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Healthy eating in pregnancy
 
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Food in pregnancy

When you're pregnant you certainly don't want to bother with measuring portions and calorie counting. And there's no need to do this if you follow some basic guidelines about healthy eating. One golden rule is that the nearer food is to its natural state, the better it is for you. So fresh, unprocessed food is best - it's common sense.

Eating food for two?

Food in pregnancy
© Jupiter

You'll probably feel hungrier than usual when you're expecting a baby - it's nature's way of making certain you eat enough for both of you. But you certainly don't need to “eat for two” as people used to believe. Most women need to only eat an extra 200-300 calories a day, far less than if you ate twice your normal amount of food. Much more important than the quantity of what you eat is the quality. Everything you eat should be good for you and your baby. Some mothers-to-be, such as those who previously ate an inadequate or unbalanced diet, may be nutritionally at risk and have special dietary needs (see also Are you at risk nutritionally?).

More problems develop if you eat too little rather than too much. Pregnancy is not the time for dieting. Research has shown that when mothers-to-be eat poor diets, there's a higher incidence of miscarriages, neonatal death, and low birthweight babies than normal.

You owe it to yourself, as well as to your growing baby, to eat a diet that's best for both of you. Try to stick to the healthy eating guidelines shown here, but remember that you can balance your food intake over a 24- to 48-hour period rather than at each meal if you prefer. Just make sure that you don't miss meals - your baby grows all day, every day, and will suffer if you don't eat properly.

Junk food such as chocolate bars and hamburgers and fries contain little other than fat and sugar. They don't do your baby any good, and your body converts these empty calories into fat, so don't eat them.

You'll put on some fat when you're pregnant and your body needs this to convert to milk when you're breastfeeding. Although feeding will help you lose the weight you put on during pregnancy, it's best to avoid really excessive weight gain; fat that's deposited at the tops of your arms and thighs is very difficult to get rid of after pregnancy.

Your baby's need for food

While your baby is growing inside your womb, you are her only source of nourishment. Every calorie, vitamin, or gram of protein she needs must come from you. You're in sole charge of your unborn child's nutrition; you, and only you, can make sure the best quality food reaches her.

You'll be doing your best for your baby if you eat lots of fresh fruit, vegetables, beans, peas, wholemeal cereals, fish, poultry, and low-fat dairy products. A Danish study showed that eating oily fish - such as salmon, mackerel, and sardines - may help lessen the risk of premature birth. Make your diet as varied as possible, choosing from a range of foods.

Don't forget mum's food

The other person to do your best for is yourself. Eating plenty of healthy foods throughout your pregnancy will mean that you have better reserves for coping with, and recovering from, the physical strains of pregnancy and the hard work of labour. Anaemia and pre-eclampsia are much more common in mothers who have a poor diet, and some problems, including morning sickness and leg cramps, may be made worse by what you do or don't eat.

A healthy diet will help to reduce excessive mood swings, fatigue, and many other common complaints of pregnancy. And if you cut out or restrict the amount of empty calories you eat, you'll have less excess fat to lose after your baby has been born.

Eating for yourself

  • Eat 200-300 calories more than your normal daily intake.
  • Eat five or six small meals a day instead of two or three big ones.
  • Make sure you eat enough protein and carbohydrates. Protein supplies are essential nutrients for your developing baby. Carbohydrates fuel your energy needs.
  • Eat foods containing vitamins, such as vitamin C, and minerals, particularly iron.

Posted 16.11.2010

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