How Nutrition Affects Pregnancy
A healthy diet during pregnancy is vital for your health and the health and your growing baby. A pregnant woman's need for certain nutrients increases during pregnancy, so it's important to have a diverse diet. By ensuring you're meeting your daily requirement of the five food groups, your body should be getting the essential vitamins and minerals it needs. However, some women will find that no matter how healthy their diet is, they will still need to take a vitamin or mineral supplement. Iron, folate and vitamin D are some of the more common supplements required during pregnancy.
If you think you may have a deficiency, speak to your health care professional, and they will arrange a blood test for you. Taking supplements without checking your blood levels is dangerous, so be sure to opt for a check first.
How Important is Nutrition During Pregnancy?
Many women wonder, why is nutrition important during pregnancy? Well, not only does what you eat during pregnancy impact your own health, but it also influences the growth and development of your baby. And increasing research shows that what a mother eats during pregnancy can affect a child's health, well-being and taste preferences later in life. For example, research shows that women who eat a wide variety of flavours, including bold flavours like chilli and garlic, tend to have less fussy children.
What Should I Eat While Pregnant?
- Fruits and vegetables: pregnant women should aim for seven servings of vegetables and two servings of fruit daily. Aiming for 30+ varieties of fruits and vegetables for the week will ensure you're ticking all the boxes.
- Calcium: although calcium requirements don’t increase during pregnancy, it is important to ensure you’re hitting the daily recommended intake, which is 1000mg per day. That amounts to four servings of calcium-containing foods daily. The highest calcium content occurs in dairy products, including cow's milk, yoghurt, and cheese, but you can also get calcium from tofu, fortified nut milk, and some nuts and seeds.
- Whole grains: You can increase your whole grain intake to 8 servings a day while pregnant. Opt for high fibre options like brown rice and pasta, rye bread and quinoa.
- Avoid high sugar foods: eating a lot of high-calorie, high-sugar foods can lead to excessive weight gain and increase the chances of gestational diabetes.
- Iron-rich foods: iron deficiency is super common in pregnant women, especially those who follow a vegetarian or vegan diet. Leafy greens, beans, potatoes, and mushrooms are good options for non-meat eaters.
- Water: every cell in the human body needs water, so it makes sense that you need lots of it while growing all the cells of a new baby. Aim for around three litres per day. If you get sick of regular tap water, you can also have herbal teas or soda with fresh fruit.
When is Nutrition Most Important During Pregnancy?
A baby's nutritional needs peak during the third trimester. The growing baby is getting to a substantial size now, and their bones are becoming much denser and more developed. Iron and protein are two nutrients to focus on during the third trimester as they both play an essential role in increasing the blood volume, cellular development, and general growth of the baby.
Maintaining an adequate intake of calcium is important too. As we mentioned, the bones become very dense during the final months of pregnancy, and if we're not consuming enough calcium, our body will extract what it needs for the baby from our own bones. Luckily, once your little one is born, your calcium stores will replenish quickly, but it's better not to let it get to this.
Essential fatty acids are one of the most important nutrients for the third trimester. Healthy fats like omega 3's are vital for your baby's brain development. A baby's brain comprises 60% fat, so a mother must be consuming enough to support this high requirement. In addition, women who consume adequate omega-3's in late pregnancy have a reduced risk of postpartum depression. Foods high in omega-3's include oily fish, flaxseeds, chia seeds, walnuts and soybeans.
Can I Diet While Pregnant?
The weight gain that accompanies pregnancy can be scary for some women. The anxiety can cause some mothers to decide to eat sparingly to avoid putting on weight. However, dieting while pregnant is dangerous to your health and the health of your growing baby. And in no circumstances should pregnant women commence a diet.
If you follow a healthy diet, abstain from highly processed foods (like lollies, chips, chocolate and fast food) and stay active during your pregnancy, you’ll most likely only gain healthy weight. There’s no need for women to gain excessive weight while pregnant, and below demonstrates the safe amount of kgs for women of different sizes.
BMI at start of pregnancy (kg/m2)
Recommended weight gain during pregnancy (kg)
|< 18.5 (underweight)
|> 30 (overweight)
The Take Home
There's a lot of uncertainty around pregnancy; your baby is growing away inside your tummy, and you only get to see them every couple of months for a few minutes. It can make women feel a little helpless and not in control. Focusing on what you can do for your baby is a nice way to fulfil the yearning to nurture them. Concentrating on your health and nutrition is one of the best things you can do for your growing baby. Every time you sit down to a meal, think about all the goodness you're providing your bub and how what you're eating will help them to grow and develop.
Shevi is a qualified nutritionist with a bachelor’s degree in nutrition and food sciences. As a new mum herself, she is passionate about postnatal-related nutrition. Shevi has worked alongside some of the most famous leaders and celebrities in the fitness industry throughout Australia and the UK.