You are expecting a little one. Congrats!
Have you begun researching what healthy options are for your nutrition during pregnancy and completely overwhelmed? It can be difficult to determine what is true, evidence-based information. With a new baby on board, it’s not worth the risk to believe possibly false information. Let’s dive into some evidence based information for you new mommas!
I want to begin by saying that your health care team is your number one source for treatment and advice for your pregnancy. Every woman and every pregnancy are unique and beautiful, therefore asking your provider for further information tailored for you and your pregnancy is recommended.
You Can Start Now Mom To Be!
When thinking about starting a family, it is never too early to start focusing on your overall health. The human body is incredible and the majority of the time, a well-balanced diet provides all the necessary nutrients. However, when pregnant, extra nutrients are needed for optimal health for mom and baby.
Mom can start taking healthier steps as soon as possible. Beginning with a healthy pre-pregnancy weight is a great starting point (1). Research shows that mothers who are underweight have a greater likelihood of having a small birth weight baby. In addition, mothers who are overweight have an increased risk for pregnancy complications including gestational diabetes and high blood pressure.
Mom can also work on her nutrition before conceiving for decreased complication risks. The following nutrients are beneficial for pre-conception and every step throughout the pregnancy. Let’s talk specifics.
Micronutrients Needed Before and During Pregnancy
Due to monthly menstruation, women can have low iron status. Incorporating iron rich foods into the diet can be beneficial for both mom and baby. Iron is an important part of red blood cells and can create iron-deficiency anemia if mom does not consume enough iron (2). Good sources of iron rich foods include:
- Meats including pork, beef, lamb and liver
- Leafy greens including broccoli, kale, turnip and collards
- Legumes including green peas and beans
- Whole-grain and iron-enriched breads, pastas, cereals and rice
Folic Acid and Folate
This nutrient is recommended for all women who are in childbearing years. Folic acid and folate are a nutrient that helps prevent neural tube defects and fetal abnormalities. This nutrient is essential and most beneficial before the first 28 days after conception. Taking a supplement is extremely beneficial to both mom and baby. The recommended supplementation dose is 400-800 micrograms every day starting 2 months prior to conception (3). Most women may not know they are pregnant this early, so it is crucial to incorporate foods high in folic acid and folate and also incorporate a supplement as soon as possible. Most healthcare professionals prescribe a prenatal supplement, but mom can also work on her nutrition to aid in this nutrient. Foods that are high in folic acid and folate include:
- Legumes including peas, beans and lentils
- Leafy greens
- Citrus fruits
- Nuts and seeds
This nutrient is crucial for bone metabolism, related to birth weight, increased risk of preterm labor and complications with high blood pressure (3). Calcium absorption is directly correlated to the mother’s oral calcium intake (4). The mother’s calcium intake is transferred to the baby via the placenta. Calcium supplementation can benefit the mother and reduce gestational complications including reduced likelihood of developing hypertension. Foods that are high in calcium include:
- Dairy products
- Green leafy vegetables
- Fortified flour in breads, pastas and cereals
This list is not inclusive for all nutrients needed during pregnancy, but the nutrients listed are a great place to begin. Please speak with your specific healthcare provider for further recommendations.
Foods to Avoid or Watch Closely During Pregnancy
Alcohol is necessary to avoid during pregnancy. Even though the placenta does act as a protective shield for the baby, alcohol can pass through the umbilical cord. Miscarriage, stillbirth, and many disabilities can occur if alcohol passes to the fetus. There is no research that states the exact amount of alcohol that it takes to pass to the fetus, so it is recommended to avoid all consumption (5).
Eating fish during pregnancy is a controversial topic. Nutrition recommendations for fish consumption during pregnancy can range from 8-12 ounces per week for fetal development. However, types of seafood consumed need to be low in mercury (6). To determine which seafood to consume include:
Seafood low in mercury:
- Canned Tuna
Seafood high in mercury:
- King mackerel
- Tuna, bigeye
Should pregnant women still consume caffeine?
Caffeine is able cross the placenta border and infants are poor metabolizers of caffeine until at least 3 months of age (7). Some research supports that caffeine consumption can affect fetal growth, congenital malformations and spontaneous abortion. However, many research studies look at consumption over 300 mg per day (3 cups of instant coffee).
Literature supports that there is no increased risk for birth defects and complications for caffeine intake <300 mg per day. Try to remember that other sources of foods have caffeine as well, including dark chocolate.
Put It Into Practice!
Every pregnancy is unique, and I recommend speaking with a registered dietitian in addition to your medical provider to ensure mother and baby have the healthiest outcomes possible. If complications do arise during pregnancy, please consult your physician immediately.
Take each day, one by one, and try not to get overwhelmed with nutrition during this beautiful time. Plan ahead to ensure you have balanced meals and enjoy creating a healthy life for you and your baby!
Master of Science Degree May 2020