Pregnancy Nutrition from A to Z

By Donna Smith

Have questions about nutrition during pregnancy? We’ve got you covered – A to Z!

A Comprehensive List of Nutrition Issues for Pregnant Womens

Alcohol should be avoided during pregnancy. Research has shown that consuming alcohol during pregnancy can lead to low birth weight, nervous system damage, neurological deficits, learning problems and even mental retardation. According to the National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, as many as 40,000 infants in the United States are born each year with some degree of fetal alcohol syndrome (FAS).

Broccoli, known as the “Crown Jewel of Nutrition,” contains cancer-fighting agents and is high on the list as a good source for most vitamins and minerals. But did you know that a one-third pound stalk contains more vitamin C than 2 1/2 pounds of oranges? The Recommended Daily Allowance (RDA) of vitamin C for pregnant women is a minimum of 70 milligrams per day. Good sources include broccoli, orange juice, grapefruit juice, green peppers, asparagus, strawberries and tomato juice.

Calcium is used by the fetus most during the third trimester when skeletal growth is at its peak and when your baby’s teeth are forming. Research has found that the fetus takes 13 milligrams per hour from the mother’s blood, about 250 to 300 milligrams per day! Good sources of calcium are milk, canned salmon (crush up the calcium-rich bones!), tofu, broccoli and legumes.

DHA, an omega-3 fatty acid, ranks high in importance during pregnancy for the mother and fetus. DHA is important for the development of brain, nerves and tissue, and a study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that women given fish oil containing 1 gram of DHA daily versus women given a placebo from their 30th week extended their pregnancies by four days and gave birth to bigger babies. During the third trimester, when Baby’s brain is developing, the need for DHA increases. Good sources include fish, eggs, shellfish, chicken livers, flax seed oil, crab and beef liver.

Excessive Foot swelling or increased blood pressure sometimes occurs during pregnancy. While your first thought may be to cut salt out of your diet, that’s not the way to go. According to Marci O’Daffer, CCE and doula, you actually need more sodium during pregnancy. “Your taste buds are uniquely designed to tell you how much sodium you need, and your body is naturally able to regulate how much sodium stays and how much is excreted according to its needs.” So salt your food to taste, and enjoy!

Folic acid, or folate, is crucial before and during pregnancy. Research has found that folic acid could reduce the risk of birth defects if taken before, and during, pregnancy. According to the March of Dimes, all women of childbearing age should get 400 micrograms each day. Good sources of folic acid include kidney beans, chicken liver, Brewer’s yeast, black beans, broccoli, turnip greens, split peas, soybeans, sunflower seeds, green leafy vegetables and fortified cereals.

Gestational diabetes affects about 2 percent of all pregnancies. It is defined as a carbohydrate intolerance and varies in severity. According to Linda Given Welch, a certified nurse-midwife, gestational diabetes is managed with a specific diet (decreased carbohydrates and sweets) and close monitoring of Mother and Baby. The classic symptoms are increased thirst, increased urination, weight loss and fatigue.

Hemoglobin in the blood carries oxygen from the lungs to tissues throughout our bodies. Iron is important to aid in the production of hemoglobin for both the mother and the fetus. The fetus will accumulate most of its iron during the third trimester, so iron intake for the mom should increase during that time as well. Iron can be found in red meats, fish, poultry, eggs, legumes, dried fruits and shellfish.

Instead of eating large meals three times a day, eat smaller meals more often if you suffer from heartburn. Heartburn, that uncomfortable burning sensation that starts behind the breastbone and creeps up your throat, is thought to be caused by hormonal changes in the body that relax the smooth muscle tissue in the stomach. This causes food to move more slowly through the digestive tract. Foods that can trigger heartburn include fried foods, high-fat foods, refined sugar, chocolate, peppermint, spicy foods, citrus and caffeinated drinks.

Junk food consumption should be kept to a minimum. But snacking during the day is not a bad thing. Healthy snacks can help alleviate morning sickness, give you energy and help provide the extra 300 calories a day required during pregnancy. Snacks to keep handy include graham crackers, popcorn, pretzels, fruit, fortified cereal, raw vegetables and fruit smoothies.

Kick high fat and sugary snacks out of your diet – or at least limit them. Fatty and sugary foods do not offer the nutrients your baby needs to be healthy. But fat is an important part of your diet – in moderation. Twenty-five to 30 percent of your daily calories should come from fat.

Lean red meats and poultry are the best sources of protein, which is important during pregnancy. Protein helps build, repair and replace tissue and also helps maintain fluid balance, fight infection and helps in blood clotting.

Morning sickness is caused by the sudden increases or changes in hormone levels and is probably the first thing we associate with pregnancy. “If you are vomiting and not keeping any fluids down for 24 hours or more, you must immediately see your health care provider,” says Kathy Loebel, a certified nurse-midwife. Snacking frequently and staying hydrated are two ways to help control morning sickness.

Nitrates are additives in foods such as deli meat, bacon, hot dogs and processed meat, which help preserve the color, enhance flavor and protect against bacteria. In the body, nitrates are converted to nitrosamines. There has not been conclusive evidence linking nitrosamine formation to cancer in humans. But if you are still concerned, avoid foods containing nitrates, which are not the best food choices to begin with.

One explanation of cravings during pregnancy is nutritional deficiencies. For example, if you crave potatoes chips or pickles, you may need more sodium. Some believe cravings are caused by a hormonal shift in the woman’s body. Whatever the reason, don’t be concerned about your cravings – accept them as a normal part of pregnancy. But if you crave non-food items such as laundry detergent, dirt, etc., you need to tell your health care provider. This disorder is called pica.

Prenatal vitamins will be prescribed when your pregnancy is confirmed. While it’s important to take prenatal vitamins, remember they are to supplement your diet, not to replace good eating habits.

Quit smoking. Smoking leads to reduced birth weight and a host of other problems in babies. Remember: Everything you ingest is also ingested by your baby, who cannot tolerate it as well as you can. (And it’s not good for you, either!)

Raw meat, poultry and seafood can put you at risk for foodborne illnesses. Some tips to keep your food safe include: Buying only pasteurized dairy products; washing your hands, cutting board and utensils after handling raw meat; thoroughly cooking meat, poultry and seafood; refrigerating leftovers as soon as possible (throw out after two hours); thoroughly rinsing fruits and vegetables before eating; watching for “use-by” dates on meats; and cleaning countertops thoroughly after cooking.

Soft cheeses are associated with a bacteria called Listeria monocytogenes. Pregnant women should avoid soft cheese because the bacteria can cross the placenta and infect the fetus, causing possible miscarriage, stillbirth or neonatal death. Cheeses to avoid include Camembert, brie, blue cheese, feta and soft Mexican cheese like queso fresco and queso blanco. Cream cheese, however, is not considered to be a potential danger for pregnant women.

Tea and coffee consumption during pregnancy is a controversial subject. According to Nutritionist Alison Gamble, consuming 300 milligrams or more of caffeine is considered heavy usage, and those women are 50 percent more likely to spontaneously abort. It also increases the risk of having a low birth weight baby, and a study published in the Archives of Disease in Childhood reported that children of women who consumed 400 milligrams a day were more than twice as likely to die of SIDS. Consuming large amounts doesn’t mean you’ll have problems, but it increases the risks. Three, 5-ounce cups of coffee contain about 300 milligrams.

Urine should not have much color to it. “If it’s not nearly clear, then you’re probably not drinking enough water,” says pre- and postnatal fitness expert Catherine Cram. “It’s helpful to fill a large quart bottle of water in the morning and try and drink it by noon and repeat for the afternoon, adding additional water as needed if you’re exercising. It’s helpful to consume the greater portion of water earlier in the day, so you don’t have to make late-night bathroom visits.”

Varicose veins that become enlarged around the rectal area are what we refer to as hemorrhoids. “The hormones of pregnancy cause a relaxation of all smooth muscle,” says Shirley Moore, certified nurse-midwife. “The veins are smooth muscles. This relaxation in combination with the increased blood volume and pressure that occurs during pregnancy makes a pregnant woman more prone to hemorrhoids.” Moore advises pregnant women to keep the stools soft by drinking lots of fluids and including foods high in fiber in her diet, such as whole-grain breads, beans, cereals and vegetables.

While pregnancy is often used as a time to overeat, the fact is: Eating for two is just a myth. Remember: You only need an extra 300 calories during pregnancy. How much weight should you gain? “The range of weight gain in pregnancy varies quite a bit from woman to woman,” says Dr. Thomas deHoop, an obstetrician/gynecologist and assistant professor at the University of Cincinnati College of Medicine. “While there is no exact magic number, the best estimate of average weight gain is around 25 to 28 pounds.”

X-ed meat out of your diet? “If you meet your caloric needs by eating a wide variety of foods, including whole grains, soy foods (soymilk, tofu, tempeh), legumes, nuts, nut butters, seeds, fruits and vegetables, you will meet your protein needs during pregnancy,” says Melanie Wilson, founder of Vegetarian Baby and Child Magazine. “And contrary to the old teachings, vegetarians need not combine foods during each meal to get complete proteins. A balanced and varied diet will take care of that.”

Yellow fruits and vegetables are great sources of beta carotene, which is converted to vitamin A in the body. Vitamin A helps maintain healthy skin, eyesight, bone growth and tooth development; enhances the immune system to help fight infection; and may reduce the risk of lung and oral cancers. But this vitamin should not be overdone. “Vitamin A in large doses can be toxic, so no more than 4,000 or 5,000 IU of vitamin A per day is recommended,” says Dr. Rita Borromeo, an OB/GYN.

Zzzzzzzzzs! It’s important to get plenty of sleep – you’re going to need your energy once Baby is born!


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