Introduction to Nutrition in Pregnancy
Welcome! Today we are talking about some of the most common questions related to nutrition in pregnancy.
Finding out you are pregnant can be incredibly exciting. Perhaps you’ve been trying for a long time, or it happened sooner than you were expecting.
Whatever the case may be, you are likely asking a lot of questions at this point!
Some common questions women typically ask when they find out they are pregnant are:
- How far along am I in my pregnancy?
- When is my baby due?
- What should I be eating during pregnancy?
- What should I avoid eating during pregnancy?
- Do I need to know or do anything else differently now that I’m pregnant?
Today, we are going to discuss the importance of nutrition in pregnancy.
We will address the following questions:
- Why is nutrition in pregnancy so important?
- What are the key nutrients I need in pregnancy? (and how do I get them?)
- Do I need to take a prenatal vitamin?
- How much should I eat during pregnancy?
- How much weight should I gain during pregnancy?
- What foods should I avoid during pregnancy?
- What are some good pregnancy recipes or snack ideas?
Please note, it is always important to contact your doctor and follow their advice during pregnancy. This blog is not intended as medical advice.
Why is nutrition in pregnancy so important?
During pregnancy, eating well is one of the best things you can do. Why?
Because what you eat during pregnancy is the main source of nutrients for your baby.
Evidence shows that your nutrition in pregnancy has a significant impact on the neurodevelopment (brain development) of your baby across their lifespan.
A nutritious diet during pregnancy has been linked to healthy brain development across the lifespan of your baby. (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6045434/). Studies have even shown that “certain nutrients have particularly large effects in this time period, and their deficits cause greater long-term risk.”
Good nutrition will also help you handle the extra demands that pregnancy puts on your body as your pregnancy progresses.
In pregnancy, the goal of your nutrition is to balance getting enough nutrients to support the growth of your fetus while also maintaining a healthy weight.
In pregnancy, many women don’t get enough iron, folate, calcium, protein or vitamin D. This is why it’s so important to increase the type and amounts of foods you eat that contain these nutrients.
According to the ACOG (American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists), “most women can meet their increased needs with a healthy diet that includes plenty of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and proteins.”
“Optimizing nutrition during fetal and early postnatal life is a golden opportunity to impact neurodevelopment and brain function across the lifespan*.” *https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6045434/
What are the key nutrients I need in pregnancy?
With our clear understanding of why nutrition in pregnancy is so important, the next question is what nutrition does that entail.
What does balanced nutrition in pregnancy look like?
First off, these are the key nutrients you and your baby need for a healthy pregnancy (according to the ACOG):
Having enough calcium helps to build strong teeth and bones. Some sources of calcium include: yogurt, cheese, milk, and sardines. The recommended amount of calcium during pregnancy is 1000 milligrams (mg) a day.
Iron is crucial in pregnancy as it “helps red blood cells deliver oxygen to your baby.” The recommended amount in pregnancy is 27mg daily and can be found in sources such as: dried beans, peas, lean red meat, and iron-fortified cereals.
During pregnancy, you need 770 micrograms of vitamin A daily. It is necessary for healthy eyesight, skin, and bone growth and can be found in foods such as: dark, leafy greens, carrots, and sweet potatoes.
During pregnancy, you need 85 mg of vitamin C daily. Vitamin C promotes healthy teeth, gums, and bones, as well as the absorption of iron. Broccoli, tomatoes, strawberries and citrus fruit are some great sources.
During pregnancy, you need 600 international units (IUs) daily of vitamin D. It helps your body absorb calcium, which helps build your baby’s bones and teeth. Some good sources of vitamin d are: fortified milk, exposure to sunlight, and fatty fish, such as salmon.
During pregnancy, you need 1.9 mg daily of vitamin B6. This vitamin can be found in foods such as: liver, pork, beef, bananas, and whole grain cereals. Vitamin B6 helps your body use fat, protein, and carbohydrates, and also helps in the formation of red blood cells.
Vitamin B12 is found naturally in animal products, such as: meat, fish, milk, poultry, and liver. Vitamin B12 “helps form red blood cells and maintains your nervous system” and you need 2.6 micrograms daily during pregnancy.
Folate (Folic Acid)
Prior to pregnancy, you need at least 400 micrograms of folate daily and during pregnancy doctors recommend you get 600 micrograms daily.
Folate is a B vitamin that reduces the risk of neural tube defects (a birth defect of the brain and spinal cord) and is also important in the production of blood and protein. Folate is found in legumes (beans, peas, lentils), nuts, orange juice, liver and green, leafy vegetables.
Did you know?
“The neonatal brain in the human consumes 60% of the body’s total oxygen and therefore caloric consumption (8).” (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6045434/)
Do I need to take a prenatal vitamin?
According to Health Canada, all women should take a multivitamin containing 0.4 mg of folic acid and 16-20 mg of iron daily during pregnancy.
They also recommend that pregnant women adjust their diet to get the most out of nutrient-rich foods.
It is important that you consult your healthcare provider and follow their advice. According to the ACOG, you should be able to get all of the vitamins and minerals you need during pregnancy by eating healthy foods in combination with taking a prenatal vitamin every day.
*It’s important to follow your doctor’s recommendations as well as the recommended amount of your prenatal vitamin. Taking more than the recommended amount can increase vitamins such as vitamin A, which can cause birth defects at higher doses.
How much should I eat during pregnancy?
Eating for two?
This has been a common phrase when referring to pregnancy. But how much more do you really need to eat while pregnant?
Let’s find out!
During your pregnancy, weight gain is very important and necessary. Make sure you consult your doctor and follow their recommendations on appropriate weight gain for each trimester and throughout your pregnancy.
It’s important to understand the guidelines of weight gain during pregnancy, not to stress out about them but, to understand how gaining too much or too little weight can contribute to problems for both you and your baby.
According to the ACOG, if you are pregnant with one fetus, you usually don’t need any extra calories in your first trimester.
Starting in your second trimester, you need about 340 extra calories per day, and about 450 extra calories per day in your third trimester.
Expecting more than 1? “If you are expecting more than one baby, you should discuss what and how much to eat with your health care provider. Your nutrient and calorie needs are higher than those of women carrying one baby.”
If you are carrying twins, you will need about 600 extra calories a day and, if you are carrying triplets, you will need an extra 900 calories a day.
340 calories is equivalent to roughly a glass of skim milk and half a sandwich, which is not exactly “eating for two” or eating double the amount you usually would.
Instead of focusing on eating for two during pregnancy, think of eating twice as healthy.
To get those extra calories, try having healthy snacks on hand, such as yogurt, fresh fruit, or nuts.
How much weight should I gain during pregnancy?
The recommended weight gain during pregnancy depends on your overall health as well as your BMI (body mass index) before you were pregnant.
Women who are underweight should gain more than women who had a normal weight before pregnancy.
“If you were overweight or obese before pregnancy, you should gain less weight.” (https://www.acog.org/womens-health/faqs/nutrition-during-pregnancy)
Weight gain can be broken down into trimesters:
- In your first trimester - the first 12 weeks of pregnancy - you might only gain 1 to 5 pounds or none at all.
- In your second and third trimesters (if you were a healthy weight before pregnancy) you should gain between half a pound/week to 1 pound/week.
What foods should I avoid during pregnancy?
During pregnancy, your immune system is weakened and you are therefore at an increased risk of food poisoning.
“Food poisoning can be even more dangerous to your unborn baby’s health than to yours. Your unborn baby's immune system is not developed enough to fight off harmful foodborne bacteria—such as Listeria—that can pass through the placenta.”
These are some of the high-risk foods during pregnancy that you should avoid:
- “Raw or undercooked meat, poultry and seafood;
- Refrigerated smoked seafood;
- Raw sprouts;
- Unpasteurized juice, cider and milk;
- Unpasteurized and pasteurized soft, semi-soft and blue-veined cheeses;
- Refrigerated pâtés, meat spreads, non-dried deli meats and hot dogs straight from the package without further heating; and
- Uncooked foods made from raw or unpasteurized eggs.” (https://recalls-rappels.canada.ca/en/alert-recall/health-canada-reminds-pregnant-women-importance-food-safety)
What are some good pregnancy recipes or snack ideas?
Here are some great, healthy pregnancy snack ideas:
- Fruit and cheese
- Fruit and nuts
- Homemade trail mix
- Wholegrain toast with nut butter
- Wholegrain toast with butter
- Avocado toast
- Yogurt or kefir (with granola)
- Hard-boiled eggs
- Veggies and hummus
Here is an example pregnancy recipe that can be used as part of a healthy breakfast or snack.
- Place all ingredients into a large mixing bowl. Stir to combine.
- Store in an airtight container, and lightly shake the container before serving.
- Serve with low-fat milk, soy milk or yogurt.
Preheat oven to 325F/160C.
Place the oats in a large baking dish and bake for 5 minutes.
Add the sunflower, pumpkin and flaxseeds and bake for a further 10 minutes.
Add the sesame seeds, coconut and nuts and bake for a further 10 to 15 minutes until the muesli is nicely brown and toasted. (Take care not to overcook.)
Allow the muesli to cool completely before adding the raisins and apricots.
Store in an airtight container and shake lightly before serving.
Serve with low-fat milk, soy milk or yogurt.
To conclude today’s talk on nutrition in pregnancy
We have seen that nutrition in pregnancy is crucial because what you eat during pregnancy is the main source of nutrients for your little one.
We have also learned that nutrition in pregnancy can even affect the brain of your growing baby.
Exercise in pregnancy also plays a key role in staying healthy and growing a healthy baby.
It is important to be active during pregnancy, whether that is walking, swimming, yoga, barre, or another activity that your healthcare provider has approved.
Some studies have shown that exercise can help reduce back pain, strengthen your heart and help you gain a healthy amount of weight during pregnancy.
If you plan to exercise during pregnancy, be sure to choose a supportive maternity sports bra.
It should not have an underwire and should provide you with enough support to keep you comfortable as you move.
Finding maternity workout leggings is also key. These will be a staple in your maternity activewear wardrobe and are worth investing in.
In addition to maternity sports bras and pregnancy workout leggings, it’s also helpful to have stretchy, breathable, maternity workout tops.
Having the proper maternity clothing to wear can better prepare you to be active in pregnancy and postpartum.
Thank you for spending your time with us today!
We hope you have found something helpful in this article and will enjoy trying the pregnancy breakfast recipe provided.
We wish you all the best in your pregnancy :)
Kelsey and the Be Active Maternity Team