin supplements.

Protein intake should be increased by 10 grams a day and can easily be found in animal products including meats, milk and eggs. Some plant foods, such as legumes, seeds and cereal grains, can also provide high quality protein. It is more beneficial if you combine one food from two of these categories in the form of such dishes as hummus, split pea soup, bean tacos or even a peanut butter sandwich.

What you need to eat and what you will want to eat will change during each trimester of pregnancy. During the first trimester one of your main nutritional concerns may be battling morning sickness, which doesn’t necessarily occur in the morning. Some strategies that might help include eating small meals frequently, whether you are hungry or not, eating foods high in carbohydrates and potassium and low in fats, eating dry food a half hour before getting out of bed, eating liquid and solid foods a half hour apart, and munching on salty snacks.

During the first trimester of pregnancy, you should also be cautious of herbal teas; the composition and safety of many of them are unknown. Choose products in filtered tea bags.

Second Trimester
During the second three months of pregnancy, continue to eat a well-balanced diet and increase it by about 300 calories a day. These extra calories should primarily come from protein derived from grains, meat, poultry, non-meat alternatives, and/or milk and should be added to your diet as snacks throughout the day. Iron supplements will continue to be important, but avoid taking them with products that contain calcium, magnesium, zinc or tannic acid (found in tea). It is best to take iron pills with fruit juice or water at bedtime or in-between meals.

You may experience more problems with your digestive system and be more intolerant of certain foods such as milk products, during this time. As your pregnancy progresses and the baby grows, your stomach slows down, which can cause gas and indigestion. Eat more slowly, eat smaller main meals and more snacks, walk after eating, and drink a lot of liquids between meals.

If dairy products become difficult to tolerate, try some that are easier to digest such as yogurt, cottage cheese, processed cheese and cheddar cheese. Salmon and sardines are also a good source of calcium.

Third Trimester
In the final three months before delivery, the weight of your baby will more than triple. For you, that means feeling fuller faster. However, it is still necessary for you to eat a well-balanced diet with sufficient calories. The best way to do this is to eat smaller amounts of food more often. Snacks will become increasingly important. Pick a variety of snacks that will supply the nutrients you need.

Remember, while you are pregnant, you truly are eating for two. Your baby depends on the food you eat for its growth and development. And you, too, will feel better if you pay close attention to your diet and keep in contact with your physician.

Editorial provided by the Antepartum Care Task Force of Stamford Health System, a healthcare delivery system in Stamford, Connecticut. The task force has produced a pregnancy guide with detailed information on nutrition, activity, prenatal tests, gestational development, labor and delivery and community resources for all women having their babies at The Stamford Hospital.