While you’re pregnant, your baby eats what you eat. Pregnant women need increased amounts of various nutrients to keep them healthy and to help ensure their babies’ healthy growth and development.
At no other time in your life will your calorie and nutrient needs be as great as in pregnancy. Striving for 2,000 to 2,400 calories a day will help you meet this energy demand.
Keep in mind, however, that not all calories are created equal. High-fat snacks like cake, candy, ice cream and cookies should be eaten sparingly and not in place of more nutrient-rich foods. Eating a wide variety of foods in moderation is the key to success. Choose whole-grain breads and cereals, fresh fruit and vegetables, lean protein, and low-fat dairy.
Most physicians recommend gaining 25 to 35 pounds. That’s broken down to a gain of three to five pounds in the first trimester, and an average gain of one pound per week in the last two trimesters.
When choosing foods, make sure you get enough of the following essential nutrients:
- Protein: a building block for cells. In the first trimester, you’ll need four to six ounces per day. In the last two trimesters, try to eat any one item from the following list each day (in addition to what you normally eat):
- 1 1/2 ounces of lean animal protein or low-fat cheese;
- 1 1/4 cup of legumes (peas and beans—black, kidney, brown, navy);
- 1 1/2 eggs;
- 3/4 cup of tofu;
- 2 1/2 tablespoons of natural, sugar-free peanut butter.
- Calcium: for strong bones and teeth. Try for three or four eight-ounce servings a day of low-fat milk or yogurt. If you can’t drink milk or don’t like the taste of it, see the box, “Sneaking calcium into your diet.” If all else fails, try a calcium-citrate or -carbonate supplement. If you experience heartburn, opt for the citrate version because carbonate can make the stomach produce acid.
Calcium is best absorbed when taken with food. Avoid taking a calcium supplement together with your prenatal vitamin because calcium interferes with the absorption of iron.
Folic acid: important early on. Research shows that getting enough of it in early pregnancy (from the time of conception) can prevent almost 75 percent of the birth defects known as neural tube defects (spina bifida is an example). Best food sources of folic acid include cooked spinach, leafy green vegetables, legumes, broccoli, peas, orange juice, and fortified cereals.
Fluid: for tissue development and amniotic fluid. Strive for eight to 10 glasses of water each day. Juices and herbal teas are fine, but water is best.
In addition to eating more of some foods, eating right during pregnancy means giving up or reducing your intake of others. Alcohol is perhaps the most obvious example. You should give it up for the sake of your baby.
Caffeine is another beverage that can have an adverse effect on your pregnancy. Some studies have shown that it increases the risk of having a low birth-weight baby, and it interferes with the absorption of iron and calcium. To avoid these potential risks, limit your caffeine consumption to less than 10 ounces of coffee or two caffeinated sodas a day.
Because many additives, pesticides and pollutants found in food can cross the placenta, they’re considered potentially harmful to a developing baby if consumed in larger than normal amounts. To help reduce exposure, limit your intake of nitrate-rich foods like hot dogs, bacon, salami and bologna. Wash all fruits and vegetables with soap and water before eating.
Fish, especially freshwater fish, may contain several different pollutants. Eat ocean fish, such as salmon, flounder, haddock, red snapper and sole—in moderation. The Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition has issued a warning advising pregnant women not to eat shark, swordfish, king mackerel or tilefish because of concerns about unsafe mercury levels. Farm-raised tuna and salmon also have been found to contain high levels of mercury. Limit your consumption or look for wild varieties.
Many health professionals say you should limit artificial sweeteners while you are pregnant. Ask your doctor for advice.
Take some time to plan meals that help you stick to the guidelines in this article and any nutritional advice your doctor gives you. Eating well during pregnancy is one of the smartest investments you can make for a healthy baby and a healthy you.