Diet during pregnancy

Diet During Pregnancy

There is simply no other condition that inspires women to care for themselves as well as they want to during pregnancy.  Most of their lives they look after their children husband and other members of the family but it’s only during pregnancy that they begin looking after themselves. Here I want to emphasise that eating for a healthy pregnancy should start before conception.  What you eat before conceiving and during the first trimester of pregnancy helps determine how well your child’s immune system develops. Nearly all pregnant women can benefit from a nutritional program which has to be followed one year before pregnancy, during pregnancy, during labour, delivery and through breastfeeding.

Changes during pregnancy

During pregnancy, hormone secretions change rapidly causing physical and emotional changes. These hormones affect appetite, moods, energy levels, skin tone etc.  In order to support a rapidly growing foetus, there are changes in her metabolism and biochemistry, which provide the right environment.

How safe are stimulants

Alcohol, tobacco and caffeine are stimulants, so avoid them during pregnancy. Alcohol consumption can cause birth abnormalities and developmental problems. Some women allow themselves some alcohol in the form of wine, gin or vodka a couple of times a week.  While this may be a `safe’ amount, I will advise you to avoid alcohol completely during pregnancy. As for tobacco, most women are sufficiently motivated to stop smoking during pregnancy. Smoking increases the incidence of premature labour and results in low birth weight.

Then there is the perennial question about coffee! Although consuming 2-3 cups of coffee per day might not increase the risk of abortion, it is best to avoid coffee during pregnancy. Canadian researchers found that having as little as a 1/2 cup of coffee daily raises the miscarriage rate by 29%.  Each additional cup consumed raises the risk by another 22%. So for your own peace of mind consume as little caffeine as possible while you are pregnant.  For your information, caffeine is contained not only in chocolates. Colas, cocoa, tea but also in several cold remedies.

Diet during pregnancy

You need to consume approximately 2300 to 2500 calories during pregnancy to ensure a well-balanced diet. Diet during pregnancy must include a wide variety of foods such as whole grain, cereals, vegetables, fruits, nuts, seeds, fish and dairy products; 60% of your diet should be grain based; 25% protein and 15% fats and essential oils. While you are focusing on the food, don’t forget the fluids. Drink at least 8-10 glasses of water to meet your fluid requirements. Include at least 2-3 servings of fruits and 4-5 servings of vegetables daily.

Diet during pregnancy for some women will require special instructions, especially women with a history of anorexia, obesity, diabetes, gastrointestinal problems etc. During lactation, a woman needs more nutrients, so her diet needs to change accordingly.  It is important to replenish the fluids lost during breastfeeding.  Consuming milk, juices and water helps to satisfy the thirst during breastfeeding.

The need for nutritional supplements also changes during pregnancy.  Folic acid is the only vitamin whose requirement doubles. It’s deficiency can result in low birth weight infants and neural tube defects. Folic acid also helps to reduce the risk of congenital birth defects.

Some women who are hereditarily predisposed to such defects need to increase intake of folic acid to about 800 mcg per day.  Green leafy vegetables, nuts like almonds, walnuts, whole grains and whole pulses contain folic acid. A woman needs B-vitamins namely B1, B2, B3, B6, B12 to ensure higher infant birth weight and size. Supplementing it with calcium helps to reduce cramps during pregnancy.

Low intake of calcium is associated with high blood pressure and water retention. You can consume dietary calcium by increasing intake of leafy vegetables, rajma, Kabuli channa, sesame seeds, cheese, milk soya milk, carrot juice, tofu, pumpkin seeds and almonds.

Exercise during pregnancy

It is important to note that regular exercise is preferable to sporadic bouts of physical activity. Don’t do exhaustive exercises. Avoid bouncing and jerky movements, especially in the third trimester. Try doing low-impact exercises such as walking, swimming and stretching. Ensure adequate fluid intake after exercise to prevent dehydration.

Summing it up

Each pregnancy is unique. You can easily support your pregnancy by adequate rest, nutritional supplements, low impact exercises, avoiding harmful substances and a positive attitude. Although external factors such as food and exercise contribute, it is your own positive relationship with your body and the child that really matters.  If there is inadequate nutrient intake, it is the woman who suffers the subsequent deficiencies.

My advice to you is that for diet during pregnancy don’t eat for two but the two of you must eat better than one. God bless!

(As published in Hindustan Times dated June 17, 2019)

December 18, 2019

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