Pregnancy is one of the most wonderful times in a woman’s life – it is transformational, challenging and an adventurous time that warrants total care and dedication both emotionally and physically!
During pregnancy women want to avoid anxiety and stress, so offering sound and obtainable advice is key to assist women in making the right choices and knowing that they are eating well and therefore doing the best for their new baby.
Many women tend to compare and panic about bump sizes and weight gain during pregnancy with so many charts and statistics to meet, what is vital here is to keep reiterating that every woman is totally different from the next with a different partner, past and health history and heritage. What works for the goose may not work for the gander and it’s essential that each woman sees herself as a unique and perfect woman on her own.
Some trial and error may be necessary as sometimes tastes and emotions vary and can change dramatically during each trimester!
Health and nutrition are major areas of concern during pre-conception, pregnancy, birth and breast-feeding. Nutrition isn’t just about eating well; it is about guaranteeing the best possible start for your child’s life in the form of health, development and wellbeing for their life and future.
Most pregnant mothers become obsessed with what to eat and of course what not to eat. They become concerned with not wanting to put on too much weight and of course for first time pregnant mums those feelings can leave them totally out of control with what they are supposed to do.
Fear is a major factor also, but eating well and exercising can encourage greater self confidence, body confidence, total well being and therefore security both in themselves and their relationships, enabling women to cope much more positively – especially single mums.
Eating well during pregnancy allows for less unnecessary weight gain and therefore a healthier and happier pregnancy. Giving your body exactly what it needs follows through in many areas of your life and your babies. Positivity is enhanced through you feeling better about yourself and your ability to give your baby the very best start.
Nature is a clever bunny and will always work in your favour! Sometimes cravings can be a way of making sure you get what you need, but generally supplementing and preparing well can avoid that from happening!
Being a mother starts at pregnancy if not before, so gather gifts for your baby as early as you can by taking care of yourself with regular exercise and optimising what you eat.
Pregnancy food tips
- Eat more nutrients rather than more quantity!
- Value what you eat by making it as natural, organic, nutritious and energising as you can. Organic is the best choice, but if that’s not possible buy fresh and local produce!
- Include raw foods in your meals. Eating some raw food can be the answer to optimising vitamins and mineral and total goodness from your food, thus enhancing your energy, vitality and fitness and of course your baby’s growth and development.
- Some vitamins and goodness are destroyed through heating and cooking so eating some raw foods daily can really optimise on goodness all round! Easy ones are salads (especially in the summer), all green leafy salad leaves, apples, bananas, nuts and seeds (best soaked to optimise digestibility), tomatoes, carrots, cucumber (really great for your skin), peppers, celery, oranges, grapes, pears, kiwi, beetroot, olives.
- Constipation can be a problem throughout pregnancy so soak up nuts and seeds if you can and especially dried fruits! Apricots, prunes and figs can be helpful fibre to help movement but if they are too dry could make the problem worse! Soak them overnight and then eat them – notice the difference.
- Keep mobile – walking is the best exercise during pregnancy as is prenatal yoga and swimming. You are pregnant so it is not advisable to lose weight or train in the gym but keeping toned and energised through walking 30 minutes each day in natural daylight can keep movement and vitality levels up!
- Avoid empty calories that are stressful, like cakes, chocolates, alcohol, fizzy drinks and pastries – this is the simple way to avoid piling on unnecessary and unwanted hard to remove pounds during pregnancy. Of course treat yourself if you fancy it and don’t be miserable by not having what you like, but just know that the best way to avoid excessive weight gain and unnecessary stress to you and your baby is to eat more goodness rather than stress and sugary fat laden foods! One good way is to eat food that looks like food – e.g. fruits, vegetables, nuts and seeds, grains, organic meats and fish. Eat balanced meals rather than fast takeaway foods and confectionary. Avoid too much salt intake as this interferes with hydration i.e. crisps! These of course contain excessive salts and often flavours and sugars that are again stressful and non helpful to you and your baby! You can buy unsalted naked crisps now – go for them!
- Avoid caffeine rich foods also – these are over stimulating and dehydrating!
- WATER – hydration is one of the most important factors during pregnancy. Water keeps constipation at bay and allows the body to transport and detoxify (as does walking and fresh air). Build up and aim for eight glasses per day (4 pints/2 litres). Always filter tap water or drink bottled water. Hydration will help to avoid stretch marks
Essential fatty acids
We need to eat the right types of FAT to obtain the essential fatty acids needed for our baby’s brain development and growth!
Excellent sources include flax seeds (linseeds) and oils, hemp seeds and oils, pumpkin seed and oil, oily fish and dark green leafy vegetables. These oils are hydrating and if you want to avoid stretch marks and glow, eat foods rich in these oils or take a good supplement.
Folic Acid is the B vitamin needed for cell division, red blood cell formation and the development of the baby’s nervous system! This is why folic acid is recommended to be taken pre pregnancy so you can have stores in place! Often folate levels are hard to achieve from food alone so taking a supplement is highly recommended!
Top Folate foods include broccoli, bananas, green leafy vegetables, nuts, Brussels sprouts, asparagus, peas, chickpeas (humus) and brown rice. Other useful sources include fortified breakfast cereals.
Iron needs are increased in pregnancy as due to the increased blood volume and the development of the placenta!
Top iron foods include molasses, lima beans, beans and pulses, tofu, organic liver and other meats, green leafy vegetables including kale, spinach, broccoli & watercress, dried apricots, prunes, raisins and dates, pumpkin seeds and wholegrain.
The B vitamins as well as essential omega oils, calcium and zinc are vital during pregnancy and need to be found in your diet in abundance! Eating a well balanced, varied, fresh fruit and vegetable diet can move you much closer to being able to obtain all you need! B Vitamins include organic chicken, turkey, cod, bread, whole cereals (such as oatmeal, wheat germ and rice), eggs, vegetables, soya beans, peanuts, milk, potatoes and some fortified breakfast cereals.
Calcium is needed for healthy bones and teeth and to support muscle growth. Phosphorus helps to form healthy bones and teeth too and is vital for energy production and metabolism. Calcium foods include tofu, tahini (humus), watercress, Swede, almonds, milk, cheese, soya products, Brazil nuts, figs, green leafy vegetables, parsley!
Magnesium needs are high to cater for development and to work with the calcium to build bones, cells and nerves! It’s the ‘altogether formula’ that makes it all work best which is why supplements are a great way to ensure that you get all you need in the right amounts. Magnesium becomes a leader here with being needed for the functioning of the liver, heart and to allow proteins and carbohydrates to be metabolised. Good magnesium sources include cashew nuts, soya beans, almonds, banana, prunes, leafy greens (again), wholegrain, nuts and dairy foods. Phosphorus is found in red meat (organic best), dairy foods, fish, poultry, bread, rice and oats.
Vitamin C is needed to absorb iron: green leafy veg, parsley, broccoli, green pepper, frozen peas, strawberries, oranges, lemon juice, papaya, cauliflower, kale, mustard greens, and Brussels sprouts.
Zinc is an essential trace element and is very important during pregnancy and the post natal period. Unfortunately a lot of zinc is lost during the refining of foods so a supplement more than likely going to be needed. Zinc is needed for the breakdown of carbohydrates. It is also involved in every area of reproduction and has been known as the most important trace element for any pregnant woman. Zinc is required for fertility in both the male and female. It is also necessary for the proper formation of elastin chains in connective tissue so vital for the growth of both belly and boobs! It helps the uterus to contract efficiently and the perineum to stretch. Adequate zinc levels are required for foetal growth and zinc can help prevent premature births, toxemia and post natal depression. It’s worth noting here that positive maternal instinct can depend to some extent on good nutrition. If your body is out of sorts then so will your mind and instinct be.
Important breast-feeding info too
If you are deficient when breastfeeding then so will your baby be! Babies with low zinc levels are more likely to be restless and cry which won’t help your mood if you are struggling! That in itself makes a zinc supplement worthwhile.
During the First Trimester
This stage is crucial to your baby’s development and really the most important nutritionally. Many women find out around 6-10 weeks and then punish themselves for getting drunk or for not eating well during those weeks. Remember that a happy mum equals a happy baby. Avoid stress at all costs. Always make do the best you can from when you find out – you cannot undo what is already done!
Morning sickness and nausea are common during the first trimester. If you feel sick during this stage make sure you are taking enough vitamin B6, this can really help to relieve the sickness. Drinking enough water, taking regular exercise and eating small frequent meals will help too!
Some people find eating a dry biscuit first thing can help to settle their nausea; some people find fresh ginger tea can settle them! Some people find a brisk walk can help and others can’t move! It is important to do what feels right for you! Morning sickness will pass! If nausea is very bad and you can’t keep any foods down, seek the help of your doctor. Remember that everyone is different – listen to what you need to establish your own personal plan!
If ever there was a time to eat your greens this is it.
Hopefully by this time nausea has settled and you are more emotionally stable. Weight gain is normal at around 1lb per week. Progesterone causes you to lay down fat to ensure that there is enough fuel for milk production after the birth. Limbs are formed by 14 weeks and the baby begins to lay down fat stores also!
Blood volume still on the up – plenty of iron rich foods – this is the time when mums get iron deficient so keep the supplies high! Lots of vitamin C to allow for good absorption of the iron is vital here!
This is the trimester when you will gain weight faster than at any other time! That is OK. The body is preparing for making milk so getting lots of fat ready for that. So we need to eat the right types of fat to obtain the essential fatty acids.
The thing is – if you eat a varied, sensible diet including fruits and vegetables, drink enough water and avoid too many fast foods and sweets you are doing the right thing! Cut out alcohol, avoid too much caffeine, salt and sugar, exercise and rest well!
Rest is a key point here. Rest allows the body and baby to grow, repair and recuperate. Don’t just keep going when you are tired, that creates stress.
A suggested meal plan may be:
- Soaked oats or an oat based sugar free cereal with sesame seeds, sunflower seeds, banana or pear and milk – if you want to avoid dairy, use rice milk, almond milk or soya milk. Drink hot water and lemon or a mild green tea. Avoid coffee and caffeine teas if you can. (See foods to avoid***)
- Snack on fruit such as apples, raisins and nuts and seeds (soaked if you can) – if you get constipated remember to always soak dried fruits and nuts please.
- Maybe an oily fish salad for lunch, eg mackerel or sardines with some watercress, rice, pumpkin seeds, tomato, carrot, wholemeal bread or oatcake, fruit such as an orange or pear.
- Snack on dried figs and soaked almonds.
- (Avoid readymade oat snack bars that are covered in sugars!)
- Maybe some organic chicken for dinner with stir-fry or steamed vegetables with brown rice or a jacket potato – vegetables could include broccoli, kale, carrots, cabbage, peas or swede.
- If you are vegetarian you get abundant proteins from tofu, pulses and beans instead of meat and fish, nuts and seeds.
- Try and eat seated and don’t rush!
- Never add salt to your food and drink before and after eating not during – drinking during eating can dilute stomach acids and prevent optimum digestion.
What Foods to Avoid
The main foods to avoid during pregnancy are the groups that could cause salmonella, listeria or toxoplasmosis. What you eat during pregnancy is so important, make sure you do not eat these.
Foods that could cause Salmonella include raw or runny eggs, mayonnaise made with raw egg and raw or undercooked meat. Salmonella Bacterium can cause food poisoning. It’s a risk to both you and your baby as the food poisoning causes high temperature, vomiting, diarrhea and dehydration. This could potentially cause a miscarriage or preterm labor.
Foods that could cause listeria include liver and liver pate, unpasteurised dairy products (ripened soft cheeses like brie, camembert and blue veined cheeses), unpasteurized milk and unheated cooked foods. Make sure that reheating is thorough if you are eating ready meals! Listeriosis is a bacterium that causes a mild flu like illness in the mother. This could lead to a miscarriage or stillbirth.
Foods that could cause toxoplasmosis include raw or undercooked meat, raw cured meats such as Parma ham and salami. Toxoplasmosis is caused by the toxoplasma parasite. It’s usually symptomless apart from a mild flu like symptom. Toxoplasmosis can cause serious problems for your baby.
It is recommended (Food Standards Agency), that you stop drinking alcohol altogether. However, if you do continue then please limit it to only 1 or 2 units per week, and never get drunk (1 unit = half a pint of beer, lager or cider or a pub measure of spirit. A glass of wine measures approximately 2 units).
As for Caffeine, this also needs to be limited. As we know it is found in tea, coffee, chocolate, cola drinks and energy drinks, but it can also be found in cold and flu remedies! Excessive caffeine can result in a low birth weight baby or even a miscarriage.
Recommendation (FSA again), for caffeine daily is 300mg, and here is a guide for you to work it out:
- 1 Mug Instant & Brewed Coffee = 100mg each
- 1 Mug Tea = 75mg each
- Can Cola = 40 – 50mg each (plus sugar)
- Energy Drink = 80 mg each (plus sugar)
- Plain Chocolate 50g bar = 50mg (milk chocolate is less) both contain SUGAR too.
Other foods that should be avoided include shellfish, peanuts (could increase the risk of your baby developing an allergy to nuts, especially if it is in your family)* and buffet foods (the reheating thing again).
Also eating too much tinned fish, especially tuna, can be harmful due to the mercury levels (high levels can harm a baby’s nervous system). Therefore, I would avoid tinned tuna and if you can and limit tuna steaks to only one or two per week. Other fish to avoid is swordfish, shark and marlin.
Breast-feeding diet tips
Eat lots of nutritional foods and eat well!
You need extra calories when you are breast-feeding so make them good ones. I found that having lots of healthy and nutritious snacks available helped no end such as nuts and seeds, dried fruits and humus! Flax oil and seeds, pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, almonds and walnuts are great as are dried apricots and prunes!
Try and eat lots of greens and salads to keep your iron and magnesium levels high and drink LOTS of water!
We found that small meals were easier to handle than cooking large meals so mackerel on toast and salmon salads were our favorites! If you don’t eat and drink then the milk won’t come… eat, enjoy it and be happy with it!
Please note that it is not at all advisable to detox or diet whilst breast-feeding!
NOTE: There is nothing wrong with bottle feeding! It is just a different route, and perfectly suitable for your baby! Baby Formula has been designed to be as close to breast milk as possible and contains all the vital nutrients that you your baby needs!
A happy mummy = a happy baby!
Weight loss after pregnancy
If you chose not to breast-feed then you can diet to lose weight but if you are breast-feeding do not diet.
If you are not breast-feeding then a diet can be followed but still bear in mind that your body has been through and enormous emotional and physical experience, so a transformational and quiet time is needed to adapt and appreciate your new role as a mother!
Drink lots of water to keep hydration levels and energy high and this will also keep things moving to allow you to gently detox and move weight.
Walk daily with your baby (after the first week or so). Of course some birth stories don’t allow that so if you need best rest just take your time and take it slow! Fresh air and walking are an amazing healer though and probably the safest weight loss too, and the cheapest available.
Walking raises your heart rate and you detox through breathing more deeply and you are energised with the increased oxygen flow! Daylight is your most natural and abundant energy source so walking in the natural daylight is multi-tasking!
Cut down on calories slowly as you don’t want to be left feeling even more tired from not eating enough because you are desperate to lose weight. If you have eaten well during pregnancy then it is more than likely that you will naturally just fall back into shape through continuing to eat well and to exercise more again.
Don’t rush – losing weight fast and too rapidly could encourage mood swings and you don’t need those with a baby around.
Helena Bingham is a nutritionist. She put this article together as part of Pampers’ “get body confident” initiative.