What Should I Eat During Pregnancy?

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In a sea of information, it is easy to drown in mixed information about the “essential “and “necessary” intake of foods and vitamin products being pushed in front of you, even from the pre-pregnancy stage. Few elements have been consistently found in high quality research to benefit the unborn child of which folic acid is the most beneficial. However, gross or selective malnutrition does occur even in an affluent country like Australia. Restrictive diets, malnutrition and chronic illness can affect the quality of the nutrition delivered to the baby and may, as a result, need special attention. However, the vast majority of women provide their baby with a broad array of nutrients that meet the daily requirements just by eating a well-balanced diet of vegetables, grains and protein.

Healthy weight gain (or loss) during pregnancy

As elaborated in my “Diet in Pregnancy Information” on my website, the breakdown of macronutrients is not too different to the standard healthy food pyramid. A slight increase in total calories and a significant increase in fluid intake will be a healthy start during the first trimester. Total calorie intake per day will be modified after determining the best maternal weight gain (or loss) to achieve the optimum outcome for mother and baby. The “one kilogram per month” plan is long gone, and the starting maternal (BMI) body mass index is now the guide to determining healthy pregnancy weight gain.

It is now well established advice that women who are carrying more weight at the start of their pregnancy should aim to put on less weight as the pregnancy progresses. They should aim for high quality nutrient rich foods but overall limit additional calorific intake. In this situation, extra treats to spoil yourself will possibly contribute to more pregnancy complications.
Meanwhile, women who are well below recommended body mass index should focus on dietary changes to increase weight gain by increased calorific intake along with nutrient rich foods. Expensive supplements will not do this but rather an increase in volume and increased calorie dense foods will be most beneficial.

What nutrition should pregnant women be most aware of?

Fish oil supplements have become common place in antenatal care in the last five years. Recent large, long term (7 years) assessment of more than 500 children whose mothers were randomised to consume 800mg per day of fish oil, or a placebo, did not finda significant difference in cognitive function between the two groups. The second reason to supplement with fish oil is justified through studies that revealed a small decrease in the incidence of later childhood asthma. Currently the weight of evidence still supports this reason to take fish oil, particularly if there is a family history of asthma.

Calcium intake should also be considered in assessing your diet in pregnancy. Pregnant and lactating women will be losing an extra 500mg per day to their baby, such that they require a total of 1500mg per day. This would be equivalent to three serves of dairy per day (e.g. 1 cup of milk, 1 small tub of yoghurt, and 1 match box sized piece of cheese).

Iron deficiency is very common in pregnancy and can be avoided by adequate dietary intake. However, many women prefer not to consume much red meat during pregnancy and most other sources of dietary iron have much less iron content. Iron supplements are therefore frequently taken during pregnancy and are included in most of the major pregnancy multivitamin formulations for this reason.

Iodine deficiency in pregnancy has become more common in Australia since iodine based cleaning agents in the dairy industry, and the availability of Iodised table sale has decreased. Seaweed based supplements should be avoided as the Iodine levels can be vastly different to what is quoted in consumer advice. The major pregnancy multivitamin supplements now contain Iodine for this reason.
Overall, a nutrient rich diet with calorific adjustment to your specific needs leads to the best outcome for you and your baby. A leading brand pregnancy multivitamin supplement should also be strongly considered.

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