It goes without question that a woman’s nutrition before and during pregnancy influences the health of her baby. Proper nutrition ensures that a woman is taking in the necessary nutrients to feel healthy, have energy, and reduce the risks of fetal developmental and neurological disorders. Poor nutrition can be an indirect cause of gestational diabetes, birth defects, pre-eclampsia (high blood pressure and organ system damage) and Cesarean sections; and a direct cause of anemia, low birth weight and other health concerns.
Before moving forward, it is important to remember that nutrition is much more than obtaining a certain amount of vitamins and minerals.
It is not only about daily allowances, but also about choosing the right foods, free from chemicals and preservatives. Proper nutrition will also help you manage nausea, cravings, leg cramps, constipation, headaches and exhaustion during pregnancy.
Calorie intake should increase by 500 calories per day, along with a 25g increase in protein (approx. 74g total per day). This will ensure a healthy weight gain. Healthy weight gain is about 25-35 lbs total.
Retrain your mind/body to eat when you are hungry, and not due to emotional stress. In addition, remember that weight gain is good during pregnancy. Don’t be afraid to eat more than you are used to. No more skipping meals, and no more takeout. Now is the time for preparation. Prepare to eat healthy foods, instead of empty carbohydrates, saturated fats, and low quality meat products.
Eat a wide variety of foods, as close to their natural state as possible.
The best way to get the nutrients you need is to eat them! Be sure to eat whole foods – minimally processed with no additives or preservatives – as much as possible. Toxins in our foods have been shown to cross the placenta, and present a burden on the growing fetus. Remember that their detoxification processes are not as developed as ours, so one cup of coffee for us, is like 10 cups to them, and can shock their nervous system. The core of your diet should consist of whole grains, beans, fresh vegetables, fresh fruits, nuts; and a smaller amount of meat products, primarily fish, chicken and turkey.
In terms of variety, all colours of the rainbow are on this list. Enjoy your greens, whites, oranges, yellows and reds, as each bring with them different vitamins and minerals. Remember that every plate of food should be 50% fruits or vegetables.
Use your intuition. If you are craving a piece of meat, but are a strict vegetarian, you may be missing iron or B12 in your diet, and may consider choosing your needs over your ideals. Similarly, if you are craving kale, but have never liked it, maybe now is the time you will enjoy it!
When it comes to cravings, you are likely missing some nutrients in your diet. For example, the following food cravings have been linked to certain nutrient deficiencies:
Ice cream and pickles – deficiency in calcium
Sweets – deficiency in protein
Salty foods – deficiency in sodium and healthy fats
Leg cramps – deficiency in calcium or magnesium
Healthy fats – pumpkin seeds, flax seeds, walnuts, algae, cold-water fish, olive oil
Healthy carbohydrates – quinoa, oatmeal, rice, whole grains, fruits and vegetables
Healthy protein – beans with rice or nuts, free range/organic chicken, turkey, smaller cold-water fish
Calories – 2300 calories on average, but a better way to calculate is to add 500 calories more to your pre-pregnancy diet.
Protein – 74 g daily (4 servings)
Whole grains and complex carbohydrates – 4-6 servings daily
Healthy fats – 2 servings daily
Fruits and vegetables – 6 servings daily at least, having a variety foods included
Vitamin A – Prevents and fights infection, promotes the health of skin and mucous membranes, strong bones, rich blood, and eyesight.
It is easy to overdose on vitamin A, so get your vitamin A intake through foods such as yellow and orange fruits and vegetables, dark leafy greens, eggs and liver.
Vitamin B-complex – Essential for a healthy nervous system, metabolism and muscle tone maintenance.
All B vitamins are important, especially Folic Acid and B12.
B12 is required for healthy nerve tissue, fetal brain development, gene production; and more and is found in red meat, tempeh, miso, and nutritional yeast.
Folic acid is required for formation of red blood cells and antibodies that prevent infection and for prevention of neural tube defects.
Food sources include leafy greens, nutritional yeast, eggs, whole grains, lentils and nuts.
B12 – 1000 mcg daily
Folic acid – 1 mg daily
Vitamin D – Aids in the absorption of calcium and also is needed for a healthy nervous system, cardiovascular system and bone formation.
Sources include fatty fish, egg yolks, and fortified products.
4000 IU daily.
Calcium – Required for bone and teeth formation, and controls coagulation of blood as well as a healthy heart rhythm.
Sources include dairy products, dark leafy greens, almonds, sea vegetables, salmon and blackstrap molasses.
1200 mg daily.
Iron – “Builds” blood, increases resistance to stress and disease, helps with muscle contraction, and prevents anemia.
Sources include dark leafy vegetables, fruit, blackstrap molasses, red meat, whole grains, dried beans and eggs.
20 to 60 mg daily.
Zinc – Essential for immune system function, hormone production, organ development, reproduction and release of Vitamin A from the liver.
Sources include nuts and seeds, beef, eggs, poultry, fruits and vegetables.
20 mg daily.
Iodine – Essential for healthy function of the thyroid gland.
Found in fish, sea vegetables, iodized salt and sea salt.
Essential Fatty Acids (EFAs) – Needed for optimal brain development in the fetus, and prevents against atopic conditions, as well as post-partum depression.
EFA sources include walnuts, flax, deep-water fish and avocados. If supplementing in pregnancy, incorporate both an evening primrose oil and fish oil to balance omega 3s and 6 EFAs.
Minimize dairy – Research has shown that dairy is not the best source of calcium. Dark leafy greens provide a great source of calcium for you and baby! Dairy has been linked to lowered immune function, atopic conditions and food sensitivity development. It is also hard to digest, high in fat and contains hormones.
Seafood – Seafood is high in mercury and can impair baby’s neurological development. Try eating cold-water fish, and the smaller the fish, the better!
Raw eggs/sushi – Raw eggs are major carriers of Salmonella. I think it goes without saying that sushi and raw chicken are out as well.
Sugar – Too much sugar intake can increase risk of gestational diabetes, cause the baby’s blood sugar to spike, and also can make women very lethargic during pregnancy.
Alcohol and Caffeine!
As a general rule, always eat fresh, organic fruits and vegetables, and always cook meat. Avoid buying processed meats and other foods as they may have been contaminated with food-borne illnesses.
Posted: 2015 March 19
Romm AJ. The Natural Pregnancy Book: Herbs, Nutrition, and Other Holistic Choices. New York: Random House, Inc.; 2003.