Falling pregnant is the first step in a journey that will fundamentally change your life… for the better, of course! It’s natural to do a lot of thinking and overthinking at this pivotal moment, to the point where the whole situation can become overwhelming. You don’t want to be burnt out before you even find yourself being woken up at 3AM, chasing an unruly toddler around the house and having to drive all over town for daycare, playdates and more.
No, making pregnancy as stress free and enjoyable as possible will make everything that comes after just that much easier. Even at the best of times most of us are worrying about what we eat, but while pregnant it can become a real concern. After all, the old saying ‘eating for two’ is quite literal at this point.
The good news is there really isn’t much to worry about. Eating the right things to help your baby get the very best start in life doesn’t have to be difficult, stressful or even all that different to your normal diet. If you’ve been wondering if there are any dos and don’ts you should be concerned about, wonder no more.
Keep it Simple
The first thing to remember is that there’s no need to go to any extreme with your diet while pregnant. Doing so will just make what should be a joyful process more stressful, and won’t have any real benefits. Moderation is the key, as it is in most things in life. Enjoy a wide variety of nutritious foods and don’t overdo it in any one area.
Total Nutritional Intake
While we did just say that a pregnant woman is eating for two, the reality is a little bit more complex than that. There’s certainly no need to double your food intake during pregnancy, but exactly how much should you eat? During the first trimester there’s no need to increase your nutritional intake at all. Your baby simply won't be chewing through enough juice to require you to eat extra. During the second trimester however, a moderate increase is recommended. Consume 2 ½ extra serves of whole grains and an extra serve of protein sources such as lean meat and nuts per day. Doing so will fulfill the nutritional requirements of you and your baby.
Fruits and Vegetables
Surprise, surprise, the same plant based foods that are good for us are also good for developing babies. Fruits and veggies contain many essential vitamins and minerals which are critical for proper fetal development. Eating whole fruit instead of fruit juice is preferable, as it contains important dietary fibre. Fruit juice is fine in moderation, but over consumption can lead to an excess intake of sugar.
Wholesome grains are an important source of carbohydrates, as well as various vitamins and minerals such as vitamin B. Restrict your intake of highly processed grains such as white bread and focus instead on consuming wholemeal and wholegrain alternatives. These are far richer in nutrients than their processed forms and also contain much more fibre.
Yogurt is an incredibly beneficial food that is rich in probiotics. These will help maintain a healthy gut flora community which is important for proper digestion and general health. When selecting a yogurt, natural, unflavoured options such as Greek are by far the best. Most Yogurt is heavily sweetened and coloured, and this will negate the positive benefits it provides. Also ensure you select a yogurt that labels itself as containing “live and active cultures”, as these are the types that contain probiotics.
Dairy products are also high in calcium which will help your baby’s bones and teeth develop. They contain protein as well, making dairy products very well rounded foods to consume. Just be aware of flavourings, sweeteners, artificial colours and preservatives that they often contain. Natural options are best.
Sources of Protein
Protein is absolutely essential for proper development and health, and is widely found in lean meat, poultry and fish. Fish also contains omega three fatty acids which promote brain development. Be aware of the mercury content of some seafoods and avoid those that are particularly high in it.
Those who follow a vegetarian diet have to be very aware of the foods they eat to be sure they’re getting enough protein. Good foods to consume include legumes such as peas, chickpeas and beans; quinoa, nuts, leafy greens and many forms of seeds. These will help to make up for the protein lost by not consuming meat while also providing a range of other health benefits. However, legumes have a high carbohydrate to protein ratio, so relying solely on them for your protein needs will mean you’re probably then consuming too many carbs. Vary your food selection to get the right nutrients in the right balance. We’ve said it before, but it’s worth repeating: moderation is the key!
Important Nutrients During Pregnancy
It’s important for pregnant women to consume the necessary levels of the following nutrients:
Folate: protects against birth defects (green vegetables, whole grains, nuts and fish)
Iron: essential for fetal development (red meat, chicken, seafood, vegetables)
Iodine: important for mental development (seafood, seaweed, eggs, dairy, meats, iodised table salt)
Vitamin A: important to not over consume as may cause birth defects in high doses (milk, eggs, fish)
With a balanced diet vitamin supplements should not be needed. However those with diet restrictions including vegetarians, vegans, and those with allergies may find some benefit from multivitamin supplements. Consult your doctor before consuming.
Water carries the essential nutrients from your food to your baby, not to mention the fact that it’s essential for proper hydration and general health to boot. Nutritionists recommend you consume about 2 cups of extra water per day while pregnant, for a total of 10 cups.
It should be a given for most people by now, but the consumption of alcohol while pregnant is one thing you shouldn’t compromise on, and is also an instance of where the adage of moderation doesn’t apply. There is no safe level of alcohol consumption while pregnant, and the effects can be severe for the developing child. Miscarriage, congenital deformities and fetal alcohol syndrome are all very real risks with irrefutable links to alcohol consumption during pregnancy.
If giving up alcohol is something you feel you will struggle with, there a range of services you can take advantage of to help you along. Talk to your doctor and contact your local drug and alcohol helpline to receive assistance.
Don’t Stress Out
The important thing is not to worry yourself sick trying to balance the perfect diet while pregnant. Consuming a range of nutritious foods in moderation, with the odd treat thrown in now and then is the best way to ensure adequate nutrition and peace of mind without stress. If you have any concerns about your nutrition intake, your local medical professional will be able to provide you with further answers.