March is National Nutrition Month, when the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics reminds everyone to return to the basics of healthy eating. It is also the time of year when the Academy celebrates expertise of registered dietitian nutritionists as the food and nutrition experts.
Eating for two doesn't mean eating more, it means eating better. Thinking beyond calories – and considering the nutrients necessary to keep mom healthy while providing the proper nutrition for the growth of the baby – will ensure a smooth pregnancy and will set your baby up for a healthier life.
Keeping it Balanced
Standard recommendations for pregnancy nutrition rely on a well-balanced, nutrient-rich diet. Including a variety of foods from all five food groups – fruits, vegetables, grains, protein and dairy – is essential.
Vegetables, fruits and whole grains should be the foundation of the diet. Plant foods provide all-star prenatal vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients such as folate for preventing neural tube defects, iron to sustain the increased blood volume and calcium for bone formation and fluid regulation. These foods also offer a steady supply of fiber which is crucial for maintaining healthy digestion during pregnancy.
Because the structural components of body cells – your baby's and yours – are mostly protein, it's also essential that women get enough protein during their entire pregnancy. The Academy recommends eating an additional 1 to 2 ounces of protein daily, for a total of 5 to 6 ounces a day. Good sources include eggs, beans, nuts and seeds, poultry, lean meats, low-fat milk, yogurt and cheese.
Certain fish, including tilefish, shark, swordfish and king mackerel, should not be eaten during pregnancy due to their high mercury levels. However, salmon, trout, anchovies and sardines are all safe for soon-to-be moms, providing omega-3 fatty acids which contribute to brain development without the harmful mercury. Aim for 8 to 12 ounces of fish per week during pregnancy.
Eating for Pregnancy Symptoms
While a well-balanced diet is ideal, it's not always realistic. Every woman experiences some degree of nausea, food aversions, constipation and bloating during pregnancy. So, the eating strategy at times may become focused on coping. These tips can help keep symptoms at bay.
- Eat small, frequent meals to keep blood sugar stable and prevent nausea from occurring.
- Stay well hydrated by drinking plenty of water.
- Sipping on ginger ale may help settle an upset stomach. Speak with a physician before consuming herbal teas during pregnancy.
Gas, Bloating and Constipation
- Consume a steady intake of fiber from whole grains, fruits and vegetables.
- Avoid beans and other gas-producing foods during flare-ups.
- Maintain a low-impact exercise routine.
Heartburn and Indigestion
- Steer clear of spicy foods, which can be a trigger.
- Avoid laying down for three hours after eating.
- Maintain good posture to enhance digestion.
Proper nutrition can be a game changer during pregnancy, offering a reprieve from some of the most unpleasant symptoms while giving your baby a healthy head start. When it comes to making healthier food choices during pregnancy, your baby's health depends on it – and so does yours!