Pregnancy is a good time to think about a healthy diet as this will help your baby develop and grow and will also keep you fit and healthy. You do not need to go on a special diet nor do you need to eat for two, but you do need to make sure that you get the right balance of nutrients.
Suggestions for a healthy diet:
· Plenty of fruit and vegetables. These can be fresh, frozen or tinned. They supply essential vitamins, minerals and fibre.
· Starchy foods, such as bread, potatoes, rice and pasta. These fill you up and provide vitamins and fibre.
· Lean meat, fish, eggs, cheese, beans and lentils. These supply protein.
· Dairy products. These contain calcium and vitamins.
· Cut down on sugar and sugary foods.
· Cut down on fat and fatty foods.
Vitamins and minerals that are particularly important during pregnancy:
· Iron. This is needed to make extra blood cells that both you and your baby need. Iron is found in red meat, pulses, dried fruit (especially dried apricots), wholegrain cereals and dark green vegetables. Eating iron in conjunction with vitamin C increases its absorption.
· Calcium. This is needed to make your baby’s bones and teeth. The best sources of calcium are milk, cheese, yoghurt and tinned fish.
· Folic acid. This is essential to reduce the risk of your baby having a neural tube defect. Good sources are dark green leafy vegetables, marmite and fortified cereals. However, the Department of Health recommends that, if you are planning a pregnancy, you should take 400 microgrammes of folic acid and continue taking it until you are 12 weeks pregnant. Folic acid supplements are available from chemists and health food stores.
· Vitamin D. This helps your body absorb calcium. Good sources are oily fish, margarine and sunlight.
· Vitamin C. This helps your body absorb iron. The best sources are citrus fruits, but all fruit and vegetables contain some. If you smoke, you will need extra vitamin C.
Foods best avoided in pregnancy:
· Undercooked eggs. These may contain salmonella.
· Pate, soft cheeses (such as brie) and blue veined cheese. These may contain listeria.
· Raw or unpastuerised milk. These contain a number of bacteria.
· Liver or liver products. These contain high levels of vitamin A which can cause fetal abnormalities.
· Undercooked meat. This can be a source of both salmonella and toxoplasmosis.
· Alcohol. There is controversy over how much is safe in pregnancy. The odd glass of wine or beer probably does no harm but many women find that they develop an aversion to it during pregnancy.
Problems you may encounter during pregnancy:
· Morning sickness. No one knows exactly what causes this and there are a number of suggested remedies. Eating ‘little and often’ seems to help as does nibbling plain biscuits or dry toast. Crystallised ginger may also help.
· Indigestion and heartburn. It is thought these are caused by the relaxing effect of pregnancy hormones on the muscle at the top of the stomach and the pressure of the growing uterus on your stomach. Try eating little and often and avoid fatty foods. If they are a problem at night, try eating your last meal at least two hours before you go to bed and prop yourself up with pillows. If it is really bad, your doctor may be able to prescribe medication.
· Constipation. This is caused by pressure and the influence of pregnancy hormones on the intestinal tract and is usually worst during the first trimester. Make sure that you drink plenty and eat more high fibre foods, such as wholemeal bread and fruit and vegetables. Iron tablets can make the problem worse. It is better to avoid laxatives if you can. However, if you are finding it a problem, discuss the matter with your doctor who will be able to advise you.
· Food cravings and aversions. Both are common in pregnancy and are almost certainly harmless.
· Taste alterations. Many women find that their sense of taste alters during pregnancy.