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Nutrition During Pregnancy

During your pregnancy, it’s important to eat a well balanced diet that’s high in nutrients, in order to ensure that your body and your baby are in good health throughout the term. It’s up to you as a mother to provide your baby with the correct foods. It’s important not to give your baby too much or too little of any one thing, and to maintain the proper protein, iron, fiber, calcium, and carbohydrate levels within your own body.

Understanding the difference between servings and helpings is very important: a helping equals two servings. For example, two standard servings would be a sandwich with two slices of bread or one cup of pasta. A helping is more or less a meal, whereas a serving can be considered a snack.

The Five Food Groups

We’ve been learning about the five food groups since we were kids ourselves. When you hear the term “five food groups,” the famous pyramid comes to mind. Breads, Fruits, Vegetables, Meats, and Dairy are all necessary in order to provide essential nutrients to both mother and baby during and after pregnancy. As a mother, your food intake is still important even after you give birth, especially if you’re going to breastfeed. So let’s break down each food group and explain what each provides.

Breads, Cereals, and Grains: During your pregnancy your body needs twice as much iron. Not only are grains high in protein and Vitamin B, they are extremely high in iron. Breads and cereals are high in carbohydrates. Carbs equals energy, and protein helps your baby to build body tissue just as it helps you build muscle.

Vegetables:

Vegetables provide Vitamins A and C, in addition to fiber and a variety of minerals. Broccoli, cabbage, potatoes, spinach, green beans, and tomatoes are all high in Vitamin C, which helps to boost immune system function and can even act as an antihistamine. Plus, Vitamin C helps our bodies to absorb iron in foods, which is also very important since we need twice as much during the pregnancy. Our bodies don’t store Vitamin C, however, so it’s important to consume it daily.

Vitamin A is great for the cell growth and health, and it helps to improve vision and maintain eye health. Like Vitamin C, Vitamin A has antioxidant properties and is of tremendous benefit to the immune system. Unlike Vitamin C, Vitamin A can be stored, and need not be consumed every single day in order to maintain health. Dark green and yellow veggies like broccoli, carrots, squash, and sweet potatoes are great sources of Vitamin A.

Fruits:

An expectant mom should be taking in three or more servings of fruits a day. Fruits rich in Vitamin C include oranges, melons, berries, and grapefruits. Other fruits, such as cantaloupe and apricots, are great sources of Vitamin A.

Meats: The meats food group includes beef, poultry, fish, eggs, dry beans, and nuts. You obtain a large amount of protein from any of these foods. Protein promotes the growth of new cells and the replacement of old ones. Newborns have an exceptional ability to digest protein, and this is connected to a phenomenon known as passive immunity — a newborn’s ability to acquire immunities to diseases via the mother’s breast milk, without having to be directly exposed to those diseases themselves.

Dairy: The dairy food group includes milk, yogurt, and cheese. From dairy products, you and your baby obtain calcium, protein, and other nutrients. Calcium is good for your bones and your teeth. If Mom doesn’t consume enough calcium, then the baby will begin to take it from her bones, which can lead to osteoporosis later in Mom’s life. If Mom is lactose-intolerant, she can try non-dairy sources of calcium such as canned salmon and sardines; dark leafy greens like kale; mustard; turnips; or tofu (soy).

Foods to Avoid During Pregnancy

Pregnant women should avoid processed meat products — such as hot dogs, bologna, salami, pepperoni, etc. — and unpasteurized dairy products such as blue cheese, feta cheese, and Brie. Some foods that are perfectly safe to eat under ordinary circumstances are dangerous if you are pregnant. Pregnant women should eat the following foods with caution:

Some types of Seafood

Not all seafood is necessarily to be avoided if you are pregnant; seafood is a terrific protein source, and many varieties of fish are high in omega-3 fatty acids, which are beneficial to the development of your baby’s brain and nervous system. However, some types of seafood contain dangerous levels of mercury, which can damage that same developing nervous system (it isn’t very good for you, either).

Generally speaking, bigger, older fish are more likely to contain unacceptable levels of mercury. According to the Food and Drug Administration (the FDA) and the Environmental Protection Agency (the EPA), it is wise for pregnant women to avoid:

  • Swordfish
  • Tilefish
  • King Mackerel
  • Shark

Fortunately, not all seafood is dangerous to eat while pregnant. In fact, it is actually recommended that pregnant women eat 8 to 12 ounces of seafood each week. While some health organizations have raised concerns about the mercury levels in canned tuna, the FDA says it is perfectly safe for a pregnant woman to eat up to 12 ounces a week. Seafoods that are considered fairly safe include:

  • Canned light tuna (steak should be limited to 6 ounces per week)
  • Salmon
  • Shrimp
  • Carp
  • Catfish
  • Cod

Raw, Uncooked, or Undercooked Meat or Seafood

While you may love sushi, you’ll need to give it up for the duration of your pregnancy. While you are pregnant, your immune system is suppressed in order to prevent your own body from attacking your baby. Because of this, you are more susceptible to attacks from parasites or bacteria that may live in uncooked meat or fish, and your reaction to such things is apt to be more severe than if you weren’t pregnant. You should likewise avoid oysters, clams, and the like.

Eggs should be cooked until the yolks are firm (you can have your poached eggs after the baby is born), and processed meats such as hot dogs, bologna, and sausages must be cooked until they are steaming hot.

You may be accustomed to eating some of the foods listed here, and most of them are perfectly safe for a healthy adult under normal circumstances. But a pregnant woman’s compromised immune system makes her—and her baby—more susceptible to food poisoning, so be careful.

Medical References:

    The Mayo Clinic http://www.mayoclinic.org/pregnancy-nutrition/art-20043844 The National Institute of Health http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/8951736Wikipedia http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Protein_%28nutrient%29The New York Times http://www.nytimes.com/2007/07/15/opinion/15shaw.html?_r=0
[Page updated June 2017]