There’s a wealth of information out there about what pregnant women should be doing to stay healthy and to ensure their babies get the best possible start in life. Instructions range from pregnancy yoga and enjoying soothing music to more obvious tips like avoiding cigarettes.
As with all aspects of health and wellbeing, though, diet will always be one of the most important things to get in check. Here’s a look at what you should and shouldn’t be doing with your diet when you’ve got a new arrival on the way:
Do stay hydrated
Water is absolutely essential at the best of times. While we can survive without food for three weeks or more, we can’t last more than three days without water.
For pregnant women, this need becomes even more crucial. A 2012 study published in the Journal of Ultrasound in Medicine1 found that proper hydration in pregnant women significantly improved the quality of the amniotic fluid. Good amniotic fluid is essential for a healthy pregnancy as it cushions the baby from harm (as well as cushioning the mother against the baby’s movements), regulates the baby’s temperature and allows the baby to develop their lungs and muscles.
Proper hydration also allows for proper plasma volume expansion in the mother. This basically means that there is more blood available for the placenta which is shared with the baby.
Do eat plenty of iron-rich foods
Iron is one of the most important and often most depleted nutrients during pregnancy. Pregnant women need about twice as much iron as they normally would to create extra blood (haemoglobin) for the baby. Iron also helps more oxygen to move freely throughout the mother’s body and to the baby.
Iron deficiency during pregnancy increases the risk of the baby being born underweight or premature, and potentially has negative effects on their overall health after birth.2
Iron rich foods to eat during pregnancy include:
You should also consider cooking with cast iron cookware as this has been shown to increase the iron present in your food.3 Finally, take an iron supplement just to be on the safe side.
Do eat beta-carotene rich foods
Beta carotene can be converted into Vitamin A (which the German Nutrition Society recommends pregnant women eat 40% more of than usual).4 Vitamin A plays a vital role in helping the development of the baby’s eyes, immune system, and skin cells.5
While high doses of vitamin A have been associated with potential health risks and birth defects during pregnancy, beta-carotene has not been shown to carry the same risks. This makes it a great way of safely getting enough vitamin A in your system during pregnancy.6
Beta-carotene rich foods include:
- Sweet potatoes
Don’t eat foods with too much vitamin A
While beta-carotene appears to be a great and safe way of meeting your vitamin A needs during pregnancy (as the body can convert beta-carotene to vitamin A), you should clearly avoid eating foods high in vitamin A or taking supplements including vitamin A.
This is because high doses of vitamin A during pregnancy have been linked to birth defects.7
Vitamin A rich foods to avoid during pregnancy include:
- Liver pate
- Cod liver oil
Don’t eat most soft cheeses
Mould-ripened soft cheeses and soft blue-veined cheeses should be avoided during pregnancy. This is because they may contain the bacteria listeria which can lead to a condition called listeriosis.
Although listeriosis is rare, even a mild form of the infection during pregnancy can result in a stillbirth, miscarriage, or severe illness for the baby.8
Some of the cheeses to avoid include:
- Danish blue
Soft cheeses which haven’t been mould-ripened and are made from pasteurised milk, are fine to eat. These include:
- Cottage cheese
Don’t practice extreme diets
Diets which exclude or drastically reduce one or more of the essential macronutrients (protein, carbohydrates, fat) must be avoided during pregnancy. Each plays an essential role in the healthy development of the baby. Calorie restriction diets are also bad as your body and your baby need all the energy they can get.
Protein ensures that the baby’s cells multiply properly, that new tissue is healthy, and that the baby’s body produces the right hormones, enzymes, and antibodies.
Carbohydrates ensure that your baby’s cells and organs receive enough energy to function properly. Phytonutrients in carbs also act as antioxidants to reduce free radicals and other harmful substances.
Fats contribute to healthy brain, nerve and hormone development. (Keep in mind that the brain is almost 60% fat9).
Examples of diets to avoid during pregnancy include:
- The Atkins diet (high fat, low carb)
- Ketogenic diet (high fat, low carb)
- John A. McDougall’s starch diet (low fat)
Advice is for information only and should not replace medical care. Please consult a doctor or healthcare professional before changing your diet.