Despite images of feasting on pickles and ice cream, a positive pregnancy test is not an invitation to eat twice as much for the next nine months. “Eating for two” should be interpreted carefully. Remember that the second person involved here starts out weighing far far less than even one pound! The added amount of necessary food intake during pregnancy is actually quite minimal; however, the choice of what is ingested is more important than ever before, as the nutrients consumed during pregnancy are a baby’s main source of nutrition.
According to the March of Dimes, most pregnant women only need about 300 extra daily calories. Picture half a sandwich and a glass of skim milk. Some women need more or less additional food intake, depending on pre-pregnancy weight and body mass index (BMI). A qualified health care provider can give advice about healthy weight gain parameters specific to each pregnancy.
A healthy, balanced diet can help ensure the good health of both mom and baby. Most women can benefit from additional vitamins and minerals during pregnancy, including extra calcium (1,000mg/day), iron (27 mg/day) and folic acid (0.4mg/day). Dairy products and sardines are high in calcium. Iron-rich foods include red meat, fortified cereals, spinach and raisins. Foods rich in folate, or folic acid, include leafy green vegetables like spinach, liver, orange juice, nuts and legumes. However, it may be difficult to consume enough folate through food alone.
To reduce potential risk of neural tube defects in a child, all women of childbearing age, according to the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology (ACOG), should take supplemental multivitamins that include folic acid. Once pregnant—or even while trying to conceive—prenatal vitamins can provide sufficient folic acid and other nutrients, including recommended amounts of vitamins A, C, D, B6 and B12. A health care provider can recommend the appropriate amount and type of supplemental vitamins needed during pregnancy.
There are numerous items women should limit or avoid during pregnancy, for their own health and their babies’ health. Anything unpasteurized—including raw milk, many soft cheeses, and some juices—should be avoided throughout pregnancy. It is important to be sure that meat is fully cooked. This includes heating hot dogs and deli meats to avoid possible contamination with listeriosis, a type of food poisoning that can cause severe illness in pregnant women.
Pass up raw or seared fish, as they have a higher likelihood of containing bacteria or parasites than cooked fish. The same goes for cold, smoked seafood. Even some cooked fish are better to avoid, due to their high mercury content. It may be wise to steer clear of swordfish, shark, king mackerel and tilefish. Potentially hazardous for adults, mercury can be even more dangerous to a fetus. The United States Department of Agriculture advises consumption of 12 or fewer ounces of cooked fish per week throughout pregnancy.
The jury is out as to whether caffeine leads to miscarriage. ACOG noted that, while studies report conflicting results about the effects of caffeine during pregnancy, moderate amounts of caffeine--for example, two 8-oz. cups of coffee, or 200 mg caffeine/day--don’t appear to cause miscarriage or premature birth. No conclusive evidence has been presented to determine whether or not caffeine leads to low birth weight. Because there are no definitive answers about its effects, and also to allow for better sleep and overall comfort, limiting caffeine intake during pregnancy is advisable.
The amount of weight each woman should gain during pregnancy depends on a number of factors. A woman’s weight before pregnancy, as well as her body mass index (BMI) can help determine a healthy range of pregnancy weight gain. The ACOG publication “Nutrition During Pregnancy” includes a chart outlining healthy weight gain parameters, as well as an explanation of where the weight gained during pregnancy is distributed. For example, pregnant women gain four pounds in extra blood alone!
Every woman’s experience during pregnancy is unique. However, one thing rings true in every one: what you eat is what your baby eats. Focusing on maintaining a healthy diet and getting an adequate amount of necessary vitamins and minerals can keep mom and baby healthy throughout the nine months of eating for two.
Reviewed on June 14, 2011
Edited by Alison Stanton