For women who are expecting, it is now necessary for you to make some changes to your diet. Nutrition is one important aspect of the pregnancy, both for the mother and child. The following are some nutritional tips which a mother-to-be can consider.
During the pregnancy, a woman's energy and nutrient intake will be higher than usual. It is estimated that the additional calorie requirements will be 10-15% (aboud 200-300 kcal/day) higher than before. Good nutrition during pregnancy is important as the mother has to provide for the growing baby as well as maintain her own health and produce breast milk.
1. Weight gain during pregnancy
It is natural that the mother-to-be will put on weight during the pregnancy period. There is no ideal weight gain as it varies accordingly to the pre-pregnant body size of the woman. What is important is that an adequate weight gain during pregnancy lowers the risk of a low birth weight. Moreover, it is strongly recommended that pregnant women do not go on a strict diet.
It has been estimated that only about 3.5 kg of the total weight gain is due to the developing baby. A rough breakdown of the various components of the weight gain is as follows.
- Developing baby
- Amniotic fluid
- Extra breast tissue
- Extra blood
- Extra body fluid
- Fat stores
It is important that the expectant mother has sufficient fat stores as they play an important role.
- They act as a safeguard against any periods of food shortage, thus keeping the baby healthy during such times.
- The energy from the fat stores is used to produce breast milk.
- Thy can subsidise the extra metabolic needs of the later stages of pregnancy and breastfeeding.
2. Calorie requirements during pregnancy
Calorie requirements during pregnancy vary from person to person, as this depends on the individual's energy needs and the amount of daily activity. There are generally four food groups that make up a healthy diet.
(i) Rice and alternatives
They provide protein, energy, fibre, vitamins and minerals.
e.g. rice, pasta, noodles, bread
(ii) Meat and alternatives
They provide protein, vitamins and minerals like calcium (for strengthening teeth and bones).
e.g. poultry, meat, fish, dairy products, eggs, peas, beans and nuts
(iii) Fruits and vegetables
They provide fibre, energy, minerals and vitamins (i.e. Vitamins A and C)
They provide energy, essential fatty acids and vitamins.
e.g. butter, margarine
3. Specific nutrients
Pregnant women should tr to eat more proteins as this is needed to build tissue (including muscle) and provide energy. Proteins also help the growth of the baby, the placenta, uterus, breasts and blood supply.
This is necessary for the creation of blood. The baby needs iron for development. Iron is also required for the growth of maternal and foetal tissues and for foetal tissue stores. Iron can be commonly found in
- red meat
- whole grains and cereals
- egg yolk
- liver and kidney
- dried fruits
- dark green leafy vegetables
Eating foods rich in Vitamin C (e.g. citrius fruits and leafy vegetables) can help you in iron absorption.
Besides the mother's own requirements, calcium is needed for the baby to develop bones and teeth. A good source of calcium is dairy products, which also contain Vitamin D and protein that enhance calcium absorption.
(iv) Folic acid
This is required to produce new cells and proteins. Due to the increase in the blood volume and the rapid growth of the foetus, the mother's folic acid requirement will increase during pregnancy. Good sources of folic acid include spinach, broccoli, peanuts and wholegrain products.
Drinking sufficient water is important for pregnant women, as it benefits both the mother and child. The mother's body needs water for her normal metabolic activities, while the baby is building up his or her own body fluids. Water is also needed for the regulation of body temperature and the elimination of body waste products.
4. Things to avoid during pregnancy
- Smoking is a big no-no. Not only will smoking affect the mother's health, it will also harm the baby. Smoking mothers tend to have more premature births, more underweight or sickly babies. Smoking deprives the baby of nutrients which are important for development, as well as introduce toxins which can be absorbed by the baby.
- Alcohol is best avoided. Alcohol provides plenty of empty calories with little nutritional value. Alcohol also readily crosses the placenta to the foetus, who is not capable of metabolising alcohol. There is also a risk that alcohol may cause birth defects such as slower foetal growth and mental retardation.
5. How your diet can help relieve the discomforts during pregnancy
(i) Morning sickness (nausea or vomiting)
- Sip warm water and eat a few crackers or toast in the morning.
- Take frequent small meals rather than heavy or large meals that will aggravate the nausea
- Avoid greasy fried food
- Fluids should be taken in between meals.
- Avoid getting hungry as that will aggravate te nausea.
- Eat more whole grain bread and cereals.
- Eat more vegetables and fruits which are rich in fibre.
- Drink water regularly.
- Exercise regularly as this will help to regulate your bowel movements.
(iii) Piles (hemorrhoids)
- Eat more vegetables and fruits.
- Eat more whole grain bread, cereals and brown rice.
- Drink more water during the day, preferably 6 to 8 glasses of water.
- Be more physically active.
(iv) Indigestion and heartburn
- Avoid greasy or spicy food.
- Take frequent, small meals.
- Take fluids at least 1-2 hours before or after a meal.
- Do not lie down after a meal.
(v) Odema (swelling of legs) - particularly in the later stages of the pregnancy
(The solution is to reduce the salt intake in one's diet, and not reduce the water consumption.)
- Avoid very salty food.
- Restrict your intake of canned or preserved food.
- Restrict your intake of fast food, which is high in salt content.
- Wear comfortable low-heeled shoes.
- Do some leg exercises to improve the blood circulation.