Written by accredited dietitian Themis Chryssidis
From Sprout Cooking School & Health Studio
Good nutrition during pregnancy is fundamental for the healthy development of your baby. But what does “healthy nutrition during pregnancy” actually mean?
Ultimately this refers to a diet that is balanced, comprised of all five food groups, providing a range of nutrients, with extra emphasis on specific nutrients necessary for healthy baby development such as folate and excluding foods and nutrients considered to be harmful or risky for foetus development for example alcohol.
All soon-to-be mothers and fathers want to do everything within their control to give their child the best start in life. With nutrition now recognised as one of the major influencers of good health, a mother’s diet before, during and after pregnancy is now more important than ever and parents want to know what, when and how much to consume. Below we have answered some common pregnancy nutrition related questions relevant for a healthy pregnancy. If you or your unborn child has a medical condition or any other factors to consider, please consult your doctor before implementing any of the below suggestions.
Yes, you have a small person developing inside you, you will gain weight. How much will depend on your weight status during pregnancy. If you are a healthy weight during pregnancy it is recommended that you gain 12-16kg, if you are underweight you may gain up to 18kg and if you are overweight it is recommended that you gain only 5-10kg to reduce the risks associated with obesity during pregnancy such as preeclampsia.
In short, no. The human body is amazingly adaptable, and when required it increases nutrient absorption to meet increased demand. During the first trimester increased absorption is sufficient to meet the foetus’ increased nutrient needs, however during the second and third trimesters the rapid growth of the foetus requires additional energy, certainly not double the intake though. Increased energy needs equal to an additional 2-3 serves of grains and one serve of meat per day is sufficient.
Folate or folic acid is important for cell division and reduces the risk of neural tube defects. A supplement of 400 micrograms before and during the first trimester of pregnancy is recommended plus daily consumption of foods that are naturally high in or fortified with folic acid, including green leafy vegetables, breads and cereals.
Iron is required to produce red blood cells and distribute oxygen and nutrients around the developing foetus. Despite menstruation ceasing during pregnancy iron needs still increase from 18mg per day to 27mg per day for the mother during pregnancy. Iron containing foods include red meat, pork, chicken and fish and whole grains, legumes and dried fruits.
Iodine is important for thyroid hormone production and therefore normal growth and development. Seafood, eggs, meat and dairy foods are good sources of iodine as well as iodised salt which can be used during cooking and is now added to commercial bread. Women are recommended to consume an iodine supplement of 150 micrograms per day throughout pregnancy.
Dieting – Pregnancy is not the time to diet. Do not restrict your energy or nutrient intake during pregnancy. You may be depriving your child of important nutrients required for growth and development.
Alcohol - Consuming alcohol during pregnancy increases the risk of miscarriage, low birth weight, congenital deformities and effects on the baby’s intelligence. There is no safe amount of alcohol that you can consume during pregnancy.
Foods that may contain listeria – a bacteria which in healthy people may cause no ill effect but for pregnant women may result in miscarriage, stillbirth or premature birth. Common foods that may contain listeria and should be avoided include:
Foods that may contain salmonella – salmonella poisoning may result in a miscarriage. Raw eggs and undercooked meats are common sources of salmonella.
Mercury – in excessive amounts can easily be absorbed by the foetus and can impact the growing brain and immune system. Pregnant women should still aim to consume the recommended 2-3 serves of fish per week for good health however they should limit swordfish, flake (shark), orange rough and catfish to no more than one serve per week with no other seafood that week. All other seafood can be consumed freely.