Diet during pregnancy: Mother-to-be should know
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Since a normal pregnancy usually lasts about 40 weeks, a healthy diet is an important part for both mothers and babies. Healthy eating during pregnancy is critical to the baby’s growth and development. A number of medical researches has strongly indicated that lack of adequate nutrition of good quality and quantity during pregnancy can potentially cause health-related problems for both mothers and babies. Maternal malnutrition significantly increases the risk of gestational anemia, preeclampsia, gestation diabetes, thyroid disorders, miscarriages and low birth weight as well as fetal deaths during pregnancy. In addition, risks of pre-term delivery and maternal mortality also elevate in women with poor nutrition. Furthermore, the amount of weight gain during pregnancy is important for the health of pregnancy and for the long-term health of mothers and babies. Therefore, to insure a safe and successful pregnancy without serious complications, it is essentially recommended for mother-to-be to pay attention to their weight changes and nutrition prior to and during pregnancy.
Pregnant women and essential diets
During pregnancy the basic principles of healthy eating remain the same. However, the most recommended advice for pregnant women is to get sufficient daily nutrients obtained from eating a variety of food groups including carbohydrates, protein, vegetables and fruits as well as daily products. Furthermore, a few nutrients in a pregnancy diet deserve special attention. These include:
Protein is crucial for baby’s growth throughout pregnancy. A developing fetus needs sufficient protein to build the cells of organs. The maternal diet supplies all the proteins that a baby needs, therefore if the diet of a pregnant woman is deficient, baby can have impaired growth and development. Good sources of protein include lean meat, poultry, fish and eggs. Other options include vegetables e.g. beans and peas, nuts, seeds and soy products. The recommended amount of protein in pregnant women is 75-110 grams per day. Simple measurement is to increase protein proportion at least 30-40% of total nutrients per each meal.
Folate and folic acid
Folate or folic acid is the most important nutrient that all pregnant women require. Folate is a B vitamin that vitally helps preventing neural tube defects, serious abnormalities of the brain and spinal cord such as spinal bifida described as an incomplete closing of the spine and membranes around the spinal cord during early development in pregnancy. Demands for folate increase during pregnancy because it is also required for growth and development of the fetus especially for DNA replication process to build cells and organs of the babies. Since the brain and spinal cord of the babies completely develop within the first 28 days after conception, a number of studies suggest that daily intake of 400-800 mg folate significantly decreases the chances of pregnancy-related abnormalities. The synthetic form of folate found in supplements and fortified foods is known as folic acid. Folic acid supplementation has been shown to decrease the risk of premature birth.
The US FDA recommends fertile women to take 400 mg folate per day. Although many foods are naturally rich in folate, folate is water-soluble and is easily destroyed by cooking. Vegetables are best lightly cooked or even eaten raw. Good sources of natural folate include vegetables (broccoli, brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, English spinach, green beans, lettuce, mushrooms, parsnip, sweet corn, zucchini), fruit (avocado, grapefruit, orange) and legumes e.g. chickpeas, soya beans, lima beans, red kidney beans and lentils. However, if these natural sources of folate do not provide sufficient amount of folate, folate supplements might be additionally taken.
During pregnancy, the volume of blood in women’s body increases up to 70 percent in order to help supporting the fetus by supplying nutrients and oxygen. Mother’s body uses iron to produce extra blood (hemoglobin). Iron also helps moving oxygen from mother’s lungs to the rest of baby’s body. Researches have indicated that more tan 50% of pregnant women who take inadequate iron have experienced iron deficiency anemia during pregnancy which increases risks of premature birth, having a low birth weight baby and postpartum depression. The US FDA makes the recommendation in pregnant women to have iron at least 27 milligrams a day. More importantly, studies have shown that 15% of women who have iron deficiency anemia are at greater risk of being infertile. Thus, iron supplement should be highly considered in this group of women. Sources of iron are lean red meat, poultry and fish, iron-fortified breakfast cereals, beans and vegetables.
Mothers and babies need calcium to strengthen bones and teeth. Calcium also helps circulatory, muscular and nervous systems run normally. Calcium can be absorbed affectively during pregnancy. The recommended amount of calcium is 1,000 milligrams every day. Dairy foods such as milk, cheese, and yogurt are some of the best sources of calcium.
Multivitamins might be recommended in pregnant women who have time constraint. Nevertheless, to take vitamins during pregnancy, medical advice from obstetricians is required since certain vitamins affect the growth and development of the babies e.g. vitamin A over 10,000 international units (IU) per day can result in the production of birth defects.
Special attention is needed
Special concern is additionally required in certain groups of pregnant women, including:
- Women who are vegetarians: A variety of diets especially vegetables, fruits and protein should be sufficiently taken. In order to control blood sugar level and body weight, sugar-rich fruits should be avoided.
- Women with underlying diseases e.g. hematological disorders, kidney disease, diabetes and hypertension: Close supervision of obstetricians and internal medicine doctors are highly crucial.
Weight changes in pregnancy
It is usual to gain some weight during pregnancy due to the growth of the baby, placenta and fluid around the baby. The amount of weight mothers gain during pregnancy determines the growth and development of babies. Pregnant women who do not gain enough weight during pregnancy can increase the chances of having premature (preterm) birth and low birth weight babies. As a consequence, low birth weight babies tend to develop impaired cardiovascular functions and endocrine system as well as poor metabolism when they grow up to adult.
Researches firmly indicate the associations between excessive weigh gain in pregnant women and serious health problems including gestational diabetes and preeclampsia described as a pregnancy complication characterized by high blood pressure and signs of damage to another organ system, most often the liver and kidneys. To gain weight appropriately, recommendations include:
- Women with normal weight: Additional weight should be gained at least 8 kg and should not exceed 12 kg.
- Underweight women with BMI less than 19.8: Weight must be gained to reach normal BMI in order to be able to supply adequate blood and nutrients to the babies.
- Overweight women: Wight must be controlled and additional weight should be gained at least 6-7 kg.
Besides paying special attention to healthy nutrition during pregnancy, mental and physical health should be maintained in order to enhance proper growth and development of the babies. Furthermore, recommendations and appointments with obstetricians must be strictly followed.