Mother’s nutrition has a huge effect on the outcomes of her pregnancy. Complications like low-birth-weight and pre-term labor are commonly associated with nutritional status, and have a larger incidence of neonatal deaths. The good thing about this link is that mother’s nutrition can be altered by the choices she makes, and positively affect the health of her baby.
The first trimester of pregnancy is pretty crucial in terms of fetal developments, which may be a scary feeling for mothers who are unaware or find out later on that they are pregnant. If conception is planned, a healthy diet and a mutivitamin with folate or folic acid is particularly important. Folate is the form in which the vitamin is found naturally in foods, and folic acid is the fortified version found in grains and vitamin supplements. Natural folate can be found in beans (kidney, black, navy, lentils), dark leafy green vegetables (spinach, broccoli, asparagus, Brussels sprouts, collard greens), and fruits (oranges, strawberries, avocados).
It is important to include folate or folic acid in the diet to protect against neural tube defects like spina bifida. Complete closure of the neural tube will help protect the spinal cord, and all of this takes place within the first month of pregnancy. It is recommended that all women capable of becoming pregnant should consume 0.4mg (or 400 micrograms) of folic acid daily (this can be in either fortified foods like cereals or supplements) in addition to a healthy diet with natural folate-rich foods.
Nutrition needs vary during the stages of pregnancy. During the first trimester the embryo or fetus is very small, and mothers nutritional needs to not increase much compared to her pre-pregnancy needs. By the third trimester there is noticeable fetal growth and the women’s nutrient needs increase significantly.
Many women are concerned about proper weight gain throughout pregnancy. There really isn’t a magic number or percentage, and each woman is different. Guidelines generally base an index compared to the woman’s pre-pregnancy height and weight.