Pregnancy can be a joyful, frustrating, exhausting, and overwhelming experience. In addition to buying maternity clothes and worrying about nursery decor, you want to have the healthiest pregnancy possible. Eating well is one of the best things you can do during pregnancy, as you are growing a little human inside of you. That little human requires proper nourishment for healthy growth, and some specific nutrients are extra important.
A big topic surrounding pregnancy is prenatal vitamins and supplementation. The vitamin and mineral requirements for each woman is different, but some general recommendations are in place. If you’re expecting, most dietitians encourage a higher consumption of foods rich in folate and iron. Folate works to prevent neural tube defects, while iron supports the development of fetus and placenta.
What And How Much Should You Eat?
The best recommendation is to eat a wide variety of foods to give your baby an array of nutrients that contribute to healthy growth. Eating for a healthy baby is not dissimilar to eating for a healthy body. The only thing that is different is that a pregnancy diet is essentially amplified. Current guidance suggests that you should eat as you normally would during the first trimester. Increase your caloric intake by 350 calories per day during the second trimester and then by 450 calories per day during the third trimester.
Do your best to avoid junk foods, processed foods, and other foods that have zero nutritional value. Both you and the baby benefit from whole foods that are nutrient dense, including fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins, legumes, and other similar foods. In addition to this, focus on the following five nutrients to contribute to a healthy pregnancy.
During pregnancy, a mother’s body uses calcium from her own bones to support healthy fetal development. Most doctors recommend a calcium supplement to prevent bone loss in the mother. According to research, the recommendation is that pregnant women need 1,000 milligrams (mg) of calcium per day, ideally split into two 500 mg doses. There are, however, calcium-rich foods that you can focus on, some of which include leafy green vegetables, almonds, butternut squash, oranges, okra, beans, peas, lentils, and certain grains.
Folate plays a large role in reducing the risk of neural tube defects, which are major birth defects that affect the baby’s spinal cord and brain. Two of the most common defects include anencephaly and spina bifida. Folate also supports the developing fetus in the earlier stages of pregnancy. The American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology recommends that pregnant women consume 600-800 micrograms (mcg) of folate per day. Great folate-rich foods include nuts, beans, lentils, eggs, dark leafy greens, and natural peanut butter.
During the first trimester of pregnancy, the baby’s thyroid becomes active. The mother is the only source of thyroid hormone for the baby. Healthy brain function and development are dependent on thyroid hormones, so it benefits the baby for the mother to increase iodine intake. Proper iodine intake can help your baby avoid irregularities in brain development and delivery complications. There are many iodine supplements that are safe for pregnant women to consume, so discuss which one is best with your doctor.
Many women lack the proper amount of iron needed for the second and third trimesters. If the body needs more iron than it has available, it’s easy to become anemic. It’s very common for many women to experience mild anemia during pregnancy, due to an increase in blood volume. Lacking sufficient iron can create complications during delivery or reduce oxygen flow to organs and the baby. That’s why many doctors encourage pregnant women to consume either iron supplements or iron-rich foods. Great sources of iron leafy greens, beets, beans, peas, lentils, raspberries, dried fruit, broccoli, and potatoes.
It’s not uncommon to have low vitamin D levels, as most people spend more time indoors than outdoors these days. For pregnant women, vitamin D is an essential nutrient because it impacts brain function, blood pressure, immunity, and mood. If a pregnant women is deficient in vitamin D, the risk of abnormal bone growth and fractures in newborns is much higher. It’s also possible to experience delivery complications if vitamin D levels are low. Most health experts encourage pregnant women to take a vitamin D3 supplement for healthy fetal development.