Nutrition and Pregnancy

You may have heard the term “eating for two,” in reference to pregnancy eating habits. While your calorie needs DO increase during pregnancy, they do not double. In general, you will need an extra 200-300 calories a day during the first and second trimesters, and this may increase to 400-500 calories a day by your third trimester. Pregnancy is not a time to diet or restrict calories, but it is a time to listen to your body. A healthy appetite and steady weight gain (especially after any nausea and morning sickness have passed) are signs that things are on the right track.

More important than the total number of calories you intake is the quality of the food that you are eating. Your body may crave an instant fix to a rumbling tummy, but gorging on soft drinks, sweets, crisps, and other packaged foods will only satisfy you for a short time and leave you sluggish and depleted of energy. These foods have very little nutrition and contain many preservatives and chemicals that aren’t good for you or your baby. These types of foods can also contribute to nausea, heartburn, constipation, increased blood pressure, and oedema (swelling) due to high levels of salt. A healthy balanced diet can actually help alleviate many of the common pregnancy complaints!

Your body needs nutrient-dense foods to satisfy and fuel your pregnancy. Your diet should be rich in the following food groups:

Vegetables and Fruit

You should aim for at least four servings of vegetables and two servings of fruit every day! Remember the 5+ a day? Be sure to include vegetables and fruit in a variety of colors—this will allow for a greater variety in your vitamins and minerals. An easy way to help get your daily dose, is to have cut veggies or fruit available for snacking in the fridge.   This is a healthier alternative to packaged convenience foods and will curb your hunger when the cravings strike.

Leafy greens are a great source for minerals such as calcium and magnesium. Be sure to thoroughly wash all salad greens to avoid contamination by bacteria or pesticides and buy organic when you can. Eating salads with a lean protein like chicken or a hard-cooked egg make a fantastic meal!

Steaming vegetables is preferred to frying, and you should go easy on the butter or margarine. Soups are another delicious way to get your daily serving of vegetables, and can be made in large quantities and frozen for easy meals when you don’t feel like cooking.

Dried fruits and juices contain more sugar than eating a piece of fresh fruit, and often contain added sugar and preservatives. Again, organic is best to reduce your consumption of pesticides.

Breads and Grains

Try to get least six servings of breads and grains per day. These provide carbohydrates, fibre, B-vitamins, and other vitamins and minerals.

Whole grain is best! It provides additional nutrients and has fibre to help prevent constipation. Again, variety is a good thing. Oats, wheat, barley, quinoa, corn, rice, etc all have different amino acid and minerals that will help give your body what it needs through pregnancy.

Watch out for added sugar! Many packaged breakfast cereals and bread products (such as muffins, granola bars, and biscuits) are far less healthy than their packaging would have you believe. Artificial colors, processed fats and refined sugars make these packaged options little better than a candy bar. The general rule of thumb is that the closer the ingredient is to its natural state, the better it is going to be for your body. Opt for muesli or whole grain bread instead.

Milk and Milk Products

Dairy products are a great source of protein, vitamins, and minerals. You’re aiming for three servings a day.

Yoghurt, and hard cheeses are a great appetite filler as they are packed with protein. Avoid sweetened yoghurts, as they tend to be loaded with sugar! If plain yoghurt is difficult to tolerate, have it with some sliced fruit and muesli or a drizzle of honey.

Ice cream, the classic pregnancy craving, is fine on occasion and in small portions. Just be sure to check that your ice cream does not have added stabilizers and chemicals. Choose brands that have as few ingredients as possible (milk, cream, sugar) and eat sparingly. If you do need to satisfy that sweet tooth, try a small square of dark chocolate. Not only is there less sugar than milk chocolate, but you give yourself an antioxidant boost!

Do not consume soft cheeses or any unpasteurized (raw) dairy products. There is a risk of listeria contamination which is very dangerous for you and your baby during pregnancy.

Meat and Proteins

There are many different sources of protein for your diet. Meat, fish and eggs are the familiar choices, but vegetarians get much of their protein from combining the protein in beans, nuts and seeds. You are aiming for 3-4 servings (minimum of 60 grams) a day.

Proteins are essential for growth and repair, and amino acids (the building blocks of protein) are essential for much of the body’s metabolism and neural processes. It is especially important during pregnancy and lactation, because you not only need to meet the demands of your changing body, but those of your baby’s as well. It is not uncommon for a woman who was a vegetarian prior to pregnancy to suddenly notice that she is craving meat! This is sign that her body is not getting what it needs, and should be discussed with your midwife or doctor to determine where the deficiencies may lie.

Fish and meat can be a healthy part of your pregnancy diet, but follow the guidelines to minimize mercury intake from fish, and ensure that everything is cooked thoroughly. You are much more susceptible to food-borne illness during pregnancy.

Beans and legumes contain folate, iron, potassium and magnesium as well as a healthy dose of dietary fibre.   Nuts and seeds are also nutrient-rich sources of calcium and omega-3 fatty acids and are an easy snack. Nut butters are an easy way to get your protein fix, and paired with whole grain bread or smeared on cut fruits or vegetables they are a delicious snack! Again, read labels and watch for added oils and sugar.

Water

It is essential to stay hydrated during pregnancy. There is a temptation to cut back on fluids to limit the numerous trips to the bathroom (due to hormone changes and your growing baby pressing on your bladder), but this is not advised. Your body needs adequate fluids to function properly. If vomiting is an issue during the first trimester, sucking on ice blocks or drinking clear soups may be helpful. Dehydration can lead to constipation, dizziness, increased nausea, kidney stones, dry skin, headaches and fatigue. Drink whenever you are thirsty, and aim for about 9 glasses of fluid a day.

Foods to Avoid

Alcohol and tobacco should not be consumed during pregnancy. Numerous studies have shown these can cause irreversible damage to your unborn baby.   The danger from secondhand smoke continues after your baby is born, and drinking alcohol during breastfeeding is also not advised. If you need help quitting, there are several organizations that can help. The MOH, Quitline, and Smokefree to name a few.

Soft (unpasteurized) cheeses, such as feta and brie, should be avoided during pregnancy to minimize risk of listeria contamination. Similarly, deli meats, pre-packaged salads, oysters, pate, and soft-serve ice cream also pose a risk.

Salmonella and e-coli bacteria are also a concern, and can be found in undercooked meat and fish, raw eggs, unwashed fruits and vegetables, and raw sprouts. Always cook your meats to the proper temperature using a meat thermometer, and never consume unwashed fruits and vegetables. Sprouts should be avoided during pregnancy.

Caffeine, found in coffee, tea, and colas should be limited during pregnancy. Avoid energy drinks at all costs – if it gives you a ‘zing’ just imagine what it might be doing to your baby’s developing nervous system.

Sweets. Nothing brings out a sweet tooth quite like pregnancy! However, sugar on its own brings no nutrition to the table and does not satisfy your dietary needs. Limit your intake of sugary foods, and opt instead for whole fruit and other more wholesome treats.

Safe Practices

Wash all fruits and vegetables in clean water before eating raw. Be wary of pre-packaged salads, sandwiches, and other ready-made shop bought food. Store leftovers in the refrigerator immediately, and eat within two days—reheat until piping hot before consuming. Cook all meats and fish thoroughly (use a meat thermometer to check for proper temperature) and eat while hot. Wash and dry hands thoroughly and clean all countertops after touching raw meat.

For more information on healthy eating and food safety in pregnancy, see:

Eating Safely and Well during Pregnancy—Ministry of Health NZ website

Food and Pregnancy–Ministry for Primary Industries NZ website

Food safety advice for pregnant women – Food Standards Australia NZ website