From the first day of conception, your baby is being nourished by you.
When you are pregnant all of your body’s resources are called upon to help your baby grow and some nutrients are required in larger amounts than usual. A healthy diet for pregnancy includes proteins, carbohydrates, fats, vitamins, minerals and plenty of water.
Your doctor or midwife will check your iron levels and explain to you the importance of folic acid in the diet. Some women suffer from nausea and vomiting early in the pregnancy. It may help to eat smaller, more frequent meals. Taking extra vitamin B6 can sometimes help with morning sickness.
A healthy weight gain of 10-12 kilograms is recommended during pregnancy. Most of this extra weight is comprised of extracellular water and blood. The placenta alone weighs about 700 grams. Maintenance of physical activity levels and attention to nutrition will ensure you return to normal body fat levels after the birth. Don’t fixate on the scale as a guide to whether you are eating well. Instead, focus on eating a good variety and balance of nutritious foods to keep both you and your baby healthy.
Six essential nutrients for a healthy pregnancy
Fluid retention is common in the third trimester. Good hydration is particularly important, so remember to drink lots of water.
Iron requirements double during pregnancy, eat an iron-rich diet along with vitamin C rich fruits and vegetables. Red meat contains much more iron than chicken or fish, so be sure to include red meat as part of a healthy diet if you can.
Calcium is a vital component of your baby’s bones and teeth which start to develop in as early as the sixth week. If your diet is deficient in calcium your body will draw it from your bones to meet your growing baby’s needs. Supplementation may be necessary if you do not eat dairy.
Protein is required in larger amounts than usual, not only to replenish your own stores but to provide the necessary building blocks for your baby to grow. Protein is not just needed for growth and repair of cells. Protein is also used to make hormones, antibodies, enzymes and helps to transport other nutrients around the body.
Fats are important for the development of your baby and also for your own hormonal health throughout your pregnancy. The omega-3 fats found in oily fish such as salmon and tuna help promote healthy fetal development. A recent study in Australia found that omega-3 supplementation during pregnancy may improve the child’s hand and eye coordination. Omega-3 fats are required by every cell in the body and are essential for a number of key health functions.
Indigestion and constipation are common throughout pregnancy. Dietary fibre can help minimise symptoms and encourage digestion. Good sources of fibre are vegetables, fruit, beans, lentils, whole grains, nuts and seeds.
If you are concerned about excessive weight gain during or after pregnancy the best action would be to contact your doctor or nutritionist.