Whilst nutrition is something we should be aware of and conscious of all our lives, keeping an eye on your diet when you’re pregnant is extremely important. We need nutrients to function and so do our babies, who are still developing in this critical time pre-birth.
We need protein for our enzymes, antibodies, and clotting factors and even more during pregnancy - according to Ina May Gaskin you will need 60 - 90 grams of protein a day. This can be from milk, meat, eggs, nuts, dried peas and beans, tofu, etc. If you are vegetarian you should also take a B12 supplement as a deficiency in this can cause pernicious anemia. You should also eat lots of folate rich foods like dark leafy vegs (silverbeet, spinach etc).
Steaming vegs will help them retain their nutrients better than boiling. Sprouts are also a great source of vitamins and minerals.
Fats help your body absorb vitamins and will also keep your weight up.
This link from the University of California in San Francisco state that during pregnancy, 25 - 35% of your daily calorie intake should be fats, preferably mono-unsaturated fats.
It also provides some more specific breakdowns on supplements for other vitamins and minerals.
Drink plenty of water but avoid too caffeinated drinks like soda, or fruit juices with preservatives and additives. We eat more fruit in our diet now than we would have had access to naturally, with the modern benefits of agriculture, so it’s important to keep in mind that whilst fruit is good for you, it also contains sugar so don’t eat too much of it.
Iron is very important during pregnancy and this comes from foods like kale, dark leafy vegs, apricots, molasses, whole grains, parsley, prunes.
I have previously had a tablespoon of blackstrap molasses with my tea in the past to reduce cramps during period pain and it worked wonders. It has a high iron content and it’s an easy way to get a lot of iron.
Ina May Gaskin recommends alfa alfa tablets to raise the hemocrit levels as she has seen an increase in less than a week with taking these tablets, and also yellow dock tincture as another great source of iron for pregnant women (15 drops per day, three times daily).
Calcium and Magnesium
Calcium and Magnesium are also really important during pregnancy. You can get this from dairy products most easily, but also dark greens, broccoli, bok choy, sunflower seeds, okra, and peanuts. Also red raspberry leaves, kelp and dandelion. Your baby is busy calcifying its bones in the second half of pregnancy and if you don’t consume the extra calcium they need, they will take it from your bones.
Folic acid is especially important pre-conception to prevent neural tube defects, but you should keep up your folic acid levels during pregnancy, approx 600 mg a day.
Ina May recommends that you take pre-natal supplements especially if, like most people with modern diets, you don’t eat organic food, and breathe dirty air in a polluted city. She suggests that even if you try to eat lots of leafy vegs, and nutrients, it’s worth having some pre-natal supplements just to be sure.
As I mentioned earlier, iron is very important when you are pregnant but you may not be able to get as much as you need from your diet. The World Health Organisation recommends taking iron supplements as iron is hard to absorb in your diet so you may need more during pregnancy.
What to avoid
Soda and caffeinated drinks
Excessive fats and sugar
Preservatives, artificial flavouring, sweeteners, dyes
How much weight should you gain in pregnancy?
There is no recommended weight gain for women during pregnancy. It’s important to have a healthy BMI before you are pregnant so if you are underweight when you get pregnant, you may need to put on more weight and do this consistently rather than sporadically.
Ina May Gaskin states in Spiritual Midwifery that you 25 - 35 pounds is desirable for most women. This is about 11 - 16 kgs.
This link shows how much weight you should gain based on your BMI, http://perinatology.com/Reference/Weight%20Gain%20%20in%20Pregnancy.htm but there are also genetic factors such as ethnicity that can impact weight gain in pregnancy.
Evidence Based Research
This research paper on pregnant women’s nutrition intakes in Italy looked at their diet and nutritional needs, including the impact of women on exclusion diets where they do not consume whole food groups e.g. gluten, diary etc. It states that “Very hard scientific evidence supports the importance of lifestyle and dietary habits (with adequate micronutrient intakes) during pregnancy and breastfeeding, for the health status of women and their offspring.” It also found that for the Italian population, there were insufficient consumption of particular nutrients for pregnant and lactating women such as DHA, iron, iodine, calcium, folic acid and vitamin D.
This article suggests that women should not eliminate carbs from their diet mainly because carbohydrates like grains are now fortified with folic acid to improve folic acid intake. Basically it emphasises the importance of folic acid to prevent neural tube defects like spina bifida.
This study found that the labelling on certain pre-natal supplements was incorrect and the supplements had more of the vitamins or minerals than they declared. Not only does this impact scientists studies of the benefits of consuming these pregnancy supplements but also women’s awareness of what they are consuming and aligning this to the latest research.
This particular article looks at nutrition during pregnancy and how important it is for the short and long term effects on a childs development, it gives examples of cohort studies on children born during the Dutch Famine. “The effects of inadequate or excessive intake of certain nutrients can be observed in the short-term, but possibly also in the long-term. Both foetal undernutrition and overnutrition, including development in an obesogenic environment, can lead to permanent changes of fetal metabolic pathways and thereby increase the risk of childhood and adult diseases related to these pathways.”
In summary, it is so important to get the nutrients you need during pregnancy. Contrary to popular opinion, your fetus will not just take what it needs from you regardless of what you eat. As we have seen through foetal alcohol syndrome for example, what a mother consumes during pregnancy does affect the foetus. It makes sense that the food we consume and the composition of protein, fats, iron, calcium, folate etc which are so integral to pre-natal development will come from the sources of food its mother eats. Talk to your doctor about your own specific circumstances, but also be aware that doctors don’t really get trained in nutrition beyond the basic food pyramid, and make sure to have a balanced and varied diet to provide the best start in life for your child.
Spiritual Midwifery by Ina May Gaskin
Cover Image by PublicDomainPictures from Pixabay
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