Article originally published March 19, 2020.
When you’re pregnant or breastfeeding, you have specific dietary needs – such as a diet rich in vitamins, minerals and nutrients – to best support optimal growth and development for baby.
It’s important to understand the nutrients you need most and how to easily incorporate them into your every day life to ensure that you and your little one are getting the most out of your meals. You should take prenatal vitamins and supplements as directed by your physician, but this does not take the place of a healthy, balanced diet. Remember: whatever you eat, your baby eats, too.
During Pregnancy, Your Body Needs:
- Folic Acid (Folate):
Folic acid is a B vitamin that is very important during pregnancy as it protects a developing baby from defects of the brain and spinal cord. It may be difficult to get the recommended amount of folic acid from food alone – for this reason, it is important for pregnant women and women who may become pregnant to take a vitamin that contains at least 400 mcg of folic acid. Food sources of folic acid include: fortified cereals, dark leafy vegetables, liver, dried beans and citrus fruit.
Calcium is not only important for the development of your baby’s bones and teeth, but it also helps to maintain the health or your bones and teeth during pregnancy. Calcium also helps your circulatory, muscular and nervous systems function properly. Pregnant adults require at least 1,000 mg per day and pregnant teenagers should obtain at least 1,300 mg daily. Food sources that contain calcium include: low-fat dairy (such as milk, yogurt and cheese), collard greens, broccoli and calcium fortified cereals and juices.
- Vitamin D:
Vitamin D works together with calcium to strengthen the bones and teeth of your and baby; it’s also essential for healthy skin and eyesight. The daily recommended amount of Vitamin D is 600 international units. Sources of Vitamin D include: milk fortified with Vitamin D and fatty fish such as salmon. Exposure to the sun also may increase your levels of Vitamin D.
Iron is a mineral found in every cell of the body. Pregnant women need up to twice the amount of iron than women who are not pregnant. Your body uses iron to make hemoglobin, a protein found in red blood cells that carries oxygen to your tissues. Iron will help your body make more blood to supply oxygen to your baby.
Food sources of iron include: fish, poultry, lean red meat, dried beans and peas, fortified cereals and prune juice. Eating foods rich in Vitamin C at the same time as iron-rich foods can help your body use iron more efficiently.
- Vitamin C:
Vitamin C is important for the development of healthy teeth, gums, tissue and bones. Vitamin C also helps the body use iron to make healthy red blood cells and fight infection. Food sources of Vitamin C include: oranges, strawberries and 100% fruit juices.
How To Easily Manage Your Pregnancy Diet
The United States Department of Agriculture has made it easier to plan healthy meals and discover the amount of food you need from each food group by creating a resource called MyPlate. With MyPlate, you can get a personalized nutrition and physical activity plan specific to your stage of pregnancy, while you’re breastfeeding and at any other time in your life. The amounts are calculated according to your height, pre-pregnancy weight, due date and exercise level.
Weight Gain During Pregnancy
Weight gain is, of course, associated with pregnancy – you’re growing a human! With that said, weight gain should be gradual, and what’s considered “normal” often varies from woman to woman according to weight before pregnancy. For this reason, it’s important to talk to your doctor about what would be considered a healthy and expected weight gain for you.
An example for gradual weight gain for a woman at a healthy weight prior to pregnancy may look similar to this:
- An average of 2-4 lbs. in the first 3 months of pregnancy
- 3-4 lbs. per month in months 4 through 9 of pregnancy
- A total gain of 25-30 lbs. during pregnancy
It is important to avoid excessive weight gain during your pregnancy. In order to do this, restrict or limit foods high in fat and/or sugar content, such as soft drinks, fast food, fried foods, candies and desserts and sausage or bacon – they’re not healthy for you or your baby.
In addition to eating a healthy, balanced diet, light to moderate exercise (like swimming or going for a short walk) can help burn excess calories. Speak with your doctor about physical activity during your pregnancy, especially if it is not already a part of your day-to-day routine.
Food Safety During Pregnancy and While Breastfeeding
Food poisoning and food-borne illnesses can cause very serious problems for both you and your baby. To prevent food poisoning, it is important to follow safe food handling practices. These practices include:
- Rinsing raw produce before eating, cutting or cooking it
- Keeping all kitchen surfaces, knives, hands and cutting boards clean
- Avoiding raw or undercooked meats, eggs and seafood
The following includes common food-related threats, where they are found and how to avoid them:
- Listeria is a bacteria that can cause premature birth and severe illness in newborns; in some cases, it can be fatal. Listeria can be found in raw meat, unpasteurized milk and milk products, deli meat, hot dogs and soft cheeses. To prevent Listeria infection, heat deli meats until they are steaming hot, make sure labels state “pasteurized milk” and refrigerate leftovers within 2 hours. Leftovers should be stored covered and used within 3-4 days.
- Toxoplasma is a parasite that can infect you and be passed to your baby. It is associated with uncooked meats, unwashed fruits and vegetables and small animal feces. To avoid toxoplasma exposure, wash your hands after touching soil, sand, raw meat and unwashed produce. When eating fruits and vegetables, be sure to wash and peel all produce first. If you have a pet, have someone else clean the litter box or cage – if this is not possible, wear gloves and wash your hands after direct handling.
- Mercury is a toxic metal that can be harmful during pregnancy. It is most commonly associated with fish; in particular, avoid eating shark, swordfish, kind mackerel and tile fish. Limit albacore “white” tuna to no more than 6 ounces per week; instead, you can eat up to 12 ounces of shrimp, canned light tuna, salmon, pollock or catfish per week.
For more information, contact the Maternity Unit at 740-687-8290.