This post was a print article for Easy Parenting magazine.
We are beginning to understand more how the right diet in the months leading up to conception and during pregnancy can affect the health of your baby from birth and even through to adulthood. What you eat and drink also plays a huge role in ensuring you have a healthy, comfortable and enjoyable pregnancy.
Pregnancy is a time when your nutritional needs are at their greatest and all of your resources will be drawn upon. Pregnancy involves significant anatomical and physiological changes in order to nurture and accommodate the developing baby. I have put together my Top 6 Foods to Eat During Pregnancy.
Oily Fish – these Omega 3 fatty acid rich fish such as mackerel, salmon, sardines and anchovies play a pivotal role in foetal growth and development and are particularly important for brain, eye and central nervous system development in a growing baby, they are even more vital in the last trimester where the intellectual development is at its most critical point.
There has also been research carried out which found a lowered development of major depression during and after pregnancy in those that consumed omega 3 fats so all good reason to top your salad or baked potato with a piece of mackerel or enjoy some sardines on wholegrain toast.
Avoid shark, swordfish and marlin as these can contain high levels of mercury.
Wild fish from unpolluted seas twice a week is ideal or if you’re not a fan, consider a good quality fish oil supplement.
Iron Rich Foods – Blood volume increases progressively through pregnancy by 45%. Haemoglobin concentration and red blood cell count tend to fall hence the need for adequate iron, a 2-3 fold increase in iron requirements in fact. Iron deficiency anaemia can cause serious complications during delivery. Your growing baby will use up a lot of iron from your own supply so eat lots of the iron rich foods both pre and during pregnancy to keep your levels up and help prevent tiredness. Iron is best utilised and absorbed with other nutrients, particularly Vitamin C.
Lean red meat (also contains zinc another super important pregnancy nutrient), egg yolks, green leafy veg, dried fruits and pulses.
Many women have trouble with iron supplements such as digestive upsets and constipation so it’s important to find the right iron supplement for you.
Lovely slow cooked beef stews and casseroles are an iron rich warming and nourishing meal (also rich in glycine – an amino acid important to support growth of uterus) Adding Vitamin C rich vegetables or a green juice will boost iron absorption. Avoiding tannin rich black tea either side of meals and consider a good quality nettle tea, which contains iron and helps absorption of minerals.
Vegetables, vegetables and more vegetables (fruits too!). 5 a day is a poor aim, we need to get reaching towards 10 a day. Eat from the rainbow! People who love their veg are a nutritional therapists dream, eating a wide variety and as many different colours as possible will ensure a broad range of vital vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and fibre which you and baby will greatly benefit from. A simple rule is to have a fruit or veg with every meal or snack and make sure to pack your meals with those folate rich greens.
A bowl of leafy greens, avocado, cucumber, cherry tomatoes, spring onion and peppers with some form of protein like tuna, salmon, chicken, eggs, nuts and seeds with some olive or flaxseed oil and lemon juice makes a light and healthy lunch. Some quinoa or oatcakes can be added also.
I had a thing for avocados when pregnant (their vitamin E content = stretch mark prevention) and tried to have a fresh green juice or smoothie to get the nutrients in when in the throes of pregnancy nausea.
Seeds – A very convenient way to add a little more nutrients to your diet. Containing protein, fibre, essential fats, vitamin E, zinc, calcium and magnesium, the latter two are helpful for restless legs and muscle cramps.
I particularly like chia, flax and pumpkin seeds and like to use both whole and ground. A handful of pumpkin seeds with some berries make a perfect blood sugar balancing snack, this will help keep energy levels steady and queasiness and nausea at bay.
Try chia seed pudding or add to pancakes or muesli, sprinkle a good tablespoon of flaxseed into oats or smoothies. Just one ounce of chia seeds packs a whopping 10 grams of fiber. Its insoluble fiber acts as a prebiotic that feeds friendly gut bacteria and ferments into short-chain fatty acids to support gut health.
Water – ok so not strictly a food and a basic recommendation but definitely worth mentioning. It is essential for the mother-to-be to keep properly hydrated as water is needed to form the amniotic fluid and to support the increase in blood volume.
Many women are prone to constipation, dry skin, swelling or urinary tract infections during pregnancy and good hydration helps with these issues. If you are unfortunate enough to suffer from pregnancy sickness don’t drink water with meals, better to sip consistently between meals.
Herbal teas count towards your water intake too, try rooibos tea (high in antioxidants and caffeine free), ginger tea (can help with nausea), chamomile tea (to help unwind and promote a restful sleep) or raspberry Leaf tea (often recommended to tone the uterine muscle and make contractions more efficient and let’s face it who doesn’t want sufficient contractions! NB – to be used only from 32 weeks)
Fermented foods – think kefir, kombucha or fermented veg like kimchi or sauerkraut. These foods are teeming with beneficial microbes that will set the stage for a good immune system for your baby. If you don’t fancy these then it would be worthwhile to consider a pregnancy probiotic supplement to ensure your gut flora is healthy and that you pass this onto your baby. The microflora of the vaginal canal is predominantly composed of lactobacillus and acidophilus, the same micro-organisms that should be predominant in the gastrointestinal system. During a vaginal birth, the baby should be exposed and inoculated with these organisms. There are specific probiotics designed for babies too, especially important if baby is born by C-section and doesn’t get the benefit of the bacteria from the vaginal canal. If there is a family history of allergies or atopic conditions (asthma, eczema, hayfever) ensuring your gut bacteria is healthy can greatly reduce your child’s chances of inheriting these conditions.
This list highlights just a few of the most nutrient-dense superfoods for pregnancy, a well-balanced pregnancy diet includes many more foods beyond this list. Aim for variety and eat mindfully, whatever you choose to eat. You’re growing a human being after all!