Eating healthfully during pregnancy is important not only for your developing baby, but for your health as well. A pregnancy diet that is rich in variety is a smart way to ensure the proper growth and development of your baby, and keeps your body in top shape to withstand the rigors of pregnancy. While many women may think that "eating for two" gives them license to eat buffet style at every meal, in reality, a pregnant mom technically needs only an additional 300 calories to support the pregnancy. The key is to spend those 300 calories wisely, by adding servings of foods that will be the most beneficial to you and the baby. However, an occasional indulgence a craving is well deserved!
While what many people would consider a healthy, well-balanced diet varies — be it vegetarian, vegan or organic — the following are generally accepted guidelines for a healthy diet:
- 6 to 11 servings of grains and breads
- 2 to 4 servings of fruit
- 4+ servings of vegetables
- 4 servings of dairy
- 3 servings of protein
All women should be taking a prenatal vitamin to supplement a healthy pregnancy diet. Not all prenatal vitamins are created equally, so consult your doctor or midwife to see which one they suggest. They may recommend one over the counter, or prescribe one that better suits your needs and preferences. Most doctors recommend that you begin taking one if you're even thinking of getting pregnant. Studies have shown that increasing folic acid in your diet before conception prevents neural tube defects such as spina bifida.
A prenatal vitamin is an important part of a pregnancy diet, but there are lots of other ways to get the nutrients you and the baby need. The following is a list of what you need most:
- Whole Grains: Get your servings of whole grains by eating whole wheat bread, oatmeal and adding healthy grains such as flaxseed to everyday meals such as soup or pancakes.
- Calcium: A pregnant woman needs 1000-1300 mg of calcium a day. Get this with yogurt, milk, cheese and dark, leafy veggies.
- Folic Acid: Pregnant moms need .4 mg of folic acid a day. Folic acid abounds in green, leafy vegetables and legumes.
- Iron: Beef up on your iron by getting at least 27 mg a day with liver or red meat, which are also good foods to amp up your protein intake.
- Vitamin C: Oranges, tomatoes and cauliflower are foods rich in vitamin C. Try to get at least 70 mg a day.
- Vitamin A: A pregnancy diet wouldn't be complete with an ample amount of vitamin A, which can be found in orange vegetables such as carrots and sweet potatoes.
There are some definite don'ts when it comes to a healthy pregnancy diet. The following is a list of some things you should avoid:
- Alcohol: Studies have shown that pregnant women who drink while pregnant have an increased rate of complications and defects, including Fetal Alcohol Syndrome. No amount of alcohol consumed during pregnancy has been proven to be safe for the baby.
- Caffeine: While a moderate amount of caffeine is considered safe during pregnancy, try to lower your current intake. Your body may react differently to caffeine then it did before your pregnancy. Doctors recommend that you consume no more than 300 mg of caffeine a day, which is roughly two cups of caffeinated coffee.
- Artificial Sweeteners: Studies on the use of saccharin have shown that it may not be safe for the baby because it crosses the placenta. Other artificial sweeteners such as Splenda™ and aspartame are considered safe to use during pregnancy. Since it is not conclusively known how safe they are, use them in moderation.
- Fat/Cholesterol: Limit your fat and cholesterol intake as you would with any other healthy diet.
- Fish: Fish can be a very healthy part of a pregnancy diet — many studies have shown that the omega 3 fatty acids in fish contribute to proper brain development in babies. There are some fish that pregnant women should avoid for their high mercury content: swordfish, tilefish, king mackerel and shark. Tuna, a great source of protein, should also be eaten in moderation. Avoid any raw fish or shellfish.
- Soft Cheeses: Cheeses that are soft and typically unpasteurized such as Brie, blue-veined cheeses and Camembert can harbor listeria. This bacterium has been shown to contribute to miscarriage.
Use your best judgment. While you are pregnant, it's not advisable to participate in any extreme or limited diets, or diets to lose weight. It is very possible to have a healthy pregnancy diet if you are a vegetarian or vegan, just be sure to up your protein and calcium, and speak with a doctor or nutritionist to be sure that you are getting all the nutrients you and your baby need.