Nutrition During Pregnancy: What to Consider When You’re Expecting

Want To Give Your Child The Best Start in Life? It Starts with Good Nutrition During Pregnancy!

Good nutrition is essential during pregnancy to ensure the health of both mother and baby. As your child is more vulnerable to nutritional imbalance in the first trimester, a major focus should be directed to eating the right foods in the right quantities during this time. However, with your body changing, baby brain on the cards and ever-increasing to-do list, it’s hard to find time to sit yourself down and really think about what it is that you and baby need in your diet.

This is where we come in. An Accredited Practising Dietitian here at Fuel Your Life can provide invaluable support and guidance for mothers to help promote an ideal environment for your baby.

A dietitian can assist expectant mothers in various ways:

  1. Ensuring the need for increased nutrients are met
  2. Reducing symptoms such as nausea and vomiting
  3. Ensuring a healthy weight gain is maintained.

During pregnancy, good nutrition requires an increase in some key nutrients which need to be prioritised throughout the day in acceptable quantities. These include protein, iron, iodine, folate, omega-3 and energy (kilojoules).

So, Lets Break It Down…

PROTEIN plays a vital role in supporting the healthy growth and development of your baby, whilst aiding the accretion process of maternal tissues, such as the placenta and extra-embryonic membranes.

Your intake should increase slightly within the second and third trimester to match your baby’s growth over this time. To meet these requirements, regular consumption of foods such as meat, poultry, dairy, nuts, seeds and beans should be included daily. Protein requirements vary from 58g to 60g per day, on average (however, this can vary dependant on weight).

IRON assists in carrying oxygen around your body which supports your organs and tissues.

During pregnancy, iron requirements increase to accommodate for the baby’s additional nutritional needs. The recommended daily intake of iron during pregnancy is 27mg per day, which is 9mg more than non-pregnant women of child bearing age.

Iron is found in animal sources (meat, poultry and seafood) and in plant sources (dried beans, lentils and green leafy vegetable). However, the iron in plant sources are less readily absorbed by the body and requires the addition of vitamin C which can be obtained by adding lemon, lime, capsicum or tomatoes to the meal. Iron supplements during pregnancy may be considered to improve birth outcomes, however it would need to be discussed with your doctor or dietitian to prevent complications.

IODINE is a mineral that plays a vital role in your baby’s maturation, including their central nervous system and production of fetal thyroid hormones.

A healthy eating program for pregnant or breastfeeding women should include a 150 mcg iodine supplement, as well as consuming iodine rich foods daily. You can find it in iodised salt, seafood (particularly shellfish), milk, vegetables and most breads.

FOLATE (also known as folic acid) is a B-group vitamin found in many different foods.

Consuming adequate amounts supports the development of your baby’s brain and spinal cord. Insufficient intakes have been associated with defects to their development, particularly Spina Bifida. Folate requirements vary depending on the stage of your pregnancy, as stated below:

  • During pre-pregnancy (minimum of 1 month prior to conception) and the first trimester – aim for 400 mcg from food and 0.5 mg folate supplement daily.
  • During the second and third trimesters – aim for 600 mcg of folate per day from whole foods such as fortified cereals and bread, meat, grains and vegetables.

OMEGA 3 FATS are healthy fats that are necessary throughout your life.

However during pregnancy, your requirements increase, particularly of long chain omega 3 fatty acids (EPA/DHA) as they are used in the development of your baby’s brain, eyes and nervous system. You need 115mg per day which can be obtained through oily fish (e.g. anchovies, salmon, sardines and mackerel), fish oil, canola oil, nuts and seeds. An example of meeting your requirements is by consuming 4 serves of fish per week. Each serving of fish will deliver between 250-500mg omega 3. It is important to choose low mercury options to ensure that your baby’s nervous system develops properly.

ENERGY (kilo joules)

Most women gain between 11-16kg during their pregnancy, but it is normal to gain less weight if you have a higher BMI pre-pregnancy. It is advisable to ask your doctor or dietitian to determine your appropriate weight gain, as this varies per individual.

Remember that weight gain is completely normal and extremely important for providing your baby with adequate nutrition. Any behaviour seeking to achieve weight loss or restrict food intake over this time is strongly discouraged.

In the first trimester your energy requirements don’t increase at all – it is only by the second and third trimester that you should have an extra 1400kJ and 1900kJ per day respectively (equivalent to an additional main meal or several snacking occasions). This initial increase in energy requirements supports the gain in both fetal and maternal body mass.

During the last trimester, additional energy supports the increase in body fat composition. This boost in energy intake could be achieved through extra snacks or meals. For example, 30g mixed unsalted nuts and 50g dried fruit, sandwich with banana and peanut butter or 10 jatz crackers with 40g cheese and 30g hummus.

Foods to Avoid for a Safe Pregnancy

When pregnant you have an increased risk in contracting food borne illnesses. This is due to hormonal changes reducing the effectiveness of your immune system.

It is recommended to avoid high risk foods over the course of your pregnancy, which include:

  • Soft cheeses
  • Unpasteurised milk products
  • Deli meats
  • Raw or under cooked animal products (meat, fish)
  • Salads (unless freshly prepared from well-washed vegetables)

All the above listed options carry a higher risk of containing bad bacteria that can infect your body and your baby.

Take Home Messages?

  • Prior to conception, start taking a daily folate supplement to support early fetal development.
  • Once pregnant you should:
    • Increase your intake of protein, iron, iodine, folate, omega 3 and energy as recommended according to the trimester
    • Remember that the quality of the food over weighs the quantity
    • A healthy and varied diet will adequately supply all your other nutrients
    • For optimal health ensure a wide variety of foods from each of the core food groups

An Accredited Practising Dietitian (APD) can provide you with tailored dietary advice for nutrition during pregnancy. Give us a call or email now!

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