WIn a perfect world every pregnant mother would have three well-balanced, home-cooked meals daily, a few healthy snacks, and time to put her feet up and rest. Unfortunately for most, the reality is that their time is compromised, working full-time, and/or taking care of other children. Eating nutritiously is an ongoing challenge, yet it is one of the most critical lifestyle choices for both mother’s and baby’s long-term health.
The good news is that by following some simple guidelines, pregnant women can overcome the obstacles that prevent them from eating healthy, explains Susan Wente, certified nurse-midwife, CPM, with a doctorate in Public Health, who works with Capital Obstetrics & Gynecology Academic Associates and serves as a faculty member of the Austin Medical Education Programs.
Liquids, Liquids, Liquids
“One of the biggest changes the body makes during pregnancy is the dramatic increase (about 40-50 percent) of blood supply that is needed to help the baby grow,” comments Wente. “Drinking at least 10 glasses of fluids a day (non-caffeinated and non-alcoholic) is key to maintaining that supply.”
It’s All in the Color
Regarding advice on how to eat well-balanced meals, Wente keeps it simple. “Think color when planning your meals. Your plate should feature a variety and balance of colors and fiber. If the plate is not visually interesting, then you probably need to branch out more on your food choices.”
Slow Down and Enjoy
Excessive weight gain during pregnancy or anytime for that matter is a major concern for most women. To avoid overeating, Wente suggests putting your fork or spoon down between bites and really chew your food. Stop when you are full and don’t feel the need to clean your plate.
If You are a Vegetarian
The nutrients that we get from meat are numerous, including protein, magnesium, iron, selenium, and many more. It’s hard for a midwife or physician to properly advise on a balanced diet for those women who don’t eat meat, comments Wente.
She recommends that if you are a vegetarian, you should consult a nutritionist or dietitian to assure that you are getting all the necessary nutrients from alternative sources.
High-Risk Foods to Avoid
It’s common knowledge that pregnant mothers need to stay away from caffeine, alcohol, and artificial sweeteners, but did you know that certain fish and soft cheeses also can be risky choices? “Large fish such as swordfish, shark, tuna, and marlin often contain high levels of mercury. It’s best to limit your fish intake to no more than a half-pound per week.” Wente adds that wild freshwater fish are known to store the PCB (polychlorinated biphenyl) pesticide in their fat supply, so “trimming off the fat or eating low-fat fish are wise choices,” she says. Bacteria contamination of food is another risk to pregnant mothers, not only because it can make you very sick, but also the medications taken for such conditions can cause birth defects. “Pregnant mothers should stay away from soft cheeses such as brie and camembert (popular holiday choices) which can harbor the bacteria listeria.” Also risky, Wente says, are raw foods like sushi and delicacies containing raw eggs such as homemade eggnog or ice cream, Caesar salad dressing, raw cookie dough, and homemade pancake batter.
Nausea — When Will It End?
Pregnancy wins the prize for being the most myth-ridden medical condition. Despite what your mother-in-law or grandmother tells you, the underlying causes for nausea in pregnant women are still a mystery, comments Wente. “While we don’t know the exact reasons, we do know of a number of things a woman can do to feel better.” Small, frequent meals, tea with fresh ginger, taking vitamin B6, and using a pressure point armband are some of the more popular coping mechanisms according to Wente. “If smells are triggering your nausea, it’s best to eat cold foods, keep your kitchen well-ventilated and have someone else do the cooking if possible.”
Take the Burn out of Indigestion
Toward the end of pregnancy when the baby’s size can cramp the proper functioning of the digestive system, heartburn often results. “Like with nausea, the body does a better job digesting smaller, more frequent meals and after each meal, always sit up. Lying down can trigger heartburn, as can greasy foods and caffeine. If all else fails, it is safe to take calcium-based antacids,” she says.
Be Sensible, Be Happy
While pregnancy may bring on some unwanted pounds or feelings for some women, “for many it is a window of opportunity to restart their life in a healthy way. Repeatedly, I’ve seen pregnancy as the incentive women needed to stop smoking, cut back on alcohol consumption, or simply adopt healthier lifestyle habits such as eating less fast-food, cutting back on sodas, and getting more rest and exercise. It teaches women how to be sensible with their lives and listen to their bodies,” comments Wente.
Commonly Neglected Nutrients Needed During Pregnancy
Contrary to popular belief, babies don’t get first dibs on nutrients while in the womb. Mother Nature has equipped pregnant women with a system that protects their role as “reproducers,” assuring that they take the nutrients they need first from whatever is consumed. “Only a well-nourished woman is in a position to optimally nourish her unborn baby,” explains Wente.
The most common nutrients that are neglected in pregnant women’s diets and their recommended daily allowances (RDA)* are folate (RDA – 400 mcg.), vitamin D (RDA – 10 mcg.), iron (RDA – 30 mg.), zinc (RDA – 15 mg.), calcium (RDA - 1,200 mg.) and vitamin C (RDA – 200 mg.) – all of which are critical to baby’s development and mother’s long-term health.
“If a pregnant woman is worried that she is not getting an adequate supply of these important nutrients from a well-balanced diet, she should take a daily prenatal vitamin,” says Wente. * Recommended Daily Allowances (RDA) for Pregnancy provided by the National Academy of Sciences.