Nutrition during pregnancy

Eating well during pregnancy is crucial for you and your baby’s health. Your diet needs to provide the nutrients for your developing baby and for the many changes that your body will undertake. For example: placental formation, expansion of your blood plasma, and preparation of your breast tissue for lactation.  On top of that, the nutrition that your baby receives in the womb affects his immediate development, but also his future health. Scientific evidence shows that inadequate nutrition during the first 1000 days (which is the period from conception until the second year of life) can affect gene expression and influence the risk of diseases like obesity and cardiovascular diseases at adulthood, therefore if you eat well now you will be contributing to your baby’s good health at long term.

Having a healthy diet may seem difficult with so many changes in your appetite; going from morning sickness when even the slightest smell of food made you sick, to strange cravings of foods you never liked before and then to the feeling of being continuously hungry. 

To follow a healthy diet during pregnancy, try to privilege nutritious foods that you enjoy and remember that eating well is the best you can do now for you and your little one. To help you achieve this, keep the following points in mind: 

  1. Eat the right amount of calories.

This does not mean that you should eat for two. Your caloric needs will gradually increase: during the first trimester you need only about an extra 70 kcal/day on top of your pre-pregnancy intake; during the second trimester 260 kcal/d and during the third trimester around 500 kcal/d.  A decrease in physical activity occurs naturally in many pregnant women, if this is the case for you be mindful of this compensation.

During your medical visits, you and your doctor will probably monitor that you have an adequate weight gain. Overall, women with normal weight should gain between 17 and 25 kg during the whole singleton pregnancy, gaining too much weight during pregnancy is not recommendable, as it can increase the risk of developing conditions like gestational diabetes and because it makes the weight loss after pregnancy harder. 

2. Include key nutrients

Fruits, vegetables, wholegrain cereals, lean meat and dairy are great food choices to incorporate in your diet, because are rich in vitamins, minerals, protein and fiber.  Some nutrients that are particularly important during pregnancy are:

Fibers: constipation is a common complaint during pregnancy, especially during the second trimester, and incorporating fiber-rich foods may help to prevent it, natural sources are wholegrain cereals like oats and barley, whole bread, pulses, and fruit and vegetables. 

Protein: it is needed for baby’s growth and for deposition of maternal tissue, and therefore the requirement increases as pregnancy progresses, on top of your protein intake before pregnancy you will need 1 g/d during the first trimester, 9g/d during the second semester and 28 g/d during the third semester. Good sources of protein are chicken, fish and lean beef, cottage cheese, eggs, and pulses. 

Folic acid:  Must be taken before and during pregnancy to prevent birth defects in baby’s brain and spine. Green leafy vegetables are a natural source of folic acid, nevertheless you should take supplements to make sure you reach adequate levels. The world health organization (WHO) recommends daily supplementation of 400 micrograms/d as early as possible during pregnancy, and ideally before conception.   

Iron:  it is needed for the growing baby, for placenta formation and for increasing maternal red cells. There are two kinds of iron: heme iron which is better absorbed is found naturally in meats such as beef, chicken, and pork and non-heme iron, found in vegetable sources such as beans and lentils, tofu and spinach. Supplementation with 30-40 mg of iron/day is recommended to prevent anaemia, a condition caused by insufficient iron which affects around 20-25% of pregnant women in Europe.

Calcium: During pregnancy, the placenta uptakes large amounts of calcium for the bones of the developing baby. Calcium is important also for maternal health because is involved in vascular contraction and vasodilation, muscle contraction and neural transmission. You can get it from milk and dairy products, soy milk, almonds, green leafy vegetables, and fish like sardines.  

Vitamin D: it is essential for calcium absorption, and its deficiency has been associated to increased risk of pre-eclampsia, pre-term birth and gestational diabetes. Sunlight promotes the synthesis of vitamin D by the skin but depending on the time of the year and the latitude that you live in, the synthesis may be insufficient. Some sources of vitamin D are oily fish, red meat, egg yolks, liver, and fortified foods.

3. Make sure that foods are safe

During pregnancy, the preparation of foods to avoid food borne illnesses is very important. Toxoplasmosis is caused by a parasite, and infection can occur by ingestion of soil, undercooked meat, or by contact with cat faeces. In most people is asymptomatic, but during pregnancy, it can harm the foetus. Other illnesses like Listeria and Salmonella can also harm the baby.  To reduce the risk, wash and disinfect fruit and vegetables, make sure that meat, fish, and eggs are cooked thoroughly and avoid unpasteurized milk and cheese.