Often in my personal life I get many questions from expecting mothers on What should I eat? What should I avoid? How can I improve my overall health during pregnancy?
Usually my first answer is that a healthy balanced diet for mom and baby is key; before, during, and after pregnancy! Pregnancy usually brings more awareness of healthy eating to moms which is nice to see as a dietitian.
Eating well during pregnancy will ensure that your baby gets all of the vitamins and minerals required in the early weeks of development. Eating well after pregnancy also ensures baby is getting key nutrients while mothers are breastfeeding.
Eating Well with Canada’s Food Guide helps you choose the foods that will give you the nutrition you need in preparation for pregnancy. All women 19-50 years of age should aim every day to eat a variety of foods from each of the four food groups:
- Vegetables and Fruit: 7-8 recommended servings of a variety of vegetables and fruit
- Grain Products: 6-7 recommended servings emphasizing on whole grains more often
- Milk and Alternatives: 2 recommended servings of lower fat milk, cheese, yogurt or enriched soy beverages
- Meat and Alternatives: 2 recommended servings of poultry, fish, lean meat, dried peas, beans, lentils, eggs or tofu.
It only makes sense that pregnant and breastfeeding women need more calories. For most women, this means only an extra two or three Food Guide Servings from any of the food groups each day in addition to their recommended number of Food Guide Servings per day as above.
(Don’t forget to use Canada’s Food Guide to help you determine how much food is in “one serving”!)
Important nutrients for you and your baby
Folic acid, also known as folate, is a vitamin needed both before you conceive and during pregnancy. This vitamin helps reduce the baby’s risk of developing a type of birth defect, called neural tube defect, which affects the brain and spinal cord. Cooked asparagus, cooked spinach, romaine lettuce, kidney beans, chickpeas, lentils, orange juice and sunflower seeds are some excellent sources of folic acid.
Since it is difficult to get enough folic acid from food alone, women of childbearing age should take a daily multivitamin and mineral supplement that contains 0.4 mg (or 400 μg) of folic acid before becoming pregnant and in the early weeks of pregnancy. Make sure the supplement contains no more than 1 mg (or 1000 μg) of folic acid unless your physician recommends otherwise. Talk to your health care professional about taking a multivitamin supplement before you become pregnant.
During pregnancy, your requirement for iron increases from 18 mg to 27 mg per day. This extra iron will be used to make red blood cells that carry oxygen through your own body and to your growing baby. Feeling tired may be the first sign that you are low in iron. Start to build up your iron stores now by eating more whole grain and iron-enriched breakfast cereals, lean meats, dried peas and beans, dark green vegetables, dried fruits and nuts. Talk to your health care professional about your iron levels during pregnancy.
Calcium helps keep your bones and teeth strong. Get used to eating lots of calcium-rich foods now. Milk and fortified soy beverages are excellent sources of calcium and they also contain vitamin D, which helps your body absorb calcium. If you have a milk allergy, talk to your health care provider about calcium supplements. Other calcium-containing foods to include in your diet are: yogurt, cheese, orange juice with calcium, tofu set with calcium sulphate, almonds, canned sardines or salmon with bones, legumes and leafy green vegetables.
Caffeine crosses into the baby’s blood when you are pregnant or breastfeeding. Take a look at your caffeine intake and keep it to less than 300 mg a day. Instead of caffeinated beverages, drink water, milk, soup and fruit and vegetable juices before and during your pregnancy.
To stay within the recommended limit, a pregnant woman could drink a little more than two 8-oz cups of coffee a day, as long as she did not take any other products that have caffeine in them. It is important to realize, however, that many coffee mugs are larger than 8 oz. Also, takeout coffees can be as large as 16 oz (474 ml) or 20 oz (592 ml). Just one 20-oz coffee would contain more caffeine than the daily limit suggested for pregnant women.
For more information, check out Health Canada’s terrific resource The Sensible Guide to a Healthy Pregnancy – you can view it online, download a copy or order a free copy by mail.
Information for this post was also sourced from the Dietitians of Canada’s pregnancy section of their website.
Kristin Harris is a registered dietitian with Kids Eat Smart Foundation Newfoundland and Labrador.