Nutrition in Pregnancy
The Importance of Optimal Nutrition During Pregnancy
Pregnancy is a beautiful time in a woman’s life that should be filled with much joy, excitement and curiosity. However, it can also be a confusing and anxiety- provoking time for a number of women, particularly when it comes to making choices about caring and nurturing their growing baby. These days, there is much confusion and conflicting information for women to sort through during this time. Unfortunately, with fertility issues on the rise, there can often be so much emphasise placed on just falling pregnant, that once this eventually happens, women can suddenly become confused and misguided as to how to nurture the growing life inside of them. Nutrition during pregnancy is unfortunately a topic that often does not receive enough attention. Ensuring that bub gets the healthiest start to life should without a doubt be the mother’s biggest priority. This means that the mum must ensure her nutritional intake is optimal.
There is no doubt that what a mother eats whilst pregnant (the maternal diet) will have a significant impact on influencing her child’s genetics, which will ultimately influence her child’s health from birth right through into its adult years. Science is now proving what we have always thought, and that is that the intrauterine environment and baby is greatly affected by the maternal diet and body composition of the mother. In fact, new research has suggested that what women eat before pregnancy, can chemically alter their DNA and these changes can be passed onto their offspring!! From this information, it is very easy to see that the health of the unborn baby, is going to be very much dependent on the food choices that the mother makes and what she chooses to put into her mouth. This can be very exciting knowing that mothers can have a such a proactive and significant impact on their child’s health from the health choices they make and the nutrients they supply to their unborn baby! This is all the more reason to start a nutritional pre-conception program with your naturopath. However, once you find out the good news that you are pregnant, it is never to late to work with a naturopath to get some dietary counseling and assistance in addressing any health concerns or pregnancy related symptoms you may have.
Below are a few suggestions and considerations to get you started!
Eat every few hours - This is important to help maintain blood sugar balance and prevent any major drops in blood sugar. It is particularly important in the first trimester when nausea can be an issue for many women. Eating small, regular meals will help maintain sugar balance and can reduce the likelihood of nausea.
Stay well hydrated and ensure adequate water intake - Water consumption can occasionally be a bit of a challenge in the first trimester if morning sickness is an issue, however, small sips of water often can help. It will also assist in easing and relieving any constipation issues.
Eat high quality chemical free/organic and free-range as much as possible - This includes organic vegetables, fruits, dairy, nuts and seeds and animal products. This will reduce your exposure to pesticides. Of particular importance are free-range animal products. It is known that free-range animal products contain healthier fats, as free ranging animals have a different fat composition compared to non-free ranging animals.
Avoid foods with artificial colours, flavours, preservatives and artificial sweeteners - This includes diet drinks, and anything with aspartame and sucralose. Artificial sweeteners are neurotoxic and should not be considered safe in pregnancy.
Remove all trans-fatty acids, hydrogenated oils, and fried foods - These include margarines and vegetable oils. Olive oil is ideal to use raw on salads and coconut oil, ghee and butter are useful in frying and cooking.
Remove refined carbohydrates and refined sugars from the diet. This includes white flour and white sugar products. This is particularly important to prevent gestational diabetes.
Stop all alcohol, cigarettes, caffeinated beverages, soft drinks (including sugar-free soft drinks) and soy products.
Avoid possible listeria foods and foods likely to be contaminated with other bacteria - These foods include: soft cheeses, raw eggs (also in mayonnaise), sushi, cold and smoked meats, raw fish, salad bars and left over foods.
Increase Oily fish and Omega 3 fats - Salmon, cod, sardines, anchovies and other small fish contain high amounts of DHA, EPA and vitamin D as well as vitamin A. These are extremely important foods to focus on during pregnancy, as good quality fats and fat soluble vitamins nourish the developing baby by supporting heart and immune health, as well as supporting brain, eye and central nervous system development. It is important to eat fresh fish that is low in mercury. Talk to your naturopath about supplementing with high quality, purified fish oil during pregnancy.
Increase Organic Eggs - Egg yolk from free range, pastured chickens are extremely nutrient dense, providing a high amount of fat soluble vitamins (A, D and E) and omega 3 fatty acids for nourishing the baby. Egg yolks are one of the richest sources of Choline, which is extremely important in the pregnancy diet for assisting in developing the baby’s nervous system and is thought to be important for cognitive function.
Increase Fermented foods - Fermented foods are a must during pregnancy. These foods assist in restoring the ecology (good bacteria) in the mother’s digestive system. This good bacteria is passed along to the bub as it passes down through the birth canal where the mother’s bacteria will eventually colonise in the babies digestive system. This process is the foundation of the immune system for the baby. Beneficial bacteria also reduce the likelihood of the baby suffering from allergies, asthma and eczema in infancy and childhood. Great sources of fermented foods include yoghurt, sauerkraut and kefir. Talk to your naturopath about supplementing with a high quality, specific pregnancy probiotic.
Vitamin D and calcium - vitamin D is found in oily fish, dairy, organ meats and of course, sunshine! The requirement for vitamin D increases during pregnancy although, unfortunately, it is a very common deficiency. Vitamin D works with calcium to help grow the baby’s skeleton. This important fat-soluble vitamin is extremely essential for an optimally functioning immune system. To get adequate vitamin D, we need to expose our bodies to adequate sunlight. Unfortunately, this is not always an option. Talk to your naturopath about a good quality pregnancy multivitamin with adequate amounts of Vitamin D.
Iodine – Iodine is a mineral that is not taken seriously enough in preconception and pregnancy care. It is a very common deficiency amongst the general population and especially amongst pregnant women! It is absolutely essential for the development of the baby’s brain and nervous system as well as preventing brain damage and mental retardation. It is strongly advised that you ask your GP or naturopath to test you for Iodine deficiency, since a deficiency is extremely common during pregnancy and can easily be treated with adequate supplementation. Iodine is rich in eggs, dairy and seafood. Keep in mind that the soil of many commercial farms are deficient in Iodine, which means that the produce grown in those soils and livestock feeding from those soil pastures will likely be deficient in iodine. Talk to your naturopath about a good quality pregnancy multivitamin with adequate amounts of Iodine.
Folate – The benefits of folate to the growing baby have been known for years. Folate boosts growth and decreases the risks of birth defects of the brain and spinal cord in the baby. Folate is essential for the production of new DNA. High folate sources are found in legumes, beetroots, greens, nuts and liver.
Consider carefully that dietary deficiencies, compromised soil, poor food quality, certain health conditions and stress are all factors that will affect our individual nutritional status. Therefore it is wise to consult with a Naturopath regarding quality supplementation during pregnancy as well as establishing a specific, tailored nutritional plan to meet your nutritional requirements as well as those of your growing baby’s! There is no doubt that the quality of nutrition throughout the nine months of pregnancy will produce lifelong effects and significantly influence the quality of life of your growing bub.
I hope these general tips I have provided will assist in a safe, healthy and joyful pregnancy!
Jaclyn Ward is the consulting naturopath at Carina Medical and Specialist Centre. She is currently available for consultations Thursday’s 9am- 8pm and Saturdays 8am -12pm. Jaclyn has an interest in fertility, preconception, pregnancy care, digestive disorders, mental health and anti-aging.