Diet for Healthy Pregnancy
Should I eat differently now I’m pregnant?
Now that you’re a mum-to-be, you need to eat well. If your diet is poor to begin with, it is even more important to make sure you have a healthy diet now. You need more vitamins and minerals, especially folic acid and iron. You need a few more calories during your pregnancy as well. Getting your diet right for pregnancy is more about what you eat than about how much. Limit junk food, as it has lots of calories with few or no nutrients.
Eat a variety of foods from these different food groups each day:
- Milk and dairy products: Skimmed milk, yogurt/curd, buttermilk (chhaach), cottage cheese (paneer). These foods are high in calcium, protein and Vitamin B-12. Talk to your doctor about what to eat if you are lactose intolerant.
- Cereals, whole grains, dals , pulses and nuts: These are good sources of protein if you do not eat meat. Vegetarians need about 45 grams of nuts and 2/3 of a cup of legumes for protein each day. One egg, 14 grams of nuts, or ¼ cup of legumes is considered equivalent to roughly 28 grams of meat, poultry, or fish.
- Vegetables and fruits: These provide vitamins, minerals and fibre.
- Meat, fish and poultry: These provide concentrated proteins.
- Fluids: Drink lots of fluids, especially water and fresh fruit juices. Make sure you drink clean boiled or filtered water. Carry your own water when out of the house, or buy bottled water from a reputed brand. Most diseases are caused by waterborne viruses. Go easy on packaged juices as they have a very high sugar content.
- Fats and oils: Ghee, butter, coconut milk and oil are high in saturated fats, which are not very healthy. Vanaspati oil is high in trans fats, which are as bad for you as saturated fats. A better source of fat is vegetable oils because these contain more unsaturated fat.
Do I need to eat more now I’m pregnant?
Even though everyone will advise you to eat for two, the average woman does not need any extra calories during the first six months of pregnancy. Your body actually becomes more efficient at extracting the required energy and nutrients from your diet when you’re expecting a baby. Even in the last few months, you only need about 200 extra calories per day. You can add these additional calories to your daily diet with:
- 2 rotis without ghee or
- one plain dosa with a dollop of coconut chutney or
- two bananas or
- 2 scrambled eggs
Your own appetite is the best indication of how much food you need to eat and you may find it fluctuating during the course of your pregnancy:
- In the first few weeks you may not feel like eating proper meals, especially if you suffer from nausea or sickness. Try then to eat smaller but more frequent meals throughout the day.
- During the middle part of your pregnancy your appetite may come back. You may be hungry and feel like eating more than usual.
- Towards the end of your pregnancy your appetite will probably increase. If you suffer from acidity, heartburn or a full feeling after eating you may find it helpful to have small frequent meals.
- The best rule is to eat when you are hungry and to choose healthy food rather than calorie-rich dishes with little nutritive value.
Are there any foods I shouldn’t eat during pregnancy?
- Unpasteurized milk (buffalo or cow’s milk) may contain listeria.
- Raw or under cooked meat, poultry, and eggs. These can contain harmful bacteria. Cook all meat until there are no pink bits left. Fully cook your eggs till they are hard.
- Raw seafood, such as oysters or uncooked sushi.
- Large predator fish, such as shark or swordfish as it may contain unsafe levels of mercury. These fish absorb the mercury from contaminated water. The mercury binds tightly to the proteins in fish muscle and remains there even after the fish is cooked.
- Processed or canned fish is often preserved in saline (salt solution), which may lead to water retention. Drain canned fish well, and have processed fish only occasionally.
- Alcoholic drinks. Drinking too much alcohol can cause physical defects, learning disabilities, and emotional problems in children. So many experts recommend that you give up alcohol while you are pregnant.
- Cut down on caffeine. Drinking more than 200mg of caffeine a day increases the risk of miscarriage and low birth weight. Have no more than two mugs of instant coffee, or two cups of tea or five cans of cola per day.
Should I take supplements during pregnancy?
Morning sickness or food aversions may make it hard to eat well during pregnancy. A vitamin and mineral supplement may be a good idea to help you get all the vitamins and minerals you need.
Folic acid is particularly important. The Ministry of Health recommends that women should take 0.4 mg (400 micrograms) of folic acid in a supplement until at least the 12th week of pregnancy. A lack of this B vitamin has been linked with neural tube birth defects such as spina bifida.
You may also need to take iron supplements. Your doctor will check your iron levels regularly and advise you on how much to take.
Talk with your doctor about your diet if:
- You are a strict vegetarian
- You have gestational diabetes
- You have anaemia
- You have a history of low-birth weight babies.
In these cases you may need extra vitamins and minerals or you might have to eat a special diet.
Remember, though that more is not always better. Very high doses of vitamins and minerals could be harmful to your baby. Always check with your doctor before taking any medicines or tablets even if they are herbal.
Alcohol during pregnancy
Can I drink alcohol while I’m pregnant?
We don’t know for sure how much alcohol is safe for you to have while you’re pregnant. That’s why many experts advise you to cut out alcohol throughout pregnancy.
Also the actual amount of alcohol you can have during pregnancy is probably different for every woman. This is because everyone metabolises alcohol differently. The effects of alcohol are greater in women who smoke, drink large amounts of drinks containing caffeine, and have a poor diet.
Heavy or binge drinking is dangerous for your baby.
Why is alcohol during pregnancy a problem?
- Alcohol is a toxin. When you drink alcohol, it rapidly reaches your baby across the placenta, via your bloodstream.
- If you drink too much alcohol during pregnancy it can permanently damage your developing baby’s cells. This could affect how your baby’s face, organs and brain grow.
- Heavy drinking can also damage your baby’s nervous system. This can result in your baby having learning difficulties and problems with movement and coordination throughout his life.
- The term for all these problems is fetal alcohol spectrum disorders (FASD). It’s called a spectrum because the problems can range from mild learning difficulties, through to birth defects.
- Full-blown fetal alcohol syndrome (FAS) is at the extreme end of the spectrum of disorders. Babies with FAS tend to have facial defects, to be born small and to carry on being small for their age. These children will have learning difficulties, poor coordination and behavioural problems for the rest of their lives.
- Heavy drinking can also cause problems with your pregnancy, such as miscarriage and premature birth. Too much alcohol can even increase the risk of your baby being stillborn.
- It’s because of the harm that too much alcohol may cause an unborn baby, that experts are wary of saying how much it’s safe to drink during pregnancy.
Caffeine and pregnancy: What’s Safe?
1. Do I have to give up caffeine now that I’m pregnant?
Not necessarily. You can still enjoy your favourite caffeinated drinks as long as you don’t overdo it. Experts recommend that women should have no more than 200mg of caffeine a day while pregnant. This is equal to about 2 cups of instant coffee or 4 cups of tea or five cans of cola per day.
Although moderate amounts of caffeine are unlikely to harm you or your unborn baby, some women choose to cut out caffeine completely.
2. Is it dangerous to drink more than the moderate amount of caffeine during pregnancy?
No one really knows for sure, but research suggests that consistently having more than 200mg of caffeine per day could be related to a higher risk of low birth weight, miscarriage and birth defects, such as cleft palate.
3. Is it safe to drink coffee during pregnancy?
- Yes, you can still enjoy your daily coffee kick during your pregnancy so long as you limit your caffeine intake to 200mg a day. This amounts to about two cups of instant coffee or one and a half cups of filtered coffee (for cups of 200ml in size).Regularly having more than 200 mg of caffeine during pregnancy can increase the risk of miscarriage or having a baby with low birth weight. The 200mg limit includes all sources of caffeine. So as well as coffee you’ll need to count teas (including green tea), colas, energy drinks and even chocolate!It is important to note, that the caffeine content in coffee or tea can vary according to:
- The cup or mug size – our recommendations are based on a 200ml size cup but if you use a bigger cup keep in mind that the more you drink, the more caffeine you take in.
- How finely the coffee is ground – the finer the grind, the more caffeine is released into the water while brewing.
- How dark the coffee is roasted – lighter roasts have more caffeine than dark roasts.
- How long the coffee was brewed for – the longer the brew, the more caffeine gets released into the water. This is true for tea as well.
- How hot the water is – the hotter the water while brewing the coffee, the more caffeine is extracted from the bean
- The amount of coffee or tea used to make the drink – the more coffee or tea leaves used, the more caffeine will be released.
- The type of coffee bean or tea leaves used – some varieties of coffee or tea have more caffeine than others.
- Also, keep in mind that the caffeine content of espressos, and coffees based on espressos, such as cappuccinos and lattes, can depend on the outlet. One study found that caffeine levels can range from 50mg per espresso at one chain to as much as 300mg per espresso in another.
If you need to cut down on coffee, switch from filter coffee to instant coffee, as it contains slightly less caffeine. You could also reduce your intake by using only half a teaspoon of coffee. Decaffeinated coffee is also a good option.
4. Is it safe to eat papaya during pregnancy?
Yes, it is safe to eat papaya during pregnancy, as long as it is ripe. A well-ripened papaya is full of vitamins and nutrients. Papaya helps to prevent and control constipation and heartburn. For these reasons, many experts recommend that pregnant women eat moderate amounts of ripe papaya.
Some women make a tonic by blending portions of ripe papaya with milk and honey. This mixture is considered a rich source of nutrients for pregnant and nursing mums.
However if the papaya is unripe, then no, it isn’t safe. An unripe or semi-ripe papaya is rich in a substance called latex. Research shows that this concentrated form of latex may trigger uterine contractions. Also, papaya skin and seeds shouldn’t be eaten