What you should eat…
What to eat during pregnancy?
A majority of women want to eat the best foods during pregnancy to ensure that their babies develop normally and healthily. But, with so many stories in the media about what to eat and what not to eat, it can be very tricky to know what your diet should include. So here’s the low down on eating well during pregnancy.
- A healthy start
- Am I eating for two?
- Weight gain
- Nourishment for two
- Do I need extra folic acid?
- Should I take other supplements?
- What do I need to avoid?
A Healthy Start
Ideally you should be preparing for pregnancy by cutting down on alcohol and eating a varied and balanced diet for a few months and taking folic acid supplements. But if your pregnancy has come as a surprise, don’t worry. It is not too late to give your baby the best possible nourishment for growing.
The same healthy eating rules apply during pregnancy as at any other time in your life, eat regular, balanced meals according to the proportions below:
Eating for two
Pregnancy is not an excuse to start eating huge meals, having second helpings of cake and stuff yourself with other high-fat, high-sugar foods. Do this and you’ll put on too much weight, which may be hard to lose after you’ve had your baby. A woman of normal weight doesn’t actually need any extra calories during the first six months of pregnancy, this is because the body becomes more efficient at absorbing and using the nutrients from food during pregnancy. For the last three months, the baby only adds an extra 200 kilocalories to your requirement.
The Department of Health advises pregnant women to eat according to their appetite, and to keep an eye on their weight gain. If you are the correct weight for your height, with a normal body mass index (BMI), you should put on around 11.4-15.9 kg during pregnancy. If you are underweight, with a BMI of less than 19.8, you should gain more weight than average (up to 18.2kg), and if you are overweight, with a BMI of more than 26, you should gain less (6.8-11.4kg).
Nourishment for two
Although you are not eating for two in terms of calories, it is true that you need to eat for two in terms of nutrients. You are responsible for providing the right nourishment for your growing baby through what you eat. So as well as sticking to a balanced diet, there are certain nutrients that are particularly important for the baby to grow. This is even more important if you are on a special diet, for example if you are a vegetarian.
Extra folic acid?
Most women’s diet normally includes some folic acid (or folate), because it’s found in enriched breakfast cereals and breads, and naturally in sources such as green vegetables and oranges. The Department of Health recommends that all women planning to become pregnant and those in the first 12 weeks of pregnancy should take daily folic acid supplements (400 micrograms, written as 400mcg, 400mg, or 0.4mg). You should also continue to eat around 300 micrograms in your diet as well. Some examples of foods with a high folic acid content include:
According to Rhoda Sutherland, consultant dietician at BUPA Hospital Chalybeate, it’s not necessary to take vitamin supplements: “As long as you are eating a balanced diet with plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables, and you have a good appetite, you don’t need to take any other supplements.” In fact, warns Rhoda, it may be risky to do so: “A lot of supplements contain megadoses of vitamins, and we don’t know what effect these can have on the fetus.”
However, there are some circumstances where supplements may be beneficial. For example, if you’re a vegetarian or vegan, you might want to consider taking an iron supplement, because iron is not as well-absorbed from foods other than red meat.
Development of baby’s teeth and bones
You need at least 700-800mg per day (a pot of yoghurt or a large glass of milk). As well as dairy products, it is found in dark green leafy vegetables, bread, pulses, dried fruit, fish with edible bones (for example sardines), baked beans, nuts, sesame seeds, enriched soya milk, and enriched orange juice.
Things to avoid during pregnancy
- Alcohol – best avoided. Try to cut out alcohol altogether, and certainly avoid getting drunk. The government recommends no more than one or two units (a unit is a 120ml glass of wine, a single measure of spirits, or half a pint of normal strength beer), once or twice a week.
- High intake of vitamin A – high intakes of vitamin A may harm your baby. Its best to avoid liver, liver sausage and cod liver oil as they are high in vitamin A. The type of vitamin A found in fruit and vegetables is safe to eat.
- Raw or lightly cooked eggs – these may contain Salmonella bacteria, which cause food poisoning. Cook eggs until the white and the yolk are solid, and avoid home-made mayonnaise, ice-cream, cheesecake or mousse.
- Soft ripened cheeses such as Brie, Cambozola, Camembert and blue-veined cheeses for example blue Brie, Danish blue and Gorgonzola. These occasionally contain Listeria bacteria, which can cause miscarriage or still birth.
- Paté – this should be avoided as it may contain Listeria.
- Shellfish – it is advisable to avoid shellfish as they may cause food poisoning.
- Peanuts – one theory is that peanut allergy may be caused by being exposed to peanuts at a young age. Current opinion is that if you, your baby’s father or any of your previous children suffer from asthma, eczema, hay fever, or food allergies, it is sensible to avoid peanuts and any products containing them while you are pregnant.
- Caffeine – moderate amounts are okay to drink, but limit what you drink to five cups of normal strength coffee or 10 cups of tea per day.