Are you thinking of having a baby? Or are you pregnant? Then it is time you make healthier lifestyle choices and work towards a healthy body weight.
And while it is hard to know what and how many foods to eat during pregnancy, you can ensure you go for foods rich in nutrients, snack healthily, and take prenatal vitamins too. This will help your baby to develop and grow.
Tips For A Healthy Pregnancy
To ensure you are making healthy eating choices, you should include a variety of healthy foods and beverages to provide the essential nutrients that your baby needs for growth and development.
A pregnancy diet often means changing the amounts of different foods you eat. This makes the healthy pregnancy meals more varied, and you do not need to cut all your favorite foods.
A good diet for pregnant women will help you balance how much of what you eat should come from each food group. Let us look at some of the pregnancy tips for a healthy baby.
1. Start Being Keen On Your Diet Before You Conceive
Are you planning on conceiving? Being in perfect health with average weight are conditions that are more likely to give better outcomes for your growing baby and yourself. Before you get pregnant, it is optimal that you include a folic acid supplement. Other supplements that will help are calcium and iron.
A folic acid supplement is critical for fetal development. It helps prevent congenital disabilities in the baby's brain and spinal cord (neural tube defects).
2. Do Not Forget Breakfast
Breakfast is an important meal of the day that will provide you with the energy you need. Ensure that it is well balanced with pregnancy foods. You can decide to divide your breakfast into two if you feel sick.
Whole grain products such as cereals, bread, or crackers with fruits and dairy products like cheese, milk, cottage cheese, kefir, or unsweetened yogurt are good pregnancy foods.
3. Go For Food Rich In Folic Acid
Folate and folic acid-rich foods are essential in pregnancy because they can help prevent congenital disabilities, also known as neural tube defects like spina bifida.
Folate, a B group vitamin, is needed for healthy growth and development. It is found naturally in foods like green leafy vegetables, thus known as 'folate.'
It is known as' folic acid' when it is added to foods such as breakfast cereals and bread or used in dietary supplements. Good food for pregnant women should be rich in folic acid to help prevent the most common congenital disabilities. These birth defects occur in the first weeks of pregnancy when your baby's spine and brain are forming.
You can prevent these defects by ensuring enough folate before and during early pregnancy. Generally, when trying to conceive or in the early stages of your pregnancy, you must take supplements containing at least 400 micrograms of folic acid.
How do I ensure I have taken enough folic acid?
To guarantee you have taken enough folic acid supplements, take them once daily for at least one month before and three months after conception.
After that, you can ensure to take food that is rich in folic acids (to get 600 micrograms of folic daily), such as:
- Fruits (grapefruit, orange, avocado, papaya, strawberries, bananas, cantaloupe)
- Legumes (chickpeas, red kidney beans, haricot beans, soya beans, lentils, lima beans)
- Vegetables (cauliflower, broccoli, parsnip, zucchini, brussels sprout, English spinach, sweet corn, mushrooms, lettuce, cabbage, asparagus)
- Grain products that are fortified with folic acid (corn meal, cereals, pasta, white rice, flour, bread)
- Juices (most apple and orange juice), tomato juice
4. Increase your fiber intake
The intake of fiber-rich foods during pregnancy is a great nutrition tip. Foods rich in fiber help prevent constipation, promote heart health, decrease diabetes risk, and reduce preeclampsia.
Fibre-rich foods also provide nutrient-rich food with low energy density, lowering your blood pressure and serum cholesterol levels. You need 25-30 grams of fiber per day while pregnant.
But you should remember to gradually increase your fiber intake as you let your body adjust, or you may have symptoms like bloating and gas.
And because fiber-rich foods are nutrient-dense, they will help you feel full without consuming tons of extra calories.
Your pregnancy diet should consist of:
- Fresh fruits (raspberries, pears, apples)
- Vegetables (broccoli, artichokes, peas)
- Vegetable proteins/legumes like beans and lentils, chickpeas and black beans
- Lean meats
- Plant-based fats (seeds, avocado, nuts, olive oil)
- Whole grains (cooked barley, brown rice)
- Dairy products (cheese, milk, kefir, and unsweetened yogurt)
5. The Quality Of Food You Eat Is Better Than The Quantity
Have you ever heard of the saying that you should eat for two when pregnant? Well, it is not true as you do not need to consume twice as much food or double your intake of calories. And although being pregnant increases the body's need for calories and nutrition, the number of calories and nutrients you need are NOT doubled.
During your first months of pregnancy, i.e., one to three months, your calories are the same as before you were pregnant. However, this increases during your second and third trimesters of pregnancy.
In your second trimester, you need to add up to 200 calories to your usual dietary intake and up to 300 calories per day in your third trimester as your baby is rapidly growing. If you are under 18 years old, then the calorie intake should be 500.
6. Ensure You Are Getting Enough Calcium
Did you know that baby's teeth start to form while still in the womb? This makes calcium a vital nutrient for the body (yours and your baby's). Your unborn baby needs calcium to form bones and teeth.
Remember, your child is building an entire skeleton from the calcium you intake. Calcium will also help your baby's nerves, muscles, and hormones. You will also have strong bones and reduce the risk of osteoporosis later in life.
Enough calcium in your diet will also help prevent:
- Premature birth
- The slow growth of your baby
- High blood pressure during pregnancy
- Low birth weight
- Your baby is not getting enough calcium in their bones
Food sources of calcium include:
- Calcium-fortified juices and foods
- Leafy greens (kales, bok choy)
- Sardines/ salmon with bones
7. Avoid Processed and Pre-packaged Foods
Eating processed and pre-packaged foods during pregnancy can increase your risk of excess weight gain, complications, and gestational diabetes. And while we agree that they are readily available and cook in no time, you should consume whole organic foods.
Processed and pre-packaged foods are what to avoid when pregnant as:
- It might lead to constipation
- Could lead to excess weight gain
- They may contain bacteria
- They may alter genetics
Processed and pre-packaged foods tend to have high sugar levels, unhealthy fats, and calories.
Avoiding processed and pre-packaged foods will benefit you in ways as:
- You will have higher levels of energy
- You will prevent unhealthy weight gain
- You will experience fewer episodes of constipation
- Home-cooked meals will help prevent some skin issues
8. Drink Water In Between Meals And Snacks
When you are pregnant, your fluid requirement increases, so it is vital to up your intake of water and fluids. The extra fluid in your body is needed to maintain a healthy level of amniotic fluid around your uterus. It also aids in your digestion and helps nutrients circulate in the body. It also helps to eliminate waste from the body.
Drinking water is the best option to stay hydrated throughout your pregnancy. Ensure to drink enough water daily as this will also help prevent constipation, which is common in most pregnant women. It will also help promote healthier skin and elasticity and reduce swelling.
How much water to drink when pregnant? The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) recommends eight-twelve cups a day of water as dehydration can cause: Braxton Hicks contractions, premature labor in extreme cases, and muscle cramping.
9. Include Foods Rich In Iron
You need 27 milligrams of iron a day. Iron mineral serves an essential function in the body to carry oxygen throughout your body as a part of red blood cells. These red blood cells carry oxygen around your body to your organs and tissues, ensuring your baby gets the oxygen.
When pregnant, the blood in your body increases by almost 50%. You should be able to get all the iron you and your baby need by eating a healthy balanced diet. And as much as you eat foods rich in iron, you also need to ensure you eat foods that will help the iron get absorbed into your body. Some foods and drinks also hinder iron from being absorbed into your body.
What to eat when pregnant for good sources of iron include:
- Nuts and dried fruits, such as dried apricots
- Red meat, oily fish, and eggs
- Soya beans and soy products, such as tofu
- Wholemeal bread and fortified breakfast cereals
- Beans, such as baked beans, black-eyed beans, red kidney beans, and chickpeas
- Green leafy vegetables such as broccoli or spring beans
Fruits and vegetables contain vitamin C, which helps the body absorb iron. Some of the fruits and vegetables are:
- Kiwi fruit
Remember to avoid tea and coffee ( decaf versions included) as they can stop iron from being absorbed into your body. If you get too little iron, you could develop anemia, which results in fatigue and increases the risk of infections.
10. Have Small Frequent Meals
Eating smaller, more frequent meals during pregnancy can help alleviate some of the discomforts associated with pregnancy. These discomforts include bloating, gas, nausea, headaches, fatigue, and constipation.
When we talk of smaller, more frequent meals, we mean five or six mini-meals instead of the old ordinary breakfast, lunch, and dinner. These mini-meals can help stabilize your blood sugar levels so you are not facing significant peaks and valleys of energy and moods primarily associated with bigger meals.
Also, as your baby grows and takes up more abdominal space, you will be more comfortable taking small frequent meals.
11. Ensure You Are Consuming Enough Proteins
Protein-rich foods are some of the best foods for pregnancy. This is because protein helps build the critical organs and tissues for the baby, such as the heart and brain. Protein-rich foods will also help with uterine and breast tissue growth during pregnancy. It also helps increase blood supply, allowing more blood to reach your baby.
You should take at least 70-100 grams of protein per day. Good sources of protein include:
- Greek Yogurt
- Rolled oats
12. Avoid Potentially Dangerous Foods
Did you know that some foods threaten you and your baby? Yes, there are things not to eat when pregnant as they have a higher risk of carrying microbes that cause food-borne illness, thus posing a threat to your baby.
Foods to avoid during pregnancy include:
- Raw or undercooked sprouts such as alfalfa or clover
- Raw or undercooked eggs and meat
- Foods that contain undercooked eggs, such as cake batter, chocolate mousse, raw cookie dough, and homemade ice cream.
- Fish that contain mercury at high levels, such as sharks, orange roughy, swordfish, tuna, and king mackerel. Raw seafood might also be dangerous to you when pregnant.
- Unpasteurized juice or cider
13. Embrace Healthy Snacking
There are healthy snacks for pregnant women. And snacking is a great way to give yourself extra fuel between meals. Try and avoid eating snacks that are high in fats and sugars.
Healthy Snacking between meals will help you satisfy increased hunger, keep your stomach from being empty, which can lead to nausea, help you avoid junk food, and ease digestive comforts that may arise from large meals.
Here are a few healthy snack ideas:
- Yogurt smoothies
- Hard-boiled eggs
- Hummus with wholemeal pitta bread and vegetable sticks
- Dried beans or baked beans on toast or a small baked potato
- Ready to eat apricots, figs, or prunes
- Fresh fruits
14. Take Prenatal Vitamins
Prenatal vitamins offer more iron, folic, calcium, and other nutrients that support you and your baby's needs during pregnancy. Prenatal vitamins are not meant to replace a healthy diet but feel the gaps that your body might need should the need for a particular nutrient be high.
15. Limit Caffeine Intake
Limit your caffeine intake to 200 mg per day. Caffeine might lead to birth problems like decreased growth of your baby. You should drink decaffeinated coffee or tea. Also, always hydrate by drinking water or seltzer instead of soda.
16. Avoid All Alcohol
When pregnant, avoid all types of alcohol. This is because you can pass alcohol from your blood to the unborn baby through the umbilical cord. Alcohol consumption can also lead to fetal alcohol spectrum disorders.
Infections To Be Aware Of During Pregnancy
While pregnant, some foods cause infections, which you can transmit to your baby. You can pass toxoplasma infection to your unborn child. This infection causes problems such as mental disability and blindness later in your baby's life.
Some of the foods that cause toxoplasma infections include:
- Raw fish. These foods might be sashimi, carpaccio, sushi, or ceviches.
- Raw or undercooked and rare meats and chicken
- Undercooked shellfish (mussels, scallops, oysters, clams)
Your pet cat can also be a cause of toxoplasma. Cats contract the parasite by eating infected animals such as birds, small animals, or rodents. They then transmit the parasite through their faeces. If you have an old cat who has the infection, it is less likely to shed the parasite.
To ensure your cat doesn't pose a threat to you and the baby, make sure that you:
- Do not feed raw meat to your cat
- Wear gloves when gardening
- Get someone to change the litter box daily
- Avoid getting any new cats
2. Food Poisoning
Other foods might increase your chances of food poisoning. The illnesses are caused by salmonella and E. coli bacteria.
What you can't eat when pregnant as it may lead to poisoning:
- Raw eggs and any foods that contain undercooked eggs
- Unpasteurized juice or cider
- Undercooked sprouts
Guidelines For Handling Food Safely
Use these tips for safe food handling practices.
- Wash your hands. You should wash your hands before handling foods, after using the washroom, after handling raw meat, poultry, and seafood, and after touching pets.
- Wash fruits and vegetables thoroughly.
- Avoid cross-contamination
- Cook foods to a safe internal temperature
- Let hot food remain hot and cold food cold.
Weight Gain During Pregnancy And Diet Misconceptions
You are bound to add weight when pregnant, though you can not expressly point out whether it's your body fat, fluid gains, or baby weight. Instead of focusing on the weight, you should concentrate on the fact that your baby is growing normally.
If you are underweight, you need more calories during pregnancy, and if you are obese or overweight, you need fewer calories.Some pregnancy diet misconceptions are:
You should avoid morning sickness by not eating.
The biggest blunder you can make is to avoid food because of morning sickness, thinking you will feel better. While the leading cause of morning sickness is unknown, there are suggestions that hormonal imbalances might trigger it. You experience the waves of nausea and vomiting in the first trimester of pregnancy.
Therefore the way to ease morning sickness is to ensure you eat small amounts of foods that are odorless, as it may upset the stomach.
You are eating for two.
You are not eating for two when you are pregnant. The first trimester doesn't require you to add your calorie intake. The second and third trimester is when you should increase your calorie intake as your baby is growing first.
Are food cravings real?
Yes, food cravings are genuine as it is your body's way of communicating. Through craving, your body says it needs a specific nutrient or additional liquids.
There is what not to eat when pregnant and what to eat while pregnant for you and your baby's nutrition benefits. Also, using safe food handling can protect you and your baby from food-borne illnesses.