Eating for two

What to eat during pregnancy.


Pregnancy is one of the most nutritionally demanding times in a woman’s life. During pregnancy a woman’s body changes dramatically and she needs to support the growth and development of her baby. It is important that during pregnancy, you get all nutrients you need to support the growth of your baby and the maintenance of your own body. By continuing to eat a balanced diet, with foods from all of the main food groups, you will be helping to ensure the optimal growth and development of your baby. During pregnancy your needs for certain nutrients are increased to ensure that you meet the nutrients required for the development of your baby and to meet your own requirements. If you do not get enough of a nutrient to support the development of your baby, you will begin to draw upon your body’s stores.

However, while you may be ‘eating for two’, this does not mean you get to literally eat enough for two people; so hold the chips and chocolate! In reality a pregnant woman will require an additional 1400kJ during her second trimester. In the 3rd trimester, energy requirements increase by a further 500kJ. A woman of a healthy weight pre-pregnancy is expected to put on about 11.5kg – 16kg during the pregnancy, to support the optimal growth of her baby.

What you need more of:

  • Folate: Low folate levels are linked to birth defects, such as spina bifida. Folate is a B-group vitamin that plays an important role in cell division – so it is a vital nutrient during pregnancy to help your baby to develop properly. Folate is of key importance during the 1st trimester of pregnancy, when some women may not realise they are pregnant.Therefore, if you are planning to become pregnant it is recommended that you should take 600μg of folate every day. Good sources of folate include green vegetables, citrus fruits, legumes and folate fortified products.
  • Iron: Your requirements for iron increase greatly during pregnancy. This is because your blood volume increases and it is needed to support the growth of your baby. Iron is important for building red blood cells and for carrying oxygen around your body and your baby’s. It is also important for the development of your baby’s brain. Iron deficiency anaemia can occur during pregnancy so it is important that you have a good iron intake to help prevent this from occurring. Iron from meat (haem iron) is absorbed better than iron from plant sources (non-haem iron). However, eating foods rich in vitamin C, can improve absorption of non-haem iron. Good sources of iron include lean red meat, chicken seafood, fish, green leafy vegetables, legumes and dried fruit.
  • Iodine: Iodine is another nutrient, which is needed for your babies brain development. Unfortunately since our NZ soils are low in iodine, our fruit and vegetables aren’t particularly good sources of this nutrient. Good sources of iodine include iodised salt, fish, seafood, dairy products and eggs.
  • Fibre: Fibre, a form of carbohydrate, provides bulk, which helps to keep the digestive tract functioning effectively and relieves constipation. Constipation can be a problem during pregnancy, because the digestive system slows down. Good sources of fibre include wholegrain breads and cereals, fruit and vegetables.

Other important nutrients:

  • Calcium: Calcium is essential for the development of healthy bones and teeth of your baby. Your baby gets the calcium it needs from your diet or from your body, where it is stored in your bones and teeth. While your calcium requirements do not change from before you were pregnant, it is now crucial to ensure that you are getting enough. Pregnant women should take in 1000mg of calcium every day. This equates to about 3 serves of dairy (i.e. 1 pottle or yoghurt, 1 200ml glass of milk or 2 slices (40g) cheese). 
  • Vitamin D: Vitamin D aids the absorption of calcium. It occurs in two forms. One is made in the body by the action of sunlight on skin and the other is found naturally in a limited range of foods.
  • DHA: Docosahexanoic acid (DHA) is an omega-3 fatty acid. It is needed to support the overall mental and visual development of baby. Good sources of DHA include oily fish such as salmon, tuna, herring or sardines. However, do not eat raw varieties of these fish and limit consumption of fresh fish to no more than 3 times per week.

What to avoid:

During pregnancy it is important to avoid eating certain foods to reduce your risk of listeria. Listeria is a food borne bacteria, which can cause miscarriage or stillbirth. Foods to avoid include:

  • Ham or chilled meats,
  • Raw, smoked fish or seafood
  • Stored salads or coleslaws
  • Sushi that contains raw fish or is not made fresh
  • Unpasteurized milk products
  • Surface ripened cheese
  • Marinated mussels
  • Raw eggs

It is also important to limit/avoid the consumption of:

  • Alcohol: It is not recommended you drink alcohol while you are pregnant; when you drink, the baby does too. The full effects on your baby are unknown but alcohol could affect brain development.
  • School shark, swordfish, marlin and trout in geothermal regions: These types of fish are best avoided during pregnancy due to their high mercury content. High mercury intakes are unsafe for your baby.
  • Liver: While liver is an excellent source of iron; it is recommended that it not be eaten any more than once per week, to avoid vitamin A toxicity.

Tips to help combat morning sickness:

  • Avoid strong-flavoured foods
  • Keep a package of dry crackers at your bedside and have some before you get out of bed
  • Space your meals throughout the day and drink plenty of water between meals
  • Limit high-fat foods
  • Have a small snack before bed that’s high in protein, such as peanut butter and crackers
  • Have a ginger herbal tea. Ginger helps alleviate nausea.