Prenatal nutrition can be challenging! Morning sickness (or in my case, all day sickness!), fatigue, crazy emotions and all the other overwhelming factors that women have to deal with when expecting can really throw eating habits through a loop. But as we all know, nutrition is even more important during pregnancy, both for you and your baby. Many nutrients are needed to fuel growth and development while supporting maternal stores needed for breastfeeding. However, there’s no need worry because as always, keeping it simple with some common sense solutions can help you and your baby thrive during this very special time.
What should I eat?
This is a question I get asked a lot. Particularly during the first trimester, nausea and fatigue can limit food choices and often leave you with some interesting (and sometimes strange!) cravings. Experts recommend eating smaller meals more often to keep blood sugar levels stable and avoid nausea. Many women seem to prefer carbohydrate-rich foods as they are easily digestible, but others also find that foods high in protein seem to do the trick.
It’s super important to listen to your body; avoid those foods that make you feel nauseous, bloated or tired, and eat more of the foods that help sustain energy and keep nausea at bay.
Pregnancy is certainly not the time to diet or limit food food intake for the purpose of weight loss. Constipation, reflux and other digestive disturbances are very common in pregnancy, so avoid foods that you know cause these symptoms and opt instead for fibre-rich foods (whole grains, fruit, vegetables) that will support the function of the gastrointestinal tract and foster a healthy microbiome that will be passed on to your newborn, supporting their little tummy and immune system following birth.
Drink at least 2L of water per day and avoid greasy or spicy foods as these are known to cause indigestion and reflux during pregnancy.
Personalising your nutrition for pregnancy
Ideally, eating a balanced diet with plenty of fresh foods (5 or more serves of veggies/day), clean protein sources (nuts, eggs, lean meat), and plenty of good fats to fuel the growth of your baby’s nervous system (avocados, eggs, olive oil, coconut oil, nut butters, etc.) is best for pregnancy. It should be noted that keeping an eye on your nutrition is really important even if you’re in the planning stages of pregnancy too. Optimising your nutrient intake may increase your chances of falling pregnant, and give your baby the best possible start.
Great nutrition should not be complicated or stressful. Keep meals simple, utilise a slow cooker if you have one. Soups, stews and broths make power-packed meals that are easily digestible, make fabulous comfort food, and can be made up in big batches and frozen for later use. Salads are quick and easy to whip up; add some pan fried or oven baked fish for a quick, easy and nutritious meal. If you’re really struggling to keep food down at any point in your pregnancy, simply eat what you can, when you can, and consult your doctor or obstetrician as soon as possible.
Nutrients essential for pregnancy and lactation
Green vegetables (spinach, kale, broccoli, etc) are a great source of folate, vital for proper DNA methylation, cell division and growth (RDI 600ug/day). Calcium is important for nervous system function and skeletal formation, so make sure your intake of this mineral is optimal (RDI 1000mg/day). If you’re lactose intolerant, never fear! Almonds, fish with soft bones like salmon and green leafy vegetables are also excellent sources of calcium.
Essential fatty acids from nuts, oils, avocados (a pregnancy superfood!), fish and seeds are an important component of cellular membranes and support the development of baby’s brain and nervous system. If you don’t eat fish, it may be worth supplementing with an ultra-clean fish oil (to prevent heavy metal contamination) once or twice daily. The RDI for omega 3 fatty acids is 650mg/day, 300mg of which should be DHA (3).
Getting enough protein is vital to support growth and repair, both for you and for baby. There are very few biological processes that don’t require amino acids, so being aware of your intake is important. The RDI in pregnancy is 1g per kilogram of body weight; so, if you weight 70kg, you’ll need 70g of of protein. Try to have a serve of protein with each meal: Nuts, lean meat, legumes, and eggs are a great place to start.
Supplementation during pregnancy.
Do you need to supplement? The answer is yes! Even with the most perfect whole food diet, poor soil quality often means the plant foods we consume are still nutrient deficient. A pre-natal multivitamin with around 500mcg of folate is a must to help prevent developmental defects like spina bifida. Please make sure you speak to your qualified health practitioner before choosing your multi as several retail brands contain ridiculous amounts of some nutrients, and insignificant amounts of others. You may need extra iron in the second and third trimesters especially if you’re vegetarian or vegan, so make sure you speak to a professional about this if you’re unsure. Excessive iron intake can be dangerous.
I recommend that all women who are pregnant or considering becoming pregnant take a practitioner-only prenatal multi for at least 6 months before conceiving if possible (and ideally a good quality everyday multi before that), an ultra-clean fish oil, and a prenatal probiotic during the third trimester and throughout breastfeeding.
Need some advice? I’m more than happy to help….feel free to get in touch if you have any questions!
National Health and Medical Research Council. (2018). Nutrient Reference Values. Retrieved from: https://www.nrv.gov.au/
Greenberg, J. A., Bell, S. J., & Ausdal, W. Van. (2008). Omega-3 Fatty Acid supplementation during pregnancy. Reviews in Obstetrics & Gynecology, 1(4), 162–9. Retrieved from http://www.pubmedcentral.nih.gov/articlerender.fcgi?artid=2621042&tool=pmcentrez&rendertype=abstract