When we decide to have a baby it’s a huge decision and our nutritional status from before we conceive right through our pregnancy and beyond will impact on our health and well-being as well as that of our baby, both short term and long term.
Despite wanting to believe that our unborn baby will take what it needs from us nutritionally, the truth is that neither us nor our baby will thrive if we don’t include the vital nutrients that we need.
Energy /Calories in
Energy is essential for the growth and development of our baby and most of us do not need to have any additional energy until we reach the final stages our pregnancy, which is around the 27-week mark. Energy is provided by the fat, carbohydrate, protein and alcohol in the foods and drinks we eat, but our main source of energy should be from carbohydrate foods such as potatoes, rice, pasta, bread, other grains and starchy root vegetables such as sweet potatoes.
Protein is needed for the growth and repair of tissues, but during pregnancy we need a little more than normal. Most of us get enough protein in our diet already but following a healthy balance of foods which includes a range of milks, yogurts, eggs and lean poultry and meats will help to ensure we meet our quota
Fibre Rich Foods
Fibre in the diet helps to prevent constipation and other bowel problems. Fibre is found in the indigestible parts of foods such as in wholemeal cereals and vegetables, beans, and fruits. Oligosaccharides are a component of dietary fibre and these encourage the growth of bacteria which are beneficial to the gut. Eating a good mixed diet will encourage these good bacteria to thrive, and there is no need to take a supplement which contains pre-biotics or pro-biotics to do this. Good sources of fibre include wholemeal bread, wholegrain breakfast cereals, peas, beans, lentils, vegetables, fresh and dried fruit, and seeds.
Vitamin A is needed for eye health, cell growth and to support the immune system. Extra vitamin A is needed during pregnancy, but too much of the animal form of vitamin A (retinol) can be toxic. 700 micrograms of vitamin A per day is recommended. Safe sources of vitamin A can be found via carotenoids in some types of fruits and vegetables as well as in fish which is a good source of vitamin A. During pregnancy, due to the high levels of Vitamin A foods such as liver and pate should be avoided. You will also notice that any prenatal vitamins you take will not include Vitamin A. Consuming more than 3,000 micrograms of retinol during pregnancy is poses a potential danger. This level of intake is most likely to come from supplements including the use of fish oils. A cod liver oil capsule containing 1000mg or 1g of cod liver oil is likely to contain about 800 micrograms of retinol equivalents. A teaspoon of cod liver oil (5g) will therefore exceed the upper recommended level of 3000 micrograms. So, if you are taking fish oil supplements make sure they are from fish oil and not cod liver.
Vitamin B2 Riboflavin
An additional amount of riboflavin is needed during pregnancy. 1.4mg of riboflavin a day is recommended in pregnancy. Riboflavin helps to release energy from food and is important for eye and heart health. Many women get most of their riboflavin from animal sources and particularly dairy foods and so if they avoid these foods it is important that they regularly eat non-animal sources of riboflavin. Animal sources include bacon, cheese, eggs, lean meats, or poultry, mackerel, milk, pilchard’s, salmon, sardine’s tuna and yogurt. Non-animal sources include almonds, fortified breakfast cereals, granary bread, mushrooms, soy beans, spinach and wheatgerm bread.
Folic acid is important before pregnancy and in the first few weeks of pregnancy to prevent neural tube defects, and in later pregnancy to prevent anaemia. 400 micrograms a day is recommended and women should take a supplement of folic acid, ideally from the moment they start trying to conceive but good sources of folic acid should also be included in any healthy diet.
Calcium is important for bone health and, although calcium needs are increased in pregnancy, the body adapts to ensure more calcium is absorbed, so higher intakes are not needed. 700mg of calcium a day is recommended for women during pregnancy and the exception to this is for teenagers in pregnancy where additional calcium is needed for the their own growth. A regular intake of dairy products (milk, cheese, and yogurt) throughout pregnancy will ensure that calcium needs are met. If women do not include these foods in the diet, it is important that they choose suitable alternatives
Iron is important to produce red blood cells and it supplies oxygen to the cells. Pregnant women are recommended to have 14.8mg of iron a day. Low iron status in pregnancy is associated with low birth weight babies and premature birth. All pregnant women will be screened at antenatal booking-in to see if they need to take an iron supplement in pregnancy. If you think you may be suffering with Anemia speak with your doctor or midwife who will be able to offer a simple blood. Suffering with Anemia means the body is lacking in healthy red blood cells meaning there is not enough oxygen being carried to your body’s tissues and it can leave you feeling tired and weak. Good sources of iron include red meat, fish, peas, beans and lentils, and leafy vegetables
Iodine helps regulate metabolism and plays an important role within the thyroid in controlling many body processes. Pregnant women are recommended to have 140 micrograms of iodine a day. Too little iodine in pregnancy is associated with learning disability in infants and children. The main source of iodine in the UK is dairy products. Iodine can also be found in seaweed, fish, and seafood. Smaller amounts can be found in meat and meat products and some types of vegetables (depending on the soil where they were grown). If someone does not have dairy products and does not eat any fish or seafood, it is especially important that they have other sources of iodine in their diet. It is also important not to have too much iodine, and intakes should not exceed 940 micrograms a day. Dairy sources of Iodine include butter, cheese, fromage frais, milk, ice cream, yogurt, with non-dairy sources including eggs and fish and shellfish.
Zinc plays a role in enzyme and insulin production and is important for the baby’s health and development. Zinc helps to form the baby’s organs, skeleton, nerves, and circulatory system. The current recommendation for pregnant women is for 7mg of zinc a day. Some women may have too little zinc in their diet if they do not eat well and if they do not regularly have foods such as meat, fish, eggs, milk, pulses nuts or cereals.
Animal sources include bacon, canned sardines, canned tuna, or pilchards cheese, cold cooked meats, corned beef, eggs, ham, kidney, lean meat, milk, poultry, sausages, shrimps and prawns. Non-animal sources include beans and lentils, brown or wholemeal bread, nuts, plain popcorn, sesame seeds, tofu, and wholegrain breakfast cereals, such as puffed wheat, bran flakes.
Long Chain Fatty Acids and Choline
Pregnancy causes physiological changes in women, which mean that many nutrients and other dietary components are absorbed more efficiently, or taken from the mother’s stores, so that the developing infant will not be deprived of nutrients. There are some components – such as long chain polyunsaturated fatty acids (or omega 3 fatty acids), and choline – that the body can make itself in small amounts, but which it is helpful to have sufficient of in the diet during pregnancy. This is to ensure stores are not depleted and that the infant has sufficient amounts for brain and cell development. it is likely that they will get enough choline and long chain polyunsaturated fatty acids to meet their needs. Long chain polyunsaturated fatty acids oil-rich fish, such as salmon, trout, herring, mackerel, sardines, and pilchards. Choline is primarily found in eggs, lean meat, some vegetables, such as green leafy vegetables and peas, tomato paste, tofu pulses nuts and seeds.
An additional amount of vitamin C is needed during the final stage of pregnancy to increase intakes to 50mg a day. Vitamin C is one of the building blocks for skin and acts as an antioxidant and protects cells from damage. Many of us guzzle down a glass of shop brought orange juice in the morning and convince ourselves we’ve met our vitamin C quota for the day, however the truth is due to the stressors that the body goes through during the day, we really need to ensure we’re getting our vitamin C throughout the day too. Vitamin C is a Water Soluble Vitamin meaning it’s not naturally stored in the body. Not only does it help in boosting our immune system and fighting the free radicals it also reduces your risk from iron deficiency anaemia in pregnancy. ⠀⠀
Vitamin C is crucial for your baby’s development aiding in the production of collagen which helps to support normal growth, bone strength and skin and tissue repair
An additional amount of thiamine is needed during the final stage of pregnancy to increase intakes to 0.9mg a day. Thiamine helps to release energy from food and plays an important role in the development of the baby’s nervous system. Foods high in thiamine include pork, fish, seeds, nuts, beans, green peas, tofu, brown rice