Are you pregnant, thinking about having a kid, or even just curious about staying healthy during pregnancy? Well, we took a look at the major nutrition-related concerns here and what you can do to have a healthy and complication-free pregnancy!
One could argue that folic acid is the most important nutrient to pay attention to before or during pregnancy, so let’s start with it! Folic acid deficiency in the mother is associated with neural tube defects (NTD) in babies. This is where the neural tube in the spine doesn’t properly close up while forming and growing in the uterus and can cause numerous problems. To prevent this, whether you’re trying to get pregnant, expecting, or even a woman of childbearing age, make sure your diet has lots of foods that are rich in folic acid. This includes fruits, vegetables, legumes, and many fortified cereals. You want to aim for at least 400 micrograms of folic acid a day whether or not you’re expecting since many pregnancies are unplanned (over half in the US!). If you’re already expecting, boosting your intake to 600 micrograms (which can be done by taking a prenatal supplement daily plus a healthy diet) starting as early in the pregnancy as possible is best to prevent NTD. 1
Turns out your iron needs increase during pregnancy and many pregnant women end up developing iron-deficient anemia. Iron helps make hemoglobin in your body. The hemoglobin is what your red blood cells use to carry oxygen. During pregnancy, the amount of blood pumping through your body increases, so there is an increased need for hemoglobin to carry oxygen. Try to incorporate iron-rich foods into your diet (you really are eating for two!), such as dark leafy greens like spinach as well as meat, lentils, nuts and whole grains. It’s also recommended to take an iron supplement (you might want to check as you may already be getting iron through your prenatal multivitamin). Drink some OJ while taking your supplement can increase how much iron your body absorbs. You can also talk to your doctor if you’re feeling overly tired or dizzy (common symptoms of anemia), or if you’re worried you might being anemic.2
Thiamin is an important nutrient for pregnancy, although it’s often overlooked. Deficiencies often occur from diets low in thiamin-containing foods or a diet high in cooked foods or thiamine enzymes (which breakdown the thiamin so you don’t get the benefit). Although how much your body needs increases during pregnancy, the women most at risk are usually those living in poor conditions around the world. However, eating a diet high in polished grains (aka not whole or enriched grains) can also be the cause, since thiamin is in the part of the grain that is “polished off.” Thiamin deficiency causes Beriberi, which can lead to symptoms like shortness of breath, swollen lower legs, vomiting (more than usual morning sickness) or paralysis (depending on the type and severity of beriberi). It also is a major cause of infant mortality in certain world populations. Prevent this by eating some raw veggies (although avoid sprouts) and enriched or whole grains, and if you start having any strange symptoms see your doctor immediately.3
Heartburn and Constipation
During pregnancy, your body is adapting and adjusting to work with the growing baby. As a result you may experience constipation or heartburn throughout the pregnancy. To help prevent and relieve constipation, make sure to eat lots of fiber-rich foods (you want to aim for 20-30 grams/day) including veggies, whole grains, and beans. Don’t forget to drink plenty of water and move more (I’m talking exercise here) to get things moving.
As for heartburn, this can feel like a burning sensation in your chest. Contrary to what it sounds like, it’s actually not your heart hurting, but acid coming up from your stomach and irritating your esophagus (sounds nice, right?) To prevent this, try to limit eating meals that are too big, too spicy, and too greasy. You might also need to steer clear of onions or coffee. And, don’t head for the couch right after eating but try to stay upright for a bit to give your body a chance to digest. These tips hopefully will make for a more comfortable pregnancy!4
You may never have had diabetes before you became pregnant, but it could be a reality. It’s actually pretty common to develop gestational diabetes, aka high blood sugar levels, and insulin resistance. Gestational diabetes can harm the baby if untreated because the excess sugar in the blood can cross the placenta and increase the baby’s blood sugar levels. You can prevent or delay developing gestational diabetes by choosing healthy foods, focusing on appropriate portion sizes and exercising. It also helps if you were at a healthy weight pre-pregnancy. If you have gestational diabetes (you’ll have to do a magical test with a glucose drink to find out, it’s not that bad truthfully) put extra emphasis on trying to lead a healthy lifestyle through diet and exercise. 5,6
Weight and Exercise
Weight gain is natural and healthy during pregnancy since there’s small little being growing inside you, NBD. However, your pre-pregnancy weight can determine how much weight is natural to gain versus how much is too much. Check out this site to get an idea of healthy pregnancy weight gain for you. Complications can occur if you don’t gain enough weight, but more often women struggle with gaining too much weight. Make sure you’re gaining weight in a healthy manner by eating a varied and healthy diet as well as getting regular exercise. Although certain sports may seem intimidating while pregnant, there are many things you can do to keep moving that are safe for you and the baby. Most exercises are okay if you don’t over exert yourself, but low impact exercises are especially encouraged like swimming, walking, or hopping on an indoor bike at the gym. Find what feels best for you to stay active!7
Here’s to having a healthy and happy pregnancy!