Healthy Eating and Pregnancy

Eating for two isn’t really the free-for-all, guilt-free eating we often see in the movies. The truth is, eating healthy is more critical than ever during pregnancy. Sure, you’ll be able to indulge some cravings along the way, but for the most part, eating for two really means that you are making healthy choices for two and your food should reflect that.

Taking the steps early on to provide the nutrition your baby needs can make a big difference in your pregnancy. You’ll feel better and have more energy to cope with your changing body. Plus, you’ll also feel good about what you are doing to ensure the health of your baby.

In addition to eating right, you should also take a prenatal vitamin that contains folic acid. While this can’t replace a well-balanced diet, it’s a good safety net for supplementing nutrients you may be missing in your diet. As your pregnancy develops, your baby also needs vitamins to grow, and prenatal vitamins help provide the extra nutrition your body will need.

Path to improved health

There is a lot to consider when planning the proper nutrition for you and your baby. There are foods that your body needs now more than ever. There are also foods that you should avoid now that you’re pregnant.

Foods to add

  • Vegetables (fresh, frozen, or from a can)
    • Look for iron-rich spinach
    • Dark green, leafy vegetables are rich in folate
  • Fruits (fresh, frozen, or from a can)
    • If choosing a canned fruit, look for those canned in water or in 100% fruit juice (no syrup)
  • Protein
    • Make sure all meats are cooked well
    • Choose lean cuts
    • Eat no more than 6 ounces of white tuna per week
    • Remember that beans, peas, seeds, and nuts are good sources of protein
  • Grains
    • Whole grains are best
    • Cereals are a good source for grains (look for cereals fortified with iron and folic acid)
  • Dairy
    • Look for fat-free versions of yogurt, milk or soymilk

Foods to avoid

  • Raw fish
  • Raw shellfish
  • Certain cooked fishes that contain large amounts of mercury
    • Swordfish, shark, tilefish, and king mackerel
  • Foods containing raw or undercooked eggs
    • Cookie dough, cake batter, Caesar salad dressings, some sauces, and custards
  • Foods that could expose you to listeria
    • Lunch meat, meat spreads, and hotdogs
  • Unpasteurized milk or juices
  • Unpasteurized soft cheeses (blue cheese, queso blanco, Brie, feta, Roquefort)
  • Raw sprouts (alfalfa, clover, mung bean, radish)
  • Store-made salads (chicken salad, ham salad, tuna salad)
  • Alcohol
  • Sugary drinks (soda, sports drinks)
  • Caffeine (no more than 300 mg per day)
  • Saccharin (other artificial sweeteners are okay in moderation)

Things to consider

Gestational diabetes

About 10% of pregnant women develop gestational diabetes during their pregnancy. Gestational diabetes is caused by insulin resistance.

During pregnancy, your cells are more resistant to insulin. Sugar that would normally enter cells stays in your bloodstream as a way to deliver more nutrients to your baby. If, however, your cells become too resistant to insulin, too much sugar stays in your blood, causing gestational diabetes.

Gestational diabetes can be dangerous because it can result in a higher birth weight for your baby. This can cause complications with your baby’s delivery. It also can trigger a pre-term birth or cause jaundice.

Your doctor will test for gestational diabetes between 24 and 28 weeks of pregnancy. Sometimes, doctors will test again later in the pregnancy if they believe the baby is growing at an increased rate.

If you have gestational diabetes, you will be referred to a registered dietitian as one way to help manage it. The dietician will provide a meal plan that can help reduce your blood sugar. It is important to continue to follow this meal plan, even if your doctor prescribes medicine to control your blood sugar. This typically includes:

  • Pairing carbohydrates with proteins
  • Sticking to a set amount of calories each day, determined by your dietitian
  • Limiting foods and drinks that have simple sugars (sodas, desserts)
  • Dividing calories more evenly throughout your day

Baby’s health

Your food choices do impact your baby. If you skimp on nutrition now, you run the risk of serious health complications for your baby. For example, you should make sure that you are getting enough folic acid, which is important for brain and spinal cord development. Too few calories could result in low birth weight and have a negative impact on baby development. Too many calories could result in high birth weight and a more complicated delivery for baby and for you.

Mom’s health

Having a baby takes a toll on your body in many ways. The toll is even greater without proper nutrition. If you skimp on foods that are rich in iron, you could become anemic. Too much junk food could increase your blood pressure and cause extra weight gain. Unhealthy food can even affect your mood.

When to see a doctor

Regular prenatal checkups should be part of your pregnancy routine. During these checkups, your doctor will monitor your weight as a way to ensure that you are gaining at an appropriate rate. How much weight you should gain during your pregnancy will depend on your weight when you became pregnant. Therefore, the number is different for everyone. In general, if your weight was within a healthy range when you became pregnant, you should gain 25 to 35 pounds.

Morning sickness

Don’t be fooled by the name. Morning sickness can strike at any time of day and even last throughout the day. For most women, morning sickness is limited to the first few weeks of pregnancy or sometimes the first trimester. For others, though, it can last throughout the pregnancy.

If you have morning sickness, the nausea you feel can make it difficult to keep food in your stomach — or even liquids, in many cases. This can put you in danger of dehydration. See your doctor if you find that morning sickness is preventing you from eating most meals, and if it is preventing you from holding onto liquids, see your doctor immediately. There are medicines that can help relieve morning sickness, and your doctor may direct you to some additional vitamins and minerals that you can take in the meantime (in addition to your regular prenatal vitamin).

Pica

Pregnancy and food cravings go hand-in-hand. Most likely, you’ll crave sweet or salty things. Sometimes you’ll crave foods you didn’t like before you became pregnant. If, however, you begin to crave non-food items, it can be a warning sign of a vitamin or mineral deficiency. Persistently eating things that aren’t food items, like dirt or paint chips, is associated with an eating disorder called Pica. It can be a sign of anemia. If you have these cravings, do not give in. See your doctor.

Listeria

If you become ill while you are pregnant and it is not associated with morning sickness, you should see your doctor. Pregnant women are especially susceptible to listeria, and so are their developing babies. Listeria is a type of bacterial infection that needs to be treated with antibiotics. Symptoms mimic those for the flu: nausea and vomiting, headaches, muscle aches, and fever. Untreated, listeria can cause meningitis and other serious, life-threatening conditions.

Questions for your doctor

  • Should I be alarmed if I’m not gaining enough weight?
  • Should I be alarmed if I’m gaining too much weight?
  • Am I taking the right prenatal vitamins?
  • How can I help manage my food cravings?
  • Are there any over-the-counter medicines I can take that help relieve morning sickness?
  • Are there certain foods that can help relieve morning sickness?
  • If I have gestational diabetes during pregnancy, will I have it after pregnancy?