Taking care of a baby begins way before an infant is born. By eating right and keeping physically fit, expectant moms can already ensure that their child’s development starts on the right track.
The following are some tips on eating when you’re pregnant:
Have a Nutritional Chart Handy When Planning Your Meals
What constitutes a healthy diet for a pregnant person is basically the same as what constitutes a healthy diet for anyone. It’s that “unpregnant” people harm only themselves when they ignore the basics of sound nutrition, whereas a pregnant woman hurts both herself and her baby. Moreover, it is the baby who is at greatest risk because he is in a crucial developmental phase. Good nutrition at this stage of life can make the difference in some cases between healthy and unhealthy development. For instance, the consumption of excess alcohol can permanently damage a fetus. While a healthy diet does not ensure a healthy baby, it is just one step that mothers can take. So now is the time to pay greater attention to lifestyle and nutrition than ever before.
An RDA (Recommended Dietary Allowance) chart for expectant mothers can help you plan your menu. Your obstetrician or a licensed dietitian should have a copy. You want to stack up on the basic requirements: protein, carbohydrates, calcium, and essential vitamins and minerals.
Lean meats, fishes and poultry are excellent sources of protein. For your and your baby’s daily energy needs, rice, starchy vegetables like potatoes, whole grains, breads and cereals are excellent sources of carbohydrates. Milk, milk products like cheese and yogurt, as well as most leafy vegetables are good sources of calcium. Most meat products, fruits and vegetables are great sources of vitamins and minerals. Enjoy nuts, seeds, soy snacks, natural sweetners, herbal teas – there’s plenty of delicious and nutritious offerings in our stores today.
As much as you can, stay clear of overly processed products such as commercial cakes and pastries, or microwavable meals. At their safest, they contain empty calories and high sugar: stuff that you and your baby do not need. At worst, the chemicals used to preserve them can be harmful to your baby. Eating foods high in preservatives, as well as eating hot meals in Styrofoam or plastic plates should be avoided.
Make Sure You Get Folic Acid
Folic acid or vitamin B9 has been found to be critical to fetal development. Folic acid is especially important during the first weeks of pregnancy, when the brain, the skull and the spinal cord are developing. Inadequate folic acid during pregnancy can result into serious fetal problems, including neural tube defects, spina bifida and anencephaly.
An expectant mother is advised to take 400 mcg of folic acid until the twelfth week of pregnancy. Folic acid can be found in green vegetables such as spinach, most lentils, fortified grain products like cereal and pasta, as well as liver and liver products. There are also folic acid supplements available in the market, just make sure you get your doctor’s advice before making any purchase.
Stock Up on Iron
When a person is expecting, she has around 50% more blood than she usually does when not pregnant. This means that pregnant women would need significantly more iron in their system — the nutrient essential in the production of hemoglobin, that part of red blood cells that distribute oxygen across all parts of the body. Iron is also critical in the development of the baby during the second and third trimesters of pregnancy.
Iron can be found in abundance on red meat, green vegetables and fortified green products. There are also iron supplements available in most drugstores.
Know What to Avoid
Pregnancy is notorious for giving women cravings. Giving in to cravings is generally okay, most of the time they are a result of the hormonal imbalance that naturally occur during pregnancy. But it helps to be reminded that not all cravings are healthy for the baby.
Alcohol, for example, should be avoided. Drinking excess alcohol can result in a condition called fetal alcohol syndrome – a huge umbrella of irreversible mental and physiological defects in an infant. Check with your doctor regarding acceptable levels of alcohol.
Caffeine must be avoided as well, or at least taken in very, very small amounts. Taking caffeine, which is found in most coffee, tea and sodas while pregnant can result into low birth weight and even miscarriage.
Expecting mothers are advised to be careful as well of unpasteurized cheeses (e.g. feta cheese, blue cheese) as they can often contain microorganisms that can be life threatening to an unborn child.
Expectant mothers should avoid consuming anything known to be toxic. This would include second hand smoke (and of course, smoking is contra-indicated as it compromises oxygen supply to the baby), certain legal and ilegal drugs and certain herbs and vitamins. Check with a qualified naturopath before consuming natural products as some are contra-indicated in pregnancy.