If you’ve been dreaming about adding to your family, learning that you’re expecting a baby can be a joy- filled time of life. As you thumb through baby name books and decorate the nursery, don’t neglect the most important preparation of all: getting the nutrients you need to support your growing baby. For women who already follow a healthy diet, prenatal nutrition is just an extension of eating well. Consuming important vitamins and minerals to keep yourself and your unborn child healthy may take some getting used to at first, but the benefits are more than worth the effort.
Your caloric needs vary according to your body type, pre-pregnancy weight, and activity level. Regardless of your individual calorie plan (as determined by your obstetrician-physician in some cases), you really only need consume an extra 300 calories daily during your pregnancy, according to the American Pregnancy Association. The increase in calories is most crucial in the second and third trimesters, when the baby requires more calories to continue growing and gaining weight in-utero.
The key to ensuring the optimum health of both you and your baby is to eat nutritious foods that give you not only extra calories, but nutrients as well. For example, eat a nutritious piece of fruit instead of the empty calories of a candy bar. Limit your fat intake to manage your weight and keep your heart healthy. Gaining too much weight can increase your risk of developing gestational diabetes and heart disease later on.
Prenatal nutrition plays a role in helping to prevent some birth defects. This primarily includes adequate intake of folic acid, a B vitamin. Folic acid, also called folate, can help prevent congenital spinal column anomalies and brain defects, explains the Mayo Clinic. Pregnant women should consume 800mcg of folate throughout pregnancy. If you’re trying to conceive, you can get a jumpstart on prenatal nutrition by taking a folic acid supplement prior to conception. Talk to your doctor about it.
Folate also reduces your risk of going into pre-term labor or delivering a baby of low birth weight. March of Dimes defines a low birth weight infant as a baby born weighing less than 5 ½ lbs. Very low birth weight babies have an increased risk of medical complications after birth, including retinopathy (a condition that can cause damage to the eyes), bleeding in the brain (such as intraventricular hemorrhage and post hemorrhagic hydrocephalus), respiratory issues (like distress, compromise) and heart conditions.
Folic acid is available in a wide range of foods that are safe and healthy for pregnant women to eat. Some breakfast cereals are fortified with the nutrient and can be an ideal light meal or snack, especially if you suffer from nausea or heartburn after heavy meals. Whole grain breads provide you with folic acid, as well as many fruits and vegetables, including dark leafy greens, strawberries, tomatoes, cabbage, melons, and citrus fruits.
Iron and Protein
A variety of vitamins and minerals support your baby’s development as well as your continued health during pregnancy. Iron and protein are essential to providing you with energy as your blood volume increases. Without iron, your baby’s blood supply can’t develop properly and you run the risk of fatigue and shortness of breath associated with anemia. Protein helps your child grow bigger and stronger during the last two trimesters of your pregnancy. The Mayo Clinic and American Pregnancy Association recommend at least 27mg of iron and 80-100mg of protein-rich foods daily during pregnancy. Iron and protein-rich foods include:
- Meat and poultry
- Beans, legumes, and quinoa
- Dairy Products
- Soy Products
Calcium and Vitamin D
Calcium and vitamin D are crucial in growing your little one’s bones and teeth buds. The minerals also regulate your own fluid levels. Though vitamin D is synthesized in our bodies when exposed to sunlight, sometimes it’s not enough—especially in women who are darker skinned. Aim for 1200mg of calcium and at least 600 IU (international units) of vitamin D each day through a combination of low-fat dairy products, eggs, beans, tofu, broccoli, and salmon. Your doctor will talk to you more about your personal needs.
The antioxidant vitamin C also plays a role in tooth and bone development and helps the expectant mother with wound healing, which can be beneficial in recovering from giving birth. The American Pregnancy Association recommends consuming at least one serving or 85mg of vitamin C daily through a variety of foods, such as:
- Oranges, grapefruits, and other citric fruits
- Bell peppers
- Mustard greens
When you’re pregnant, the thought of a big meal may make you feel sick, particularly if you’re suffering from morning sickness or late-stage heartburn. Get the nutrition you need through a series of healthy snacks or mini-meals instead of three large square meals each day. Munch on crudités (raw vegetables) with a low-fat dip, such as salsa, fat-free hummus, or yogurt. Peanut butter on wheat toast is a healthy way to fit in protein and folate, not to mention the fiber that helps prevent possible third trimester constipation and hemorrhoids. Homemade yogurt pops or fruit smoothies provide you with calcium and a range of vitamins. The coolness of the treat may soothe nausea, too