Ideally, before you become pregnant is the time to start focusing on eating well and taking good care of yourself. If you are already pregnant, congratulations, don’t be concerned, just start following the following recommendations as soon as you can.
You will need more of certain nutrients, such as iron, iodine and folic acid, but only a small amount of extra kilojoules.
Below are my top 9 tips for eating well during pregnancy.
1. Take your prenatal supplements.
Take a folate supplement that contains at least 400 micrograms of folic acid at least 1 month prior to becoming pregnant and during the first 12 weeks of pregnancy. Women of child-bearing age also need to eat enough folate containing foods.
Folate reduces the chance of having a baby with a neural tube defect by up to 70 percent.
Women who are pregnant, breastfeeding or considering pregnancy, should take an iodine supplement of 150 micrograms (μg) each day. Women with pre-existing thyroid conditions should seek advice from their doctor before taking a supplement.
Mild to moderate iodine deficiency can cause learning difficulties and affect physical development and hearing.
2. It is important to choose a wide variety of nutritious foods.
For inspiration on food variety, refer to the Australian Guide To Healthy Eating for pregnant women.
Listen to your body. Eat when you are mostly hungry. Stop when you are mostly full and choose foods your body actually feels like.
3. Drinking alcohol (smoking and taking drugs) whilst trying to get pregnant, during pregnancy or while breastfeeding is not recommended as there is no known safe levels.
When a pregnant woman drinks alcohol, (smokes and takes drugs) so does her baby. Alcohol increases the risk of miscarriage, stillbirth and premature labour and delivery, along with Fetal Alcohol Syndrome.
4. Avoid large volumes of caffeine.
Caffeine may make it more difficult to become pregnant and may increase the risk of miscarriage or having a baby with low birth weight.
5. Stay safe from listeria, salmonella and mercury.
Listeria is an uncommon food poisoning. Listeria is found in food that has not been handled or stored correctly. Can be dangerous for pregnant women. Listeriosis can cause miscarriage, premature birth, or stillbirth.
Recommendation to reduce the risk of listeriosis:
- Eat only freshly prepared food – avoiding food that is past its best before or use by date.
- Ensure good hygienic practises – wash and dry hands.
- Wash fresh fruit and vegetables.
- Cook food thoroughly.
- Refrigerate freeze leftovers straight away. Leftovers should be thrown away after one day.
- Reheat food until steaming hot.
- Avoid Salads and sliced meat prepared by someone else, soft cheeses, soft serve ice cream, raw seafood and pates.
- Avoid cold meats from delicatessen counters and sandwich bars, and packaged, sliced ready-to-eat meats
- Avoid cold cooked ready-to-eat chicken (whole, portions, or diced).
- Avoid pre-prepared or pre-packaged fruit or vegetable salads, including those from buffets and salad bars.
- Avoid chilled seafood such as raw oysters, sashimi and sushi, smoked ready-to-eat seafood and cooked ready-to-eat prawns.
- Avoid soft, semi-soft and surface-ripened cheeses such as brie, camembert, ricotta, blue and feta.
- Avoid refrigerated paté or meat spreads.
- Avoid soft-serve ice cream
- Avoid unpasteurised dairy products.
Pregnant women should avoid fish high in Mercury.
Pregnant women and women planning pregnancy should not eat shark (flake), broadbill, marlin and swordfish more than once a fortnight and no other fish during that fortnight. Orange roughy and catfish should be eaten no more than once a week with no other fish eaten during that week.
Babies exposed to mercury in the womb score lower in attention, learning and memory tests in their early years.
The Australian Dietary Guidelines encourage 1-2 serves of fish per week.
6. Move your body.
Exercising during pregnancy is highly recommended. There are so many benefits to moving your body which include strengthening muscles, increasing fitness, stress relief, maintaining bowel regularity and improving sleep quality.
7. Manage morning sickness.
Don’t be too concerned that you are not able to “eat well” during this stage. It is more important to eat what you can and keep down in the first few weeks. Your baby will take get the nutrients it needs from you and the food you manage to eat.
If you’re taking a pregnancy supplement, take it each day at a time when you feel less ill.
The following strategies may be helpful to settle your stomach:
- Eat small meals frequently throughout the day.
- Ensure you are drinking enough water outside of meal times to avoid becoming dehydrated.
- Bland savoury and sweet foods may be helpful.
- Minimise odours while cooking – use an exhaust fan, open the window.
- Avoid fatty or spicy foods.
Everyone is different, find what works for you.
8. Accept your body is going to change. Embrace it. Be in awe of the amazing transformation your body is going through to grow a tiny human.
After birth, try to focus on looking after yourself and your new baby, NOT trying to bounce back to your pre-pregnancy body and fit into your jeans again. Being a new mum takes a massive adjustment. You don’t need the extra pressure to look a certain way.
9. Do what feels good for you and your baby.
Pregnancy is a really vulnerable time in a woman’s life. It’s often hard to trust yourself in our society as it is, let alone when you are pregnant. Everyone seems to have an opinion on what you should do. Accept people mean well, however, you know the best what you need. Listen to your body and try not to over think things. Your body knows what to do and what it needs. Respond in the best way you can.
There may seem to be a lot of do not’s in the above list. The big do not is not to get neurotic about nutrition or being pregnant. Enjoy your pregnancy and motherhood. If you have concerns about your nutrition, body image, morning sickness, or health, consult a non-diet dietitian or suitably qualified health professional.