Nutrition During Early Pregnancy

Eating right while you're pregnant is one way you can help assure your baby`s good health. It`s also a very smart way to help you feel good during this physically challenging time. Good nutrition is really quite simple when you make a decision to eat wisely and well.

Your doctor/midwife/nutritionist will talk with you about the importance of good nutrition during pregnancy. Please inform your provider if:

  • You are a vegetarian.
  • You have food allergies.
  • You have an eating disorder.
  • You have a chronic condition that requires a special diet.

The Importance of Nutrition

The old phrase that a pregnant woman must "eat for two" is only partially true. While the food she ingests does provide the necessary nutrients for the developing fetus, the quality is much more important than the amount. In fact, a pregnant woman needs only 300 calories more per day than she did prior to becoming pregnant.

By choosing high-quality foods, in the proper quantities, you`ll be sure you're getting the protein, carbohydrates, vitamins, and minerals you and your baby need. Each of the following nutrients serves a very important function:

  • Protein comes from animal sources such as meat, eggs, and milk products as well as grains and vegetables. It is necessary for tissue growth and repair.
  • Carbohydrates come from fruits, vegetables, and grains. These sugars and starches give your body energy.
  • Vitamins and minerals are essential for your body to function well and your baby`s body to develop properly.

Your diet should also:

Moderate fat intake

Eating a diet moderate in fat will help you keep your pregnancy weight at a healthy level. Some fat intake is necessary for your body to function normally. Remember that fat is found in butter, margarine, mayonnaise, cream cheese, salad dressings and virtually all animal-protein foods.

Moderate salt (sodium) intake

Limiting sodium intake is generally not recommended during pregnancy. Some salt intake is necessary for your body to function normally. If you begin to experience problems with high blood pressure, talk to your provider for their recommendations about sodium. Foods that have a high sodium content include processed meats, canned soups, salted snacks such as chips and pretzels, soy sauce, frozen dinners, and pizza.

Include sufficient fluids

Drinking enough fluids helps regulate body temperature, prevent constipation and urinary tract infections, reduce uterine contractions, and keep lips and skin soft. Your daily diet should include a combination of 6 eight-ounce glasses of fluid such as water, milk, fruit juice, mineral water, vegetable juice, decaffeinated beverages, yogurt drinks, fruit smoothies, and soups.

Special Considerations

There are some food and nutrient items that, while of little concern to non-pregnant women, deserve special consideration during pregnancy because they can affect the health of both you and your baby.

Supplemental Vitamins - Because the recommended daily allowance of almost all vitamins increases by 25% to 50% when you are pregnant, doctors/midwives often prescribe prenatal vitamins. These are often started as soon as a couple decides to try to conceive. Prenatal vitamins are a supplement, or addition, to what your daily diet ideally includes. Prenatal vitamins should never be considered a substitute for the vitamins your body will receive naturally from eating the proper foods. (During your pregnancy, avoid excessive use of vitamins and mineral supplements not specifically prescribed or approved by your provider. When taken in amounts that are higher than those recommended, Vitamins A, B6, C, and D may lead to problems with both mother and baby).

Iron - Getting enough iron during pregnancy is important because it is required for the formation of hemoglobin (the oxygen carrying component of blood) for both you and your baby. In addition, during your last trimester of pregnancy, your baby draws iron from you to store in his/her liver for use after delivery. Increased blood volume and iron stores assist your body with adjusting to the blood loss that can occur when giving birth. Your doctor/midwife may prescribe an iron supplement for you. Discuss how to obtain the best results from these supplements, and about problems that some women experience, such as nausea, stomach upset, or constipation.

Calcium - Adequate calcium is essential in the formation and development of your baby`s heart, muscles, skeleton, and tooth buds. An inadequate intake of calcium through the diet can result in your body's stores of calcium being depleted. If you can't tolerate milk, a calcium supplement may be prescribed, since milk and milk products are the best sources of dietary calcium.

Folic Acid - Even though most of the vitamins you require for a healthy pregnancy are supplied through a high-quality, varied diet, that is not always the case with folic acid. An adequate folic acid intake is very important when you are pregnant. Too little of this B vitamin increases the risk of neuralogic or spinal cord disorders in the developing baby. Folic acid can be found in liver, leafy green vegetables such as broccoli and spinach, lima beans, asparagus, and oranges.

Vitamin C helps you resist infection, maintain healthy bones and muscles, and absorb iron.

Vitamin D is essential for the proper adsorption of phosphorus and calcium. It is vital if your baby is to have healthy bones and teeth.

  • Vitamin A helps you maintain healthy skin and promotes normal function of your thyroid gland, which controls body metabolism.
  • Artificial Sweeteners - Little is know about the long-term effects of artificial sweeteners (aspartame and saccharin) on a developing baby. It is best that you avoid them altogether during pregnancy unless otherwise directed by our doctors and nurses.

    Caffeine - Caffeine is a drug and stimulant. Caffeine is contained in coffee, tea, chocolate, and some colas and medications. Since the effects of caffeine in human pregnancy are unclear, it is safest that you avoid caffeine altogether or limit your intake to 2 cups of caffeine-containing beverages per day (200 mg).

    Herbal Teas - Herbal teas are often used in place of caffeine-containing beverages. During pregnancy, herbal teas may cause nausea and vomiting or serious problems for your baby. It is safest to avoid herbal teas while you are pregnant.

    Fluid Intake - Adequate fluid intake during pregnancy is very important. Over 7 pounds of a normal 25 - 35 pound pregnancy weight gain is made up of fluid. These fluids are necessary for delivering nutrient, building body cells, developing body systems, and for elimination. Your body needs extra fluids during pregnancy to help with constipation, dry skin, and to keep body temperature constant. Water will also help reduce risk of urinary tract infection. At least six 8-ounce glasses of liquid should be consumed daily, with water being the preferred choice. Other nutritious fluids, such as milk, fruit juices, and vegetable juice should also be part of your diet. Avoid excess caffeinated beverages and all alcohol, including beer and wine. Try to substitute seltzer, club soda, or water flavored with lemon/lime for artificially sweetened beverages and soda.

    Reprinted with permission from Her Healthcare.