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Pregnancy Nutrition: 10 Essential Tips for a Healthy Journey

Updated: Mar 7

While writing this article from the point of health and wellbeing for a to-be mother, I went back in time to my two beautiful but tough pregnancies. A young mom at 23 years of age, struggling through PCOD (overweight and a set of ailments that came along with it) I had less knowledge but curious and Dr Spocks - Baby and Child Care was the book my aunt lent me for my reading.

Strongly urge you to use this article as a place for information and work with your doctor before any self medication or interventions. 

Pregnancy is a period of growth and women are encouraged to eat more during the nine months and recognise that the resulting weight gain is a critical part of a healthy pregnancy. 

Studies have shown that low gestational weight gain, that means not gaining enough weight, often results in infants with low birth weights, who may experience delayed development. There is a relationship with mother’s weight and the foetal weight: if she doesn't gain enough, the foetus may remain simply to protect the mother’s weight.

There are numerical guidelines for healthy weight gain and are useful to a certain extent. For instance, in the first trimester, due to morning sickness the mother may lose weight and experience loss in appetite too. 

Here are some guidelines

Most women who are within an average height and weight range at the start of their pregnancy can expect to gain between 10-15 kilograms over the full 40 weeks of gestation.

Rather than the prescribed energy intake, it's best if the pregnant women do best with the practice of hunger awareness, change their hourly appetite and food craving, thirst, satiety and even dislike to flavours and tastes.

Foods to avoid during pregnancy

  1. Alcohol and Caffeine - high intake can lead to birth defect and abortion as well

  2. Tobacco - 

  3. Cured meat and raw meat - these may carry harmful bacteria

  4. Artificial sweeteners - 

  5. Limiting consumption of fish and seafood - water pollution causing heavy metal contamination. Large fishes like sharks and salmon are known to have high mercury levels.

After a list of No No, it's time to look at some things that are of particularly of importance during the nine months of pregnancy.

During pregnancy, it's essential to prioritise your health and well-being.

Here are 10 important things to do during pregnancy:

1. Prenatal Care:

  • With today’s awareness of pre and post natal nutrition and well being, many new parents are quite motivated to improve their lifestyles, habits and take the responsibility of supporting each other through this phase. 

  • Healthy Mother equals healthy child, while this is true to a large extent, both parents are responsible before conception hence the reproductive health and healthy pregnancy isn't just about what the mother eats. The choice of nutrition of the father matters too. 

  • Follow your doctor's recommendations for tests and screenings.

2. Healthy Nutrition:

  • Eat a well-balanced diet rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins, and dairy products and being mindful of nutrition during pregnancy is important.

  • Stay hydrated by drinking plenty of water.

  • Protein - Aim is to increase the protein intake by at least 25 grams during the second and third trimester. Protein is incorporated into the development of the foetus and placenta.

  • Carbohydrates - Pregnant women need more carbohydrates than usual. Restricting this during pregnancy has shown significant increase in risk of chronic disease and obesity for the child because of perceived nutrient shortage during their development.

3. Supplements:

  • Vitamin D - A deficiency in Vitamin D can lead to minimal absorption of calcium and a low infant birth weight. Sun exposure, of not more than 25 minutes a day where most of the skin is exposed without sunscreen so an ideal source of Vitamin D.

  • Calcium - Calcium intake is vital for the prevention of a condition called pre-eclampsia. (A complication during pregnancy that includes high blood pressure and potential kidney damage). Although the diary requirement remains the same, the gastrointestinal absorption increases during this period to ensure the mother and foetus get adequate calcium during the growth stage.

  • Iron - This is essential for many process and most pregnant women do take supplements since getting them directly from whole foods may be a challenge.

  • Zinc - Deficiency in zinc can lead to congenital malformation and generally supplements are given for the same.

  • Iodine - Crucial for the developeney of the brain of the baby along with the nervous system development. Deficiency in Iodine is associated with increased risk of miscarraige, preterm delivery and still births as well.

  • Vitamin B - 12 - Vital for cell development. Pregnant women who limit animal foods may need supplements to get this vitamin.

  • Folate - Otherwise called Vitamin B is essential to prevent tube defects. Intake of this vitamin is most crucial within the first few weeks of pregnancy. 

  • Fatty acids - Omega 3 fatty acids have shown to help both mother and the foetus. Supplements improve infant brain, eye development during pregnancy. It also prevents preterm birth and may reduce the incidence of postpartum depression among mothers. Since the intake of large fishes are limited during pregnancy, look for other sources such as flax seeds, chia, walnut and hemp. Good to avoid, oil that comes from the liver fo the fish that can provide toxic levels of vitamin D and A

4. Exercise:

  • Engage in regular, moderate exercise suitable for pregnancy, such as walking, swimming, or prenatal yoga.

  • Consult your doctor before starting or continuing an exercise routine.

5. Adequate Rest:

  • Ensure you get enough sleep and rest to support your body's changing needs.

  • Experiment with different sleeping positions to find the most comfortable one. with weeks leading to the delivery date, sleeping straight 7-8 hours may become a luxury, so naps during the day help.

6. Stress Management:

  • Practice stress-reducing activities such as meditation, deep breathing, or prenatal massage.

  • Reach out to friends, family, or professionals if you're feeling overwhelmed.

  • Educate Yourself:

  • Attend prenatal classes to learn about childbirth, breastfeeding, and newborn care.

  • Read reputable pregnancy books or websites to understand the changes happening to your body.

  • Food cravings: This is quite common during pregnancy. While there is no harm in satisfying these cravings, it's good to be mindful. Limit sugar and sugary foods and beverages. Poor quality, high processed foods do no good to the mother and the foetus.

  • Nausea: More than 80% of women go through nausea or morning sickness in the first trimester and many through their nine months. Hormonal changes in the body, gastric mobility contributes to nausea (H.pylori may also play a role)

Some ways to work through with morning sickness

  1. Include protein each day

  2. Limit high fat food (staying away from fried snack), spicy food and large meals

  3. Move to bland foods as far as possible

  4. Eat frequently and smaller meals

  5. Try tart liquids, e.g. lemon water

Many don't need to resort to anti nausea medication if they can make lifestyle adjustments. 

7. Avoid Harmful Substances:

  • Say no to alcohol, tobacco, and recreational drugs.

  • Minimise caffeine intake.

8. Regular Dental Check-ups:

  • Schedule regular dental exams and cleanings during pregnancy.

  • Inform your dentist about your pregnancy, as hormonal changes may affect your oral health.

9. Prepare for Baby:

  • Set up the nursery and gather baby essentials. If its your first born then you should be ready for surprises and pack the baby bag atleast two weeks before the due date.

Remember, every pregnancy is unique, and being a mother the second time could be different from the first one.

10. Postnatal nutrition

Just as pregnancy is different for each woman, so is postnatal experience. While it's natural to worry about losing weight immediately after, it may be frustrating when it doesnt work your way. Whether it's due to hormones, change in routines due to baby, sleep deprivation, many women struggle with getting back to pre-pregnancy weight a year or more after giving birth. This is absolutely normal. 

Practice self-compassion and make small changes to get back to your healthier lifestyle.  Happy Motherhood!


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