Eating well is just one contributor to overall better health. When you’re pregnant, eating healthy is of special concern because you are supporting two lives instead of just one. There is a lot of confusion surrounding the quest for finding the best healthy pregnancy diet, thanks in part to food manufacturers. It is a fact that your nutritional needs increase during pregnancy, but this does not equate to eating double the calories. There are also special considerations to make during each trimester to make sure your health is supported as well as your baby’s. Follow the basic rules for a healthy pregnancy and always be sure to consult your doctor before making any significant dietary changes.
Rules for Every Stage of Pregnancy
Before you consider special circumstances during each of the three trimesters of the average pregnancy, there are a few points to keep in mind no matter what stage you’re at. First, every pregnant woman should increase their daily intake of:
- Calcium (found in milk products, spinach and broccoli)
- Iron (found in whole grains and lean red meat)
- Folic acid (in nuts, green leafy vegetables and beans)
These nutrients give your body the support it needs to carry a developing fetus all while preventing potential birth defects. A prenatal vitamin can help support these dietary needs, but it is important that you don’t replace a healthy, balanced diet with these types of supplements. This means eating whole foods and limiting processed versions throughout pregnancy. Also be sure to not to consume too much vitamin A and vitamin C, as this can actually harm a fetus. For most pregnant women, a healthy diet should consist of whole grains, fruits and vegetables, low-fat dairy, healthy fats and lean protein.
Calorie needs during pregnancy may also be confusing. Contrary to popular belief, you don’t need to eat twice as many calories per day when eating for two. According to Medline Plus, you only need 300 more calories per day throughout pregnancy. If you currently eat a 1,800-calorie diet, for example, this means that you likely only need 2,100 calories per day to support both you and your baby. Keep in mind that your calorie needs can greatly depend on your pre-pregnancy weight. If you were underweight or overweight before pregnancy, discuss your individual calorie needs with a doctor.
First Trimester: Morning Sickness
Not all women feel the wrath of morning sickness, but when they do, it usually occurs and subsides within the first trimester. Morning sickness causes nausea and vomiting, and it can make many foods unappealing. Still, it is important to try to eat when you can so you and your baby stay nourished. Try to:
- Focus on breads, cereals and crackers
- Avoid greasy foods
- Don’t force yourself to eat something that doesn’t sound good, as this increases the chances of vomiting.
Morning sickness has the potential to prevent natural weight gain. Unless you are losing a significant amount of weight, don’t fear just yet. Medline Plus reports that the average woman should only gain two to four pounds during the first trimester.
(Also read: What To Expect In The First Trimester Of Pregnancy.)
Second Trimester: Gastrointestinal Ailments
Constipation is one of the leading complaints during the second trimester. It is caused by an expanding uterus in conjunction with increased hormones. To help constipation, eat more fiber-rich foods, such as fruit, broccoli, whole grain bread and brown rice. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services on Women’s Health also recommends drinking 10 glasses of water per day to help promote stools.
These uterine and hormonal changes can also lead to heartburn, which is even more uncomfortable during pregnancy. Avoid spicy and greasy foods, and don’t lie down for a couple of hours after eating. Diarrhea can be helped with water-absorbing foods like bananas, white rice and bread. Call your doctor if your gastrointestinal symptoms don’t subside.
(Also read: What To Expect In The Second Trimester Of Pregnancy.)
Third Trimester: Avoiding Excess Weight Gain
As your delivery day nears, you gain weight faster; up to four pounds per month during the third trimester. This is absolutely no cause for losing weight, but it is important to make sure weight gain is gradual to help prevent delivery complications related to excess fat. Continue to focus on small meals throughout the day, each with a combination of carbs, lean protein and healthy fat.
According to Medline Plus, most women gain three to four pounds per month during the last two trimesters. However, you will likely find that the bulk of the weight is gained near the end of the third trimester.
(Also read: What To Expect In The Third Trimester Of Pregnancy.)
Healthy eating habits are equally important after delivery. While you may be anxious to lose your pre-baby fat, it is important to take weight loss slow for lasting effects. Focus on energy-boosting foods over empty calories so you have all the nutrition you need to care for a newborn. Breast-feeding also warrants the need for a balanced diet and you should still steer clear of alcohol and caffeine.
A healthy pregnancy diet is essential to supporting both mother and baby. It is important to discuss any special dietary needs, such as vegetarianism and lactose intolerance, with a doctor to ensure all your baby’s needs are met. The sooner you embark on a healthy eating plan, the more likely those habits will stick after the baby is born.