|Eat at least five servings of fruit and veg a day during pregnancy|
Eating well during pregnancy will boost your baby's health and your own. If you're already in good health and eat a well-balanced diet you won't need to make too many dietary changes during pregnancy.
Do you need to eat for two?
The first point to make is that pregnancy is not a green light for bingeing in the hope the baby will absorb the extra calories. During pregnancy a woman's body absorbs higher amounts of nutrients from food than usual, so it's a myth that you need to eat twice as much. Most women only need more energy in the last three months of pregnancy. This only amounts to around 200 calories extra per day - about two to three slices of bread.
In general, the same healthy eating rules apply during pregnancy as at any other time. Most women can satisfy both their needs and those of their growing child by eating regular, balanced meals according to the proportions listed below.
- Starchy carbohydrates, such as wholemeal bread, breakfast cereals, pasta, rice and potatoes, should make up the major part of the meals you eat.
- Eat at least five different servings of fruit and vegetables a day.
- Dairy products and meat, fish or alternatives (eg eggs, beans, peas, nuts and lentils). Consume two to three servings a day of both food groups, choosing lower fat versions (eg skinless chicken, cottage cheese) wherever possible.
- Only eat small amounts of fatty, sugary foods, including crisps, butter or margarine, fizzy drinks, biscuits and cakes.
What special dietary needs do you have?
- Calcium helps a baby's bones and teeth to develop properly, and protects the mother's. You need at least 700-800mg a day - this can be obtained from a large glass of skimmed milk, a pot of fruit yogurt and a matchbox-sized piece of Cheddar cheese. Non-dairy sources include; fortified soya milk, tofu, dried figs, oranges, beans, spinach, canned fish, sesame seeds and white bread.
- Vitamin D helps aid the absorption of extra calcium. The daily requirement for pregnancy can be found in a serving of canned salmon. Oily fish is by far the richest source, but eggs, butter and cheese supply lesser amounts.
- Iron is vital for creating the baby's blood supply. Good sources are red meat, green vegetables, dried fruit, sardines and fortified breakfast cereals. Vitamin C improves the uptake of iron from non-meat sources, but caffeine and tannins, yellowish plant compounds, found in tea and coffee inhibit absorption. So drink orange juice with meals.
- Folic acid is a B vitamin that helps reduce the risk of having a spina bifida baby. Take a 400mcg folic acid supplement until the end of the 12th week of pregnancy. Eat plenty of folic acid-rich foods such as fortified breakfast cereals and bread, broccoli and green leafy vegetables, pulses and oranges.
- Long chain omega-3 fatty acids are special polyunsaturates important in ensuring optimal brain development of the unborn child. The best source is oily fish, such as salmon, mackerel, herring, pilchards and sardines. Try to eat two servings a week, or take an omega-3 supplement for pregnant women. Vegetarian women can consume linseeds or flaxseed oil as an alternative.
What if you feel sick?
Eat small regular meals rather than two or three heavier ones. Choose slow-releasing carbohydrate foods, which gently boost your blood sugar, such as porridge, fruit, rye and granary breads, popcorn and pasta. For morning sickness nibble a plain biscuit and have a warm drink before getting up.
Ginger (either crystallised ginger or the fresh root) and peppermint (mints or tea) help settle the stomach. Spicy, greasy or acidic foods can make nausea worse.
Babies who are not premature can also develop breathing problems, such as chest infections (pneumonia) or if they have inhaled meconium (the green substance from the baby's bottom that is sometimes present at delivery).
How do you cope with pregnancy cravings?
About 40 per cent of pregnant women experience cravings, most commonly for fruit, fruit juices, chocolate and dairy products. The cravings do pass and temporary over-consumption of one particular type of food is unlikely to do any harm.
A few pregnant women experience more bizarre non-food cravings, known as pica, which makes them want to eat substances such as soap, dirt, paint or coal. If you do experience this, talk to your doctor or midwife. Some of these cravings may not do any harm, but others could cause poisoning from lead or other environmental toxins.
What hazards should you avoid?
- Stop smoking to ensure your baby's good health. Smoking during pregnancy leads to low birth weight and possibly more post-birth complications. There is also a potential link with childhood cancer, lung problems, and genetic defects.
- Avoid raw or lightly cooked eggs, as your resistance to Salmonella may be lower, especially in the first trimester. Eat only hard-boiled eggs, or egg dishes that have been cooked thoroughly or made with pasteurised eggs.
- Don't eat pates, unpasteurised milk, blue-veined or soft unpasteurised cheeses, such as Danish Blue, goat's or mould-ripened cheese, as they occasionally contain Listeria. Listeria infection is rare. Symptoms include signs of flu such as a high temperature and general aches and pains, and it could cause a miscarriage or severe illness in the newborn baby.
- Avoid raw or undercooked meats such as parma ham or rare steak and unwashed vegetables or salads, which carry a higher risk of toxoplasmosis - a parasitic illness that often shows no symptoms but can sometimes cause birth defects.
- UK authorities also advise avoiding liver during pregnancy. Although a very rich source of B vitamins and iron, liver can contain excessively high levels of vitamin A, which are potentially damaging to the baby.
- Don't drink alcohol during the first three months of pregnancy, or limit yourself to one or two units a week. In the second and third trimester you can drink around four units weekly, but never more than two units at one time. One unit is one pub measure of spirits, or half a pint of normal beer or lager.
- Many medicines aren't suitable during pregnancy - ask your midwife or pharmacist before taking any over-the-counter medication, apart from paracetamol for headaches. However, don't come off or adjust essential prescription medications without checking with your doctor first.