You have it within your power to give your baby the best possible start in life, just by ensuring that your diet is balanced and full of nutrients. A good diet can go a long way in minimizing complications like anaemia and pre-eclampsia (a medical condition in which hypertension arises in pregnancy in association with significant amounts of protein in the urine) and even in reducing the severity of pregnancy symptoms such as morning sickness, fatigue, constipation etc. Eating a good sensible diet will also help you return to your original weight after birth without too much of a struggle.
The best thing you can do to ensure your body is getting all the nutrition it needs to support your growing baby is to eat a balanced diet. You need a little of everything every day. You should eat a selection of foods from the four main food groups which are starchy foods, protein rich foods, dairy products as well as fruits and vegetables. Here is an indication of how much the body needs from the different food groups on a daily basis:
Ideally, you should eat three servings of protein every day. Remember that protein is also found in milk, cheese, yoghurt and other food substances that contain a lot of calcium.
- Fruits and Vegetables:
Aim to eat five servings of fruits and vegetables daily. Three of those servings should come from yellow fruits as well as yellow and green leafy vegetables such as broccoli, carrots, winter squash, sweet potato, pumpkin, and mangoes. These are packed with vitamin A that is in the form of beta-carotene. Your baby needs this to help with the growth of his/her cells, bones, skin and eyes. Your last two servings can come from the other types of fruits and vegetables like bananas, apples, grapes, peaches, mushrooms, green beans, potatoes etc;. Most of these are rich in minerals such as potassium, magnesium and phytochemicals.
- Foods rich in Iron:
Foods like beef, liver, spinach, cooked legumes, sardines and all Soya products are rich in iron. You need an extra supply of iron for your baby’s developing blood supply and for your blood supply, which doubles during pregnancy. You will need to take an iron supplement from your 20th week, since you probably won’t get enough just from your diet. Most women take an extra 30 to 50 mg – this is in addition to what they are already getting from a pregnancy supplement.
- Foods high in salt:
It is never good to consume too much salt whether you are pregnant or not. Be sure to eat salty foods in moderation, especially while you are pregnant. If you were previously addicted to pickles and potato chips, now is the time to replace those foods with a healthier alternative. It was once thought that pregnant women should drastically reduce their intake of salt but now it is widely accepted that it is important for pregnant women to eat some salt. Salt is necessary to maintain sufficient levels of fluid in the body.
- Water and other fluids:
You are not eating for two, but you are certainly drinking for two! You and your growing baby need extra fluids during pregnancy. If you are in the habit of drinking hardly anything during the day now is the time to change that. You need water to help with yours and your baby’s kidney and liver function and to aid in the flushing of toxins from your body. Adequate fluid will also help with constipation, the prevention of UTI’s (urinary tract infection) fatigue and will promote a good milk supply later on. An added bonus is that your skin will be nice and soft and your general complexion will be better. Aim to drink about eight 250 ml glasses of water a day. Remember that some of your fluid could also come from soup, fruit drinks, milk and sugar-free soft drinks. Just try and make sure that most of it comes from water.
There are so many great complex carbohydrates that you can and should eat while pregnant, like whole wheat bread, brown rice, oatmeal, and whole grain pastas and tortillas. Try and stay away from refined grains which are cereals, pastries and breads which have been made using white flour. There is so much goodness in the whole grain variety of most foods that it is always the better option. You can eat as much as nine whole grain servings each day. A typical serving would be a slice of whole grain bread or 1/2 cup whole grain rice or pasta. These foods are packed with fibre, minerals and B vitamins which are needed for the development and growth of your baby’s body.
- Foods Rich in Calcium:
While pregnant you will need at least 1,200 milligrams of calcium daily. This could come from milk, cottage cheese, yoghurt, orange juice, broccoli, greens, or sardines to name a few.
- Fatty Foods:
It might surprise you to know that you actually need a certain amount of fats in your diet everyday. It would actually be dangerous to you and your baby if you decided to completely eliminate fat from your diet. Because so many people have suffered the consequences of too much fat in their diet, we often want to run in the opposite direction when we see any fatty food. You will be pleased to know that 20% to 30% of your daily calorie intake should come from fats. It is important for you not to exceed this amount if you don’t want to gain excess weight during your pregnancy. Remember that some healthy foods like whole grains and calcium foods also contain fat that should be taken into account. There are good fats and bad fats - you will want to stay away from saturated fats which can be found in fast foods and aim to eat more unsaturated fats found in nuts, fish and flax seed.