Eating a balanced, nutritious combination of foods during pregnancy is important for the normal development of the fetus and can also have an impact on your baby’s long-term health. This is pretty common knowledge; however, for many moms-to-be, thinking about nutrition during pregnancy can be daunting. There is probably not one single nutrition plan that is ideal for everyone. One person may choose to get her protein mostly from animal sources, while someone else may get her protein from plant sources. The testing provided to you by your prenatal healthcare provider can help guide you to make choices that are more specific to you. For example, it may be helpful for someone whom is anemic to eat meat more regularly. Remember that when nutrition is not quite adequate for the growing fetus nutrients will be pulled from mom, so the healthier your diet is during pregnancy, the better you will feel, as your body will have access to adequate nutrients as well. Taking a prenatal vitamin is recommended by most doctors, but it is not a substitute for a healthy diet. Below are some recommendations for a healthy pregnancy diet, but please remember that talking with your midwife, naturopathic doctor, or nutritionist about what is best for you and your baby is always a good idea.
Protein is so important in pregnancy. Growing a human requires protein for building blocks to make this little guy or gal. It is fairly common to have decreased energy in pregnancy, and protein can help stabilize your energy. Additionally, it helps to stabilize your blood sugar, which can easily become irregular during pregnancy. Swelling is also common in pregnancy. You should always tell your healthcare provider if you are experiencing increased swelling, but one of the reasons for this can be decreased protein in the bloodstream. Normally, protein holds water in the bloodstream so that it does not escape into your tissues, but during pregnancy, there is so much more fluid circulating that this can become difficult. Adding extra protein can be helpful to balance this change. The recommended amount of protein per day for a pregnant woman is between 60-80 grams, but this may change depending on your size and activity level. You may need to check the protein content of foods for a while to get used to what this much protein looks like. There are several apps for tracking food that can help you to monitor your protein intake. Some high protein foods include: meat, eggs, nuts, seeds, and beans.
Vegetables and Fiber
Vegetables are full of vitamins and minerals that are necessary for you and your growing baby. They also contain fiber, which can help keep your bowel movements regular. During pregnancy, circulating hormones naturally slow down the speed of digestion, and constipation has the ability to cause a lot of discomfort (not to mention making it difficult for your body to get rid of any toxins).
If you are eating carbohydrates, choosing complex carbohydrates is best. They absorb more slowly, and so do not create such a dramatic rise in blood sugar as simple carbohydrates can. This means you should eat whole grains. The best way to know if your food is made with whole grains is to read ingredients. The label should say “whole wheat” or a list of whole grains like quinoa, brown rice, or oatmeal). Beans, sweet potatoes, and fruits contain carbohydrates, but also pack in extra nutrients, and fiber. Eating your carbohydrates with protein, fat, or fiber can help decrease the potential effect that they have on your blood sugar.
Fatty acids are essential for development of a baby’s nervous system. However, not all fats are created equal. Avoid trans fats that are most likely to appear in processed foods. Saturated fats are good in moderation, especially if you are buying good quality meats. Coconut oil has a special kind of short chain saturated fat that is used in the body differently than most saturated fats and is very healthy. Other good fats are the unsaturated fats that appear in olive oil, avocados, nuts, seeds, and fish (see below for a note on seafood). Some companies that sell fish oil capsules or liquid test for mercury content, so you can feel safe taking a fish oil supplement if it is from a reputable company (your naturopathic doctor may have suggestions).
Things to avoid or have in moderation
- Seafood It is best to avoid too much seafood, as it can contain mercury, which is harmful to development of the nervous system. This is especially true for large fish, such as tuna. Avoid tuna and go for canned salmon or as an alternative try chicken salad.
- Deli meats can contain listeria, which is a type of bacteria that we can handle pretty well when not pregnant, but not so well during pregnancy. It can have harmful effects on pregnancy outcomes and can be harmful to the fetus if contracted while pregnant, so avoiding deli meats for the 9 months of your pregnancy is a good idea.
- Raw cheese Although not all raw cheese or dairy creates problems, it can contain a type of bacteria that can be harmful to pregnancy.
Ask your pregnancy care provider if there’s anything else they feel you should be avoiding during your pregnancy.
I admire women for working hard to make their diet optimal during pregnancy, and it shouldn’t be the end. Don’t lose what you’ve worked so hard to achieve. Eating well will help you to live a healthier, more energized life. Your new child will be watching you and looking up to you while he or she grows, learning what habits to incorporate into his life. Nutrition is not only for your baby- it is also for you!
By Sally Machin, NCNM Naturopathic Medicine Program Edited by Dr Elise Schroeder