A baby developing inside the womb receives all its nutrition from its mother. Therefore, it is important that expectant mothers have the best diet possible during pregnancy, to help their babies grow and thrive. Our NHD guest blogger, Heather Frost AfN, takes us through the most important aspects of nutrition for conception and pregnancy.
A woman’s body changes and adapts during pregnancy to ensure their unborn child gets the quantity of food it needs, meaning energy intakes do not need to rise. Any excess energy only leads to weight gain which can harm both the mother and baby’s health.1 To keep hunger at bay and for healthy foetal growth and development, mothers should consume two to three servings of protein per day from various sources such as eggs, beans, fish, meat, tofu, nuts and quorn.2
THE IMPORTANCE OF FIBRE
Pregnancy slows down the digestive system due to increased levels of progesterone, which increases the risk of constipation.3 Fibre-rich foods, such as bran, wholemeal bread, brown pasta, vegetables, beans and pulses, increase the frequency of defecation and lead to softer stools, keeping things moving along steadily.
8 ESSENTIAL VITAMINS AND MINERALS
1 Folic acid
One of the most important dietary components required during pregnancy is folic acid (folate) and is found in green leafy vegetables such as kale, spinach and broccoli, beans and pulses, yeast extracts and brown rice. Expectant mothers should consume 400ug of folic acid daily for at least three months before conception and throughout the first trimester of pregnancy to prevent neural tube defects, such as spina bifida.4
2 Vitamin B12
Vitamin B12 helps the body use folic acid; therefore, expectant mothers should also consume a minimum of 1.5ug per day from various sources such as milk, egg, cheese, fish, beef and fortified cereal.5
Choline is important for brain development (memory and learning) and for neural tube formation.6 Expectant mothers should consume 480mg per day of choline from sources such as vegetables, fruits, wholegrains, dairy products, fish, beef, poultry and eggs.
Expectant mothers should consume 14.8mg of iron daily to avoid preterm delivery, foetal growth restriction and preeclampsia.7 Iron is found in a variety of foods such as lean red meats, fortified breakfast cereals, pulses (baked beans, chickpeas and lentils), eggs, dried fruits, dark green leafy vegetables, nuts and seeds.
Iodine is important for the production of thyroid hormones, which are essential for foetal brain development. Mild to moderate iodine deficiency is associated with reduced cognitive scores; therefore, pregnant women are required to consume 250ug per day.8
Omega-3 fatty acids (DHA and EPA) are essential for normal foetal central nervous system, birth weight and growth.9 Expectant mothers must consume 450mg daily from sources such as oily fish (shrimp, salmon, pollock, catfish, scallops and sardines), vegetable oils and/or supplements.
1000mg calcium per day is required during pregnancy to meet both maternal and foetal bone requirements. Consume calcium-rich foods three times a day such as milk, yoghurt, cheese, fish, tofu, pulses and almonds.10
8 Vitamin D
Vitamin D deficiency can lead to preeclampsia, gestational diabetes, urine infections, caesarean deliveries and poor infant long-term bone health.11 Vitamin D is produced by the body from exposure to sunlight; however, it is important to consume 10ug vitamin D daily from foods such as fish-liver oils, fatty fish, fortified breakfast cereals, lean red meats, mushrooms and egg yolks.
In summary, expectant mothers should eat a variety of foods every day to get the right balance of nutrients in order to meet their own needs and those of their developing baby.
Heather Elizabeth Frost
Registered Nutritionist (AfN) and
Performance Nutritionist (SENr)
Heather has eight years of experience working
as a performance nutritionist for various sports, which include
Swim England water polo, rugby, Pittsburgh Pirates major
eague baseball, cycling and football.
- InformedHealth.org [Internet]. Cologne, Germany: Institute for Quality and Efficiency in Health Care (IQWiG). 2006. Pregnancy and birth: Weight gain in pregnancy. 2009 Jun 17 [Updated 2018 Mar 22]. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK279575/
- Kramer MS, Kakuma R (2003). Energy and protein intake in pregnancy. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews, Issue 4
- Jewell D and Young G (2001). Interventions for treating constipation in pregnancy. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews, Issue 2
- Molloy AM, Kirke PN, Brody LC, Scott JM and Mills JL (2008). Effects of Folate and Vitamin B12 Deficiencies During Pregnancy on Foetal, Infant, and Child Development. Food and Nutrition Bulletin, 29(2_suppl1), S101-S111
- Czeizel AE, Dudas J (1992). Prevention of the first occurrence of neural tube defects by periconceptional vitamin supplementation. N Engl J Med;327:1832-5
- Boeke CE, Gillman MW, Hughes MD, Rifas-Shiman SL, Villamor E, Oken E (2013). Choline Intake during Pregnancy and Child Cognition at Age 7 Years. American Journal of Epidemiology, Volume 177, Issue 12, Pages 1338-1347
- O’Scholl T (2005). Iron status during pregnancy: setting the stage for mother and infant. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, Volume 81, Issue 5, Pages 1218S–1222S
- Glinoer D (2007). The importance of iodine nutrition during pregnancy. Public Health Nutrition, 10(12A), 1542-1546
- Greenberg JA, Bell SJ, Ausdal WV (2008). Omega-3 Fatty Acid supplementation during pregnancy. Rev Obstet Gynecol. 1(4):162-169
- Hofmeyr GJ, Lawrie TA, Atallah ÁN, Torloni MR (2018). Calcium supplementation during pregnancy for preventing hypertensive disorders and related problems. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews, Issue 10
- De‐Regil LM, Palacios C, Lombardo LK and Peña‐Rosas JP (2016). Vitamin D supplementation for women during pregnancy. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews, Issue 1