Pregnancy is a moment of joy for the whole family, and especially for the mother-to-be.
It is a time when women have to adapt their lives in so many ways including their life style and nutrition!
Seven years ago, I went through the same process and I loved it, there’s no doubt! I would not say it was easy, but it has been so worth it. Being well nourished at this point is crucial for you and your baby’s health.
So that is why I would like to share this information and I wish you an amazing time from beginning and beyond birth!
Pregnancy and Nutrition
Pregnancy is a physiological event that entails a series of changes in the mother’s body in order to ensure the growth and development of the baby.
A healthy and varied diet is important at all times in life, but particularly during pregnancy, where maternal diet must provide sufficient energy and nutrients to meet the mother’s usual requirements, as well as the needs of the growing and developing baby. A nutrient-rich diet is also important for the production of breast-milk.
When talking about nutrition during pregnancy it is very common to hear, “now you have to eat for two!” But is that true? The answer is NO! The dietary recommendations for pregnant women are actually very similar to those for other adults, but with a few adjustments. The main recommendation is to follow a healthy, balanced diet. In particular, pregnant women should try to consume plenty of iron and folate rich foods. Following the Eatwell Guide will ensure a healthy eating habits. The eatwell plate shows how much to eat from each food group.
Why is it important to eat well during pregnancy?
Most people are not aware of just how crucial good nutrition during pregnancy is to not only the baby’s development in the womb, but also to determining the child’s future health. During pregnancy maternal nutrition and lifestyle choices can have major influences on both the mother’s and the child’s health. Inadequate levels of key nutrients during crucial periods of fetal development, consumption of alcohol and other harmful substances may lead to damaging fetal tissues, and can even predispose the infant to chronic conditions in later life.
It is now well recognised that women should take a daily folic acid supplement while they are trying to conceive, and should continue for the first 12 weeks of pregnancy. This is the period when the baby’s spine is developing and folic acid can reduce the incidence of neural tube defects (NTDs). It is also safe to continue taking folic acid supplement after 12 weeks, as this vitamin brings benefits such as preventing heart disease, certain cancers and anaemia. There is also an increased need for thiamin, riboflavin, folate and vitamins A, C and D, as well as iron. Many women aged 19 – 34 years, irrespective of whether or not they are pregnant, currently have a very low iron intake. Pregnant women are therefore advised to consume plenty of iron-rich foods during pregnancy and, in some cases, supplementation may be necessary.
The table below provides a summary of the different food types we need to consume and what each group is needed for.
What kinds of foods should pregnant women look to increase and also avoid during pregnancy?
In 2004 the UK’s Food Standards Agency issued new advice on oil-rich fish consumption and it now recommends a limit of no more than two portions of oil-rich fish per week for pregnant women (and for those who may become pregnant). Oil-rich fish is a rich source of long-chain n-3 fatty acids which are thought to help protect against heart disease. These types of fatty acids are also required for fetal brain and nervous system development. The upper limit on oil-rich fish consumption is in place to avoid the risk of exposure to dioxins and polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), which are environmental pollutants. Pregnant women are also advised to avoid marlin, shark and swordfish, and to limit their intake of tuna due to the risk of exposure to methylmercury, which at high levels can be harmful to the developing nervous system of the fetus.
There are also certain considerations with regard to specific dietary groups during pregnancy. For example, vegetarians and vegans may have difficulty meeting their requirements for certain vitamins and minerals, particularly riboflavin, vitamin B12, calcium, iron and zinc. However, most vegan and vegetarian women should be able to meet their nutrient requirements during pregnancy, with careful dietary planning and those on very restricted diets may also need to consume fortified foods or supplements.
Women are also advised during pregnancy to pay particular attention to food safety issues, particularly to food hygiene. They’re advised to avoid certain foods as soft unpasteurized, mould-ripened and blue-veined cheeses, for example, in order to reduce the risk of exposure to potentially harmful food pathogens, such as listeria and salmonella. Pregnant women, and those who may become pregnant, are also advised to avoid foods that are high in retinol (e.g. liver and liver products), as excessive intakes can be toxic to the developing fetus.
The importance of physical exercise
In addition, and along with healthy eating, it is also important during pregnancy to pay attention to weight. In UK there are currently no official recommendations for weight gain during pregnancy. For women with a healthy pre-pregnancy weight, an average weight gain of 12kg (range 10-14kg) is associated with the lowest risk of complications during pregnancy and labour. Staying physically active is also important to promote general health and well-being and to prevent excess maternal weight gain. Studies suggest that regular aerobic exercise helps to improve or maintain physical fitness and body image. The general recommendation is that pregnant women should continue with their usual physical activity, as long as it feels comfortable.
I firmly believe that improving the well-being of mothers, infants and children is the key to the health of the next generation.
Francielle Perez is a qualified nutritionist in South London. She loves to help people improve their quality of life with the right nutrition. She is happy answer any questions you may have about your nutrition whether its related to pregnancy, development or a healthy lifestyle.
Contact her at Francielle@healthynutri.co.uk
- Summary of the BNF Briefing Paper: Nutrition in Pregnancy by Claire Williamson, Nutrition Scientist, British Nutrition Foundation, March 2006.
- Ciencias Nutricionais, JE Dutra-de-Oliveira and J. Sergio Marchini, by Marta Edna Holanda Diogenes Yazlle, Brasil 2003.
- Health Diet in Pregnancy, NHS UK, 2016. www.nhs.uk.
- Eating During Pregnancy, reviewed by Elana Pearl Ben-Joseph, MD, American Academy of Family Physicians, May 2013,