What you eat when trying to conceive and when pregnant plays an important role in your baby’s health at birth and in some cases for the rest of their lives. So, it’s a great time to build healthy eating habits that you can pass on to your baby.
What to avoid
There are a number of foods and drinks that should be avoided in pregnancy, mainly due to the fact that they carry bacteria like Salmonella, E coli and Listeria. Immune changes during pregnancy mean that pregnant women are at greater risk and some of these can also be harmful for the developing baby.
- foods with raw fish and shellfish, such as sushi, sashimi and taramasalata, as well as shelled crustaceans such as prawns and crabs sold pre-cooked
- raw or undercooked eggs can carry salmonella. Cook eggs well and check labels on mayonnaise and egg-contain desserts like choc mousse to ensure that eggs are pasteurised,
- undercooked meat including raw cured meats like salami, chorizo and Parma ham can contain harmful parasites like Toxoplasma gondii or bacteria like Salmonella or Listeria.
- unpasteurised (raw) milk and soft cheese like brie and Roquefort. Other cheese including soft cheese from pasteurised milk like feta and mozzarella are safe, as are all hard cheeses
- raw sprouts like alfalfa and radish can contain Listeria, E coli and other bacteria and should be cooked or avoid
Other products are off the menu as they can be dangerous for baby
- liver products and pate should be avoided, due to high vitamin A content, which can be harmful for the baby
- Alcohol should be avoided completely during pregnancy. It passes through the placenta and there is no safe level during pregnancy
- Caffeine should be limited to 200mg per day, the equivalent of 1 – 2 cups of coffee. Replace with decaf or herbal teas and avoid energy drinks
Should I be eating for two?
Sadly not! While your energy needs do increase throughout pregnancy, the ‘eating for two’ adage is a myth. Requirements differ, depending on many things including your pre-pregnancy weight. But in general, your energy needs are
- roughly the same in the first trimester
- + 200 calories in the second trimester – add in a healthy snack like a piece of fruit and palmful nuts
- + 400 – 500 calories in the third trimester – add in 2 healthy snacks. Or spread your food intake out over 5 smaller meals through the day. This may be easier for a squashed digestive system to cook with
It’s easy to get into the habit of eating more treat foods, but it’s better to focus on healthy calories to ensure you and baby are getting the healthy nutrients you need. And to ensure that you are not left carrying an extra couple of stone post pregnancy.
Ginger for nausea
Evidence shows that ginger can help to reduce the nausea experienced by many in early pregnancy. Try sipping ginger tea made from fresh grated ginger or use a ginger tea e.g. Pukka. Nairns ginger oat biscuits can be helpful, especially as part of a snack if nausea strikes and come in handy small packs. Gingins ginger sweets are another portable way of having ginger.
What to include:
- Firstly, eat regularly. Going for too long without eating can trigger nausea or light-headedness in some people. Pack a healthy snack in your bag in case you need it
- It’s always important to eat plenty of fibre, but this is even more important in pregnancy, where digestion can become more sluggish. Chose wholegrains like brown bread, brown rice and wholegrain pasta instead of their white counterparts to increase both fibre and nutrients. And include other gentle forms of fibre like lots of veg (5 portions per day), some fruit, pulses, nuts and seeds. If you get bunged up, eating 1-2 kiwi fruit and 2 tbsp ground linseeds (flaxseeds) e.g. with your breakfast will help get things moving
- And of course, it’s important to stay well hydrated throughout your pregnancy and if breastfeeding too. During pregnancy we need around 2.3L from both food and liquids, about an extra glass more than normal requirements
- Iron deficiency is one of the most common nutrient deficiencies in women and more prevalent in pregnancy, where iron needs increase. In fact, studies show that one in three women in Europe are iron deficient when pregnant. This this can have risks for the short- and long-term health of the baby. Symptoms include fatigue, breathlessness, palpitations and dizziness. If you are experiencing any of these or if you have been low in iron before pregnancy, ask your doctor or gynae to check your iron levels. Keep your levels up with iron-rich foods like good quality meat 2 – 3 times per week. Other sources include pulses (chickpeas, lentils, beans), green leafy veg, dried fruit like apricots, tofu, pumpkin seeds. If your levels are low, take an iron supplement until back in normal range and then keep an eye on this. There are lots of good and non-constipating brands available like Biocare Iron Complex
- Omega 3 is needed to provide building blocks for baby’s brain and eye health. It can reduce the risk of pre-term birth and depression post pregnancy. While the best source is oily fish, pregnant mums are cautioned to avoid eating too much due to the high levels of mercury. I recommend limiting or avoiding tuna and eating other oily fish like salmon or mackerel a couple of times per week. If you don’t eat fish, plant-based sources include chia, flax and pumpkin seeds and walnuts, but you might also want to consider taking a fish oil supplement. I often recommend the NHP omega 3 support as it also contains peppermint oil. It can be easier to stomach than other fish oils when already feeling nauseous.
What about supplements when pregnant?
Research shows that up to 70% of women take supplements during pregnancy. But you need to be very careful to only take supplements suitable for pregnancy as some nutrients including high levels of vitamin A found in standard multivitamins. Also, many herbs are not safe in pregnancy.
- It is of course vital that you are taking folic acid, ideally before you get pregnant. Any good prenatal multivitamin will include folic acid and appropriate levels of many other vitamins and minerals that are important for mum and baby. A good pregnancy multi like the NHP Antenatal Support can be very helpful, especially during the early days of pregnancy when you may not feel like eating.
- Vitamin D is important for mum’s during pregnancy and can reduce the risk of pre-eclampsia and gestational diabetes. It’s also important for the development of baby’s healthy skeleton. If you are low in vitamin D, your baby is likely to be low too. In Ireland, the majority of us do not get enough vitamin D, especially over the winter. It is important to include a vitamin D supplement or ensure this is included in your pregnancy multivitamin. Ideally check your levels, so you can supplement appropriately. Otherwise stick to around 2000iu and chose liquid D3 where you can, like Better You DLux 1000
- Changes in hormone levels during pregnancy mean that you are more likely to get thrush, caused by a candida overgrowth. While this does not harm the baby when pregnant, the baby will be exposed to the candida while being born vaginally, so it is important to promptly deal with thrush. A good probiotic like Biocare Antenatal Bioflora or can keep this at bay or discuss other options with your GP or pharmacist
If you would like to check your levels of key nutrients including omega 3, zinc, selenium, magnesium, vitamin D, vitamin A and other antioxidants, get in touch to find out more about our Functional Nutritional Profile