When you are pregnant your body demands more energy. Adequate nutrition is one of the most important physical factors that can determine the outcome of pregnancy. Proper nutrients in the diet can help baby’s brain, nervous system and eyesight to develop better with less complications in the future. A birthing person with proper nutrition is less likely to develop gestational diabetes, anemia, preeclampsia, preterm labor, cesarean, postpartum depression and greatly reduces excessive maternal weight gain, breast cancer, and have instrumental deliveries.
What constitutes an adequate diet during pregnancy includes increased amounts of calories, proteins, iron, calcium, folate, hydration and other nutrient that is above what would normally be consumed by non-pregnant women.
Requirements of pregnancy
Calories that are needed to maintain nutrition increase as pregnancy progresses. This intake is usually increased by about 300 calories per day for anyone already maintaining a healthy diet based on whole foods .
Proteins are essential to pregnancy as it helps to form the structural basis for the new cells as the baby develops. Sources that are high in protein are meat (lean meats are recommended), fish, poultry eggs, dairy products, tofu, soy products, legumes, nuts, and seeds. It is recommended that a pregnant or lactating person consume 71 grams a day. This amount can usually be achieved by consuming 5-6 oz a day as well as eating seafood twice per week.
Iron needs throughout pregnancy double as the pregnancy progresses. The need for additional iron begins early in the second trimester and last until the end of the third. Iron is used to support the increased in red blood cell and used to build fetal iron stores for the baby’s first few months of life. It is recommended that a pregnant person consumes 27 mg a day. This can be achieved by consuming fish, meat, eggs, legumes, vegetables, fruit, grain, nuts, or taking a iron supplementation. People with maternal iron deficiency anemia are at increased risk for preterm birth, low birth weight and perinatal mortality.
Calcium is required for skeletal growth and development of the fetus. It is recommended that a pregnant or lactating person consumes 1000 mg per day if they are 18 years or older. Some foods rich in calcium include milk, yogurt, cheese, kale, broccoli and Chinese cabbage. It is recommended that the calcium consumption levels be achieved by consuming 3-4 cups of dairy and 2-3 cups of vegetables a day. People who are lactose intolerant, have a lower income, or have follow a vegetarian diet may have low calcium consumption (<500 mg/day). These people are at increased risk for increased bone loss during pregnancy.
Folate can be found in leafy green vegetables, bananas, lentils, and certain fortified cereals. It is recommended that a pregnant person consume 400 mcg of folate prior and during pregnancy. This can be achieved by eating the foods listed above or taking a folic acid supplement or a prenatal vitamin. Proper folate consumption within the first few weeks of pregnancy has been known to reduce neural tube defects (NTDs), reduce the risk of oral cleft and cardiovascular anomalies. People who consume to little amount of folate are at increased risk for lower placental/birth weight, and preeclampsia.
Hydration is key to maintaining the pregnant persons increase in blood volume, production of amniotic fluid, and increase in basal metabolic rate (BMR). It has also been shown to also prevent urinary tract infections and constipation. It is recommended that a pregnant person consumes approximately 3 L or 8-12 8 oz glasses per day. Pregnant women should be constantly consuming water throughout the day instead of waiting to feel thirsty. Sugary drinks such as soda, some sports drinks and fruit drinks are not recommended. They have been contributed to reduced water consumption, and increase risk for Gestational Diabetes.
Foods to Avoid
Many “red flags” that can be found when looking for healthy foods include labels like “natural” & “light”. There is currently no formal definition for foods labeled as “natural” by the FDA. Light products are usually excessively processed to reduce calories or fats. It is important to check the Food Label to ensure that no other ingredient have been added, like sugar.
Other types of Diets
Vegetarians, vegan and other types of diets usually get their nutrients from non-meat sources. Depending the diet of that person, this can also exclude things like dairy, eggs, any animal related products or even honey. There are also diets that are heavy on meat and potatoes or processed foods. All of these diet have the potential to be harmful in pregnancy if there is no balance between different types of foods/nutrients.
It is possible to meet the nutrition needs required by pregnancy while following one of these diets, it requires the pregnant person to pay close attention to meeting the needs of their pregnancy. The key to maintaining a healthy diet is moderation and balance. Avoiding processed foods, as well as avoiding to much of one thing can help. Pregnant people who choose a no-meat diet are at risk for protein deficiency. Calcium is another nutrient that can be difficult to get enough of if the pregnant person is lactose intolerant, or has chosen a vegan diet. Speaking with a nutritionist is the best way to ensure you are getting everything your body and baby needs throughout pregnancy.
What to learn more?
Books: The Natural Pregnancy Book by Aviva Romm
Davis, E. (2012). Heart & hands: A midwife’s guide to pregnancy & birth (5th ed.). Berkeley, CA: Ten Speed Press.
Frye, A. (2013). Holistic midwifery, Vol. I: Care during pregnancy. Portland, OR: Labrys Press.
Jordan, R.G., Engstrom, J.L., Marfell, J.A., Farley, C.L. (2014). Prenatal and postnatal care: A
woman-centered approach. Ames, IA: Wiley Blackwell.
Romm, A. (2014). The natural pregnancy book (3rd ed.). Berkeley, CA: Ten Speed Press.