Womb service: a guide to prenatal nutrition

photo from ThinkStock via Tri County Health Dept

photo from ThinkStock via Tri County Health Dept

There is so much information available on diet for a healthy pregnancy that it can be overwhelming and confusing! I recently got married and am starting to plan a family. I am not pregnant yet but I still have a million questions running through my head. Pregnancy is stressful enough without the added worry that I may not be getting enough nutrients for me and a baby. I still want to maintain a healthy lifestyle but will admit that it will be hard to not cave into cravings and resist eating comfort foods for nine months!

Weight Gain:

The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) recommends that women at a healthy weight before pregnancy gain weight at the following rates:

  • 1 to 4 pounds total during the first 3 months (first trimester)
  • 2 to 4 pounds per month during the 4th through 9th month (second and third trimester)

The majority of weight should be gained in the last three months for a total of 25-35 pound weight gain while pregnant. However, these values differ for women who are underweight or overweight. Maintaining optimal energy intake is important for too much or too little weight gain is associated with increased maternal and child risks.

All women should experience weight gain throughout pregnancy regardless of pre-pregnancy weight as pregnancy should never be considered a time to lose weight or diet. The Institute of Medicine recommends that overweight or obese women with a Body Mass Index (BMI) greater than 25 should gain weight at a slower rate. Weight gain for overweight women should be between 15 and 25 pounds and between 11 and 20 pounds for obese women. These women must also consider the effects of overweight and obesity on pregnancy outcomes including increased risk of:

  • Gestational Diabetes Mellitus and Pre-eclampsia
  • Cesarean Deliveries
  • Congenital Abnormalities
  • Post pregnancy weight retention
  • Childhood Overweight Status

To reduce the above effects and improve the health of the mother, it is recommended that overweight women lose some of the excess weight before becoming pregnant.

Prenatal Supplements:

All pregnant women should maintain a healthy lifestyle throughout pregnancy. Even though you may think you’re consuming enough calories to promote growth, you may not be consuming enough of the following key nutrients during pregnancy:

  • Folic Acid – 800 micrograms/day to assist in the prevention of neural tube defects
    • Leafy green vegetables, citrus fruits, dried beans and fortified cereals
  • Calcium – 1,000 milligrams/day to stimulate bone strengthening for mother and baby
    • Dairy products, broccoli, kale and fortified fruit juices and cereals
  • Vitamin D – 600 international units (IU)/day to promote bone strength
    • Fish and fortified fruit juices and milks
  • Protein – 71 grams/day to ensure growth
    • Lean meats, poultry, fish, eggs, beans, tofu and dairy products
  • Iron – 27 milligrams/day to prevent anemia
    • Lean red meats, beans, vegetables and fortified cereals

Though it is best to get all of these nutrients through a variety of foods, the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics recommends consulting with your health care provider to determine if you are getting enough of these nutrients in your diet or if a prenatal supplement is needed. Pregnant women must also be cautious of over consuming vitamins as they can have harmful health effects.

A position paper published by the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics also addresses the consumption of food items and additives that are hot topics and may be of concern:

  • Consume 8 ounces of low mercury/high omega-3 seafood each week which is important for eye and brain development. Being a lacto-ovo-vegetarian it will be a challenge for me to eat the recommended amount of seafood; however, I can always get my essential fatty acids through other food sources such as nuts, seeds and vegetable oils.
  • Reduce consumption of caffeine and sugar sweetened beverages. I can follow this recommendation as I rarely consume them now.
  • Avoid alcohol – no amount of alcohol is safe to consume during pregnancy
  • More recently, it has been recommended to avoid energy drinks as they are also high in caffeine and other potentially harmful ingredients.

What am I going to do?

When my time comes to start a family, I will eat a diet consisting of a variety of foods to ensure I am getting enough of the calories and nutrients I need. I will stay active to safeguard that I am gaining the right amount of weight and will consult my health care provider regularly.

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