Congratulations on your pregnancy! Whether it is your first child or you have been pregnant before, it is thrilling news to find out you are having a baby.
As a mother of a 3 year old and a 6 year old, I can attest to the road you are on this very minute. I remember the excitement and joy, but also remember the fear of the unknown. Relax! Any new adventure naturally comes with it some fear. It is very normal. The great news is that your body knows exactly what to do in order to grow this baby.
My advice is follow some basic guidelines in nutrition so you can provide the fuel required to start this baby’s life off on the right foot.
Pregnancy is certainly a great motivator to eat smart. Balanced nutrition will yield a healthy body weight and will also help you achieve the vital nutrients you and your baby need during this incredible time of growth. It amazes me to know that the blood volume in our bodies increase 45-50% in pregnancy! This increase is needed for extra blood flow to the uterus, higher metabolic needs of the fetus, and increased perfusion of other organs, especially your kidneys. All of this requires proper nutrition. We will touch on the basics of pregnancy nutrition in this article so you can hit the ground running in the right direction.
Proper Weight Gain. Studies show that gaining the right amount of weight really helps your baby in being born a normal weight. Low weight gains, especially in underweight women, are associated with increased risk of perinatal mortality and low birth weights. High weight gains, particularly in obese women, are associated with increased risk of birth weight , longer labor times, complicated deliveries and birth traumas. The first thing you want to do is figure out what your body mass index (BMI) was before getting pregnant.
Once you get that BMI number, look at the table below to establish what the weight gain recommendations are for you. Your obstetrician will weigh you periodically to make sure you are on the right track.
Step 1: Figure Out Your Pre-Pregnancy Body Mass Index (BMI)
Step 2: Follow Recommendations for Total and Rate of Weight Gain During Pregnancy, by Pre-pregnancy BMI
Folic Acid. Folic acid, folate or less known as vitamin B9, is critical in pregnancy nutrition. Folic acid supports reactions required for rapid cell division, carbon transfers and maintenance of red blood cells during the fetal growth process. Normal female needs are 400mcg, but daily pregnancy needs are 600mcg.
Due to the critical nature of this nutrient during pregnancy, it is recommended that all pregnant women take 400mcg of a folic acid supplement to ensure adequacy (if taking a prenatal vitamin, the folic acid requirements should be included). However, foods that are high in folic acid include fruits and vegetables (especially leafy greens), whole grains and fortified cereals.
Iron. Due to the increase in blood volume as mentioned above, iron needs increase during pregnancy from 18mg to 27mg for most pregnant women.* As you progress in your pregnancy, you are at higher risk of becoming anemic due to the increased growth of the baby. Your doctor will do hematocrit finger pricks to check iron status.
It is good to be mindful of foods that are naturally high in iron – such as beans, lentils, cooked spinach, fish, nuts, dried fruits, beef and other meats. There is an increase in high iron foods such as tofu of which ½ cup provides 13.2mg. Non-animal sources contain a type of iron that requires Vitamin C for absorption. Iron and calcium fight for absorption so as able, separate high iron foods from foods that are high in calcium.
Zinc. Zinc plays a vital role in protein synthesis, cell division, hormone metabolism and immune function. These bodily functions are highly utilized during pregnancy. Therefore, needs go up from 8mg to 11mg per day.* Vegetarians, depending how restrictive, may need to consider supplementation.
Foods high in zinc that are recommended for pregnant women are red meat, poultry, eggs, pork, nuts, pumpkin seeds, summer squash, asparagus, chard, collard greens and broccoli.
Calcium & Vitamin D. Although needs do not increase during pregnancy, calcium (1000mg per day) and vitamin D (200-400mg per day, but amounts currently under review) are essential to bone mineralization and metabolism. Unfortunately, many women do not get adequate levels so purposeful intake is advised.
Foods high in calcium are dairy foods, spinach, collard greens, soy, rhubarb and fortified cereals. Vitamin D is mostly found in dairy foods, fatty fish such as salmon and tuna; fortified foods, mushrooms and animal fat such as butter. Sunshine is an excellent source of vitamin D so consider 15-20 minutes of daily sunshine to help achieve minimum levels.
Making a pregnancy meal plan. In general, a typical pattern should include 3 meals and 2-3 snacks each day to keep your body running well. The amounts of each type of food really depend based on your individual calorie and nutrient needs. If you are feeling nauseous, try and focus on foods that have more mild smells, spices and flavors. No worries, just make some adjustments if this happens to you. Plan around your aversions as much as you can.
Overall, it is good to think this way for each meal and snack:
Breakfast: Dairy, protein, fruit, grain, healthy fat
Lunch & Dinner: Protein, vegetable, fruit, grains, dairy, healthy fat
Snacks (2-3): Protein, grains, fruit or vegetable, healthy fat
A great way to get a plan that is perfect for you is to consult with a local Registered Dietitian (RD) that specializes in pregnancy nutrition. This is especially important if you have pre-existing health conditions, are having trouble getting nutrients in due to hormonal illness or have special dietary needs.
With a little proper planning and considering, you and your baby will be off on a healthy, exciting adventure. Be sure to cherish these days, write thoughts and feelings down – and above all, enjoy and appreciate this great miracle that is occurring inside your body right now. Blessings of good health to you and baby!