For most women, pregnancy is a time during which they take most care of themselves. They become interested in diet and nutrition, they strive to eat healthier and inform themselves what they can do for their baby in its prenatal stage. But we must not forget that diet and nutrition before the pregnancy also play a very important role. Weight, sufficient amount of folic acid and other vitamins and minerals - all this influences babies' health even before their conception.
These principles are key for the woman to get all the diet components and balanced amount of carbohydrates, proteins and fats. The amount of proteins, dietary fibre and fresh fruits and vegetables is also very important. Women often tend to have so called pregnancy cravings. Mostly, these cravings include chocolate, a certain type of fruit or spicy foods.
There is much of advice on what women should eat and what they should avoid during pregnancy. Truth be told, there is so much information that some women may find it confusing. That is why it also applies to pregnancy to follow several pieces of good recommendations, but also to use your brain.
PREGNANCY - WHAT TO AVOID:
There are several principles to safe diet that not only pregnant women should follow. When expecting, it is very important to beware of any food that could carry any form of contamination.
In pregnancy, make sure you avoid:
- Eggs without sufficient thermal processing– salmonella may be lurking in home-made sauces, mayonnaises or in desserts including raw eggs
- Meat without sufficient thermal processing– sushi or steak tartare should be avoided during pregnancy. Consuming thermally unprocessed meat may give you salmonella or listeriosis. It may also contain bacteria and parasites.
- Ripening cheeses– ripening cheeses may cause listeriosis as well. Listeriosis is particularly dangerous for expectant mothers since they have higher propensity to catch this disease and listeriosis may be fatal for their fetus. However, we must also take into account that most ripening cheeses available in our country is made of pasteurized milk and therefore the possibility of listeriosis contamination is reduced.
- Although you may have been used to using a lot of oven-ready or instant foods, try to avoid them during pregnancy. They contain unnecessary amounts of salt.
- Eating fried or grilled foods is not ideal either; not only because of their relatively empty calories but also because the way they're cooked may cause them to contain carcinogenic substances.
- Also, make sure you wash your fruits and vegetables thoroughly because you could catch toxoplasmosis off of them. This disease is very dangerous for pregnant women since it is able to get past the placenta to the fetus and cause serious damage there.
- It is general knowledge that pregnant women should reduce or avoid using alcohol and caffeine. Drinking a small beer or having a cup of coffee a day is not a big deal, but you should keep your limits in order not to endanger the fetal development. Coffee and black tea also reduce absorption of iron which is very important during pregnancy. If you are used to having more cups of tea a day, you may try to substitute them with cereal drinks (e.g. Caro) which are tasty and also useful during the time of breastfeeding when they enhance formation of breast milk.
- Herbs are a great source of natural medicine, but you might want to slow down on them during your pregnancy. E.g. mint may tamper with your blood count, camomile may cause future allergies with your baby. You may have some mint tea if you feel sick as well as a ginger lollipop, even though high consumption of ginger is not recommended during pregnancy either. Again, you should never go to any extremes. Apart from water, pregnant women are recommended to drink fruit teas with no caffeine, or rooibos as a source of antioxidants and minerals.
PREGNANCY AND FOODS RECOMMENDED:
As we have already mentioned above, thermally unprocessed fish in sushi may be harmful, but well-cooked fish (especially saltwater fish) are a great source of omega-3 fatty acids. These are very beneficial for the fetal growth and development since the prenatal stage. Fetus gets them through the placenta. They are important for the development of speech, vision and cognitive and motor skills. In an ideal case, pregnant women should eat 350 grams of fish a week in one or two portions.
To make this slightly less unambiguous, there are also saltwater fish and seafood that may contain higher amounts of mercury which makes them unsuitable for consumption. Mercury is toxic and may have negative influence on the nervous system. However, pregnant women should not hesitate or fear to eat fish; on the contrary, they should make salmon, sardines and mackerels part of their diet. Pike-perch or pikes are to be avoided.
During pregnancy, many women suffer from anemia (decrease in the amount of red blood cells) which may manifest with fatigue and weakness. It is a lower amount of hemoglobin, i.e. the blood colourant, and red blood cells in the body. It is interesting that men suffice with one miligram of iron per day. In comparison, daily intake of iron in women should be 2 miligrams to cover the loss caused by periods. However, during pregnancy, the need for iron increases from 2.5 mg a day in the first trimester to more than 6 mg in the last trimester. Anemia may result in premature labour or lower birth weight in the child.
In pregnancy, you should therefore monitor your intake of iron carefully. The best sources of iron are red meat, leafy vegetables, beans or intestines. Some women who have suffered with anemia even before their pregnancy are not able to supply their body with the necessary amount of iron only through food and that is why it is not unusual for gynecologists to prescribe iron pills.
You may also be recommended to consume foods or dietary supplements containing folic acid. The spinal chord and brain of the baby are formed during the first weeks of pregnancy, when the woman may still be unaware of her condition, and most people do not get enough folic acid from their regular food. This vitamin from the B-complex group is essential for the baby's correct development. It serves to prevent developmental disorders and some nerve diseases. It is important for DNA formation and blood formation as well as for correct development of the nervous system. Folic acid is abundantly present in uncooked fresh broccoli or corn salad as well as nuts, legumes and wholegrain cereals. Fruits such as mango, avocado or banana are also rich in folic acid.
Pregnant women should also get enough calcium which they may consume e.g. in sour dairy products, wholegrain cereals, olive oil or milk. Calcium is essential for bone formation both in the mother and the child. If a pregnant woman does not have enough calcium, her body starts supplying the fetus from calcium taken from the mother's bones. That is dangerous for the mother because the calcium released causes osteoporosis but also formation of more fragile bones in the fetus. Possible sources of calcium are e.g. sardines, pickled fish, pork meat, tripes, spinache, chives, parsley, citrus fruits or poppy seeds.
Another element crucial for the development of the baby in prenatal period is zinc. It is essential for the immune system formation in the baby and it is indispensable for the physical growth and development. If the mother does not have enough zinc, it may cause low birth weight of the baby or premature labour. Zinc may be found in wholegrain cereals, pumpkin seeds, red meat or seafood.
Pregnancy as well as normal condition requires consumption of a sufficient amount of vitamin C; expectant mothers should consume approximately 85 mg a day. This amount is equal to a medium-size grapefruit. Besides, grapefruits are also great because they contain lycopene which helps prevent preeclampsia. Tomato juice is a perfect source of lycopene. Preeclampsia is a condition afflicting pregnant women; it manifests with high blood pressure and proteins in urine. This condition may result into detachment or insufficient supply of placenta. You can prevent this condition not only by eating healthily, but also by having perfect weight; obesity before pregnancy may easily elevate your blood pressure.
During pregnancy, it is not only important what you eat; it's also what you drink. Maintaining a suitable drinking regime is more important in pregnancy than ever before. Expectant mothers should not drink less than two litres a day and they should distribute this amount to their body regularly throughout the day. Supplying your body with fluids helps kidneys and liver get rid of harmful substances and wash them away from the body. Insufficient hydration may cause constipation and flatulence. You should certainly avoid feeling thirsty because it is already a sign of dehydration.
Drinking regime has far less prohibitions than dietary regime, but future mothers should beware of drinks containing caffeine (cola-like drinks, energy drinks), tein (tonic, black tea) and of teas made of aforementioned herbs.
Balanced diet during pregnancy is as important as before conception. During that time, both future parents should eat healthily, increase their intake of fish, fruits and vegetables, and avoid increased consumption of alcohol or smoking.
Also, do not forget that you don't have to "eat for two" during pregnancy - you have to eat twice as healthily. Do not overeat but eat smaller portions in regular intervals.