As soon as most women become pregnant they begin to think about what they should and shouldn?t be eating to have a healthy pregnancy. Advice on this often comes in from all sides ? and contradicts itself frequently – which can leave you very confused about what to eat.
At its most basic, your baby is made out of the food you eat. The better you eat, the better start your baby has in life. Eating well doesn?t guarantee a healthy baby but it does help towards a healthier pregnancy and a happier baby (yes, really!).
The first thing to focus on is what not to eat. There a few foods that are best avoided while pregnant, usually due to a risk of food poisoning. Raw or undercooked meat, chicken, fish and eggs need to be avoided. This includes foods like smoked salmon, sushi and rare steaks. Look out for homemade mayonnaise and mousses which will have raw eggs and make sure chicken is thoroughly cooked. Beware of foods at deli counters that may have been hanging around for a while and avoid coleslaw unless you?ve made it yourself. Foods that are very high in vitamin A are also best avoided as too much vitamin A in early pregnancy may increase your risk of miscarriage. Foods to avoid are liver, pate and vitamin supplements with vitamin A. Normal pregnancy supplements are fine as they don?t include vitamin A, but always check the label. Many women avoid shellfish whilst pregnant. There is no hard and fast rule when it comes to shellfish but unless you are sure of how good the shellfish are, it may be better to avoid it as food poisoning from shellfish can be severe. The last thing to avoid is alcohol. Although there has been some debate over the years about whether or not alcohol is safe in pregnancy, the advice these days is to leave it alone.
So, once you are avoiding all of the above, what can you eat?
The answer is: pretty much everything. You just need to make sure you are getting the basics and your growing appetite will look after the rest. Below is a checklist of what you need to eat for a healthy pregnancy and if you can cover these basics, you will be doing really well.
1.Protein. This is one of the most important nutrients for a growing baby ? and mother! All of the babies muscles, bones and internal organs need enough protein to grow and you will need protein for the placenta, the extra blood you are going to make and for your expanding womb. Protein is found in meat, chicken, fish, eggs and cheese as well as beans, lentils and nuts. Aim to have some protein foods at lunch and at dinner; about 1/3 of your plate should be protein. You will pick up extra protein if you snack on nuts, yoghurt, cheese or drink some milk.
2. Calcium. You baby is going to need plenty of calcium, especially towards the end of your pregnancy, to grow bones. If you don?t eat enough calcium your baby will happily take it from your bones, leaving you at risk for osteoporosis later in life. So look after your bones and your baby’s by adding in plenty of milk, yoghurt and hard cheese like cheddar or Edam. You should be aiming for 3 servings of dairy everyday. One serving is 1 pot of yoghurt or 1 glass of milk or 1oz of hard cheese.
3. Fruit and vegetables: These are essential for vitamins and antioxidants, which are essential for a growing baby and for your own energy levels. Aim to have some fruit or vegetables art every meal: banana on breakfast cereal, tomatoes in your sandwich at lunch and plenty of veg or salad at dinner. If you get hungry in between meals, try to snack on fruit or a fruit smoothie.
4. Bread, cereals and potatoes. These will give you much needed calories (yes, you really do need to gain at least 1 ? – 2 stone while pregnant) and fibre. You don?t need to go overboard, but do include some rice, pasta or potatoes at dinner and some bread at lunch. A good high fibre breakfast cereal will help you avoid problems with constipation, which can turn up as your pregnancy progresses. Look for cereals with at least 6g of fibre per 100g.
5. Fish. This is one of the most important foods to eat for your baby. Oil rich fish like salmon, trout, mackerel, herring and sardines are rich in omega-3 fats which are essential for baby’s brain and eye development. Studies show that children whose mothers ate fish while pregnant grow up to be more sociable, have better reading skills and are generally better behaved as they get older. So far the studies have tracked the children to the age of 8 and the benefits are still being seen. Women who ate fish at least 3 times a week showed the greatest benefit. Although you do need to avoid shark, swordfish, and marlin while pregnant, all other fish are fine. Just keep tuna to twice a week, but go ahead with any other fish you like.
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What about tea and coffee?
Too much caffeine can be harmful to babies so you need to keep it to 1 cup of coffee or two cups of tea per day or switch to decaffeinated varieties. Look out for caffeine in chocolate, foods with guarana added and cola & energy drinks.
Have a look at the list below and write down how you are getting on with meeting your pregnancy targets. Remember, it’s not the end of the world if you don?t hit every target everyday ? you will have better days than others. But, keeping these targets in mind will help you focus once and see where you might need to do a little extra work.
FOOD? HOW MUCH? HOW AM I DOING?
Protein: meat, chicken, fish, eggs, cheese, beans, nuts Some at lunch and at dinner everyday
Calcium: milk, yoghurt and hard cheese 3 servings a day
Fruit and vegetables Some at every meal
Bread, cereals and potatoes Some at every meal ? and go for high fibre when you can
Fish (can be fresh, frozen or tinned) 2-3 meals a week (or more!)
Sarah Keogh is the pregnancy and fertility Dietician at the Early Feeding Clinic in Dublin. The Early Feeding Clinic specialises in pregnancy and child nutrition with a special interest in fertility, gestational diabetes and food allergies in children. For more information go to www.earlyfeedingclinic.ie