Nourishing yourself and your baby through pregnancy, birth and beyond starts even before conception, which might seem like a rather daunting prospect. During the first trimester especially a rapid amount of growth takes place, so it’s vital to ensure you are getting adequate nutrition in your diet right from the start.
Whilst it is commonly believed that you are ‘eating for two’ during the 9 month period, recommended calorie intake only increases during the second trimester by 200 calories per day and 400 calories per day during the third trimester. Pregnancy is not the time however to start calorie counting, but instead think about building the diet around nutrient-dense foods and avoiding processed foods, white/flour products and foods high in sugar such as fizzy drinks.
If you lead an active healthy lifestyle and eat a diet rich with natural whole foods, colourful vegetables, whole grains, healthy fats, organic animal produce and no processed foods or sugar, it is likely that there will be only a few additional considerations and changes to make.
Key nutrients to include:
One nutrient in particular that is vital during the early stages of pregnancy is folate. Current guidelines recommend that women take 400mg daily 3 months prior to conceiving and up to 12 weeks gestation to prevent neural tube defects, and then 260mg daily during breastfeeding. With recent interest and research around how the body uses folate, it is preferable to take folate in its natural form, e.g. food and a food form folate supplement, versus just a synthetic folic acid supplement. Folate can be found in dark green leafy vegetables, pulses, oranges and fortified foods.
Ensure adequate iron intake. During pregnancy your blood volume slowly increases by 40-50% and iron requirements increase by 2-3 fold. Getting sufficient iron in the diet is not only necessary to prevent you from becoming anaemic but is also vital for baby’s brain development and to help build up their own iron stores for after birth. You should be routinely checked for iron deficiency aneamia during your pregnancy and ensure adequate intake of iron rich foods such as spinach, grass-fed beef, lentils, eggs, fish, poultry and dried apricots.
Including healthy fats is vital for baby brain and eye development during pregnancy, sources include eggs, avocado, butter, nuts, seeds, oily fish such as mackerel, salmon, sardines. Try to choose wild line caught fish where possible. Its also been shown that mothers eating fish during pregnancy and whilst breastfeeding have lower frequency of maternal depressive and anxiety symptoms.
Things to think about stopping and limiting during pregnancy:
Alcohol and smoking whilst pregnant and breastfeeding has been shown to increase risk of various birth defects and sudden infant death syndrome. It is best to seek support for quitting smoking as soon as you find out you are pregnant and avoid alcohol completely.
Limit caffeine – some research has been shown linking high caffeine intake with an increased risk of miscarriage and reduced birth weight. This doesn’t mean you need to cut out caffeine entirely, but if you are having more than the recommended 2 cups per day it might be worth considering cutting back and switching to less caffeinated drinks such as green tea and herbal teas such as fennel, peppermint, chamomile and redbush which are also all great digestive aids.
The Department of Health also advises avoiding eating the following during pregnancy:
- soft blue cheese
- rinded soft cheeses, e.g. brie, camembert and goat’s cheese
- all unpasteurized milk products
- raw/undercooked meat
- raw/undercooked fish
- raw/undercooked eggs
- limit intake of fish to 2-3 times per week, and avoid eating shark, marlin, swordfish
After birth and whilst breastfeeding the same advice can be followed, the 12 weeks following delivery is often referred to as the fourth trimester and should be treated just as mindfully as your pregnancy, taking lots of time to rest and nourish your body with good nutrition. Now is not the time to think about crash dieting! But ensure your body is getting in adequate nutrition to support your recovery of giving birth, as well as the growth of your baby whilst breastfeeding.