Of all stages in life, pregnancy is the one in which a woman’s health is most important. Not only is your health more delicate during pregnancy, it also affects the long-term health of your baby. Proper nutrition is key to a healthy pregnancy that’s free of complications. While every woman’s needs are different, medical experts generally agree on what foods women should consume or avoid while pregnant. Some of the most important nutrients during pregnancy include iron, calcium, folic acid, and protein. The following suggestions represent the overall view of the medical community, but be sure to check in with your family doctor or a pregnancy specialist for specific dietary recommendations.
A key nutritional need for pregnant women is folic acid, which is one of many B vitamin types. Folic acid (or folate, the naturally occurring form of folic acid) is needed for the formation of healthy DNA structures and red blood cells. Research from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) found that taking folic acid supplements during pregnancy helps lower the risk of spinal and neural birth defects. The CDC recommends pregnant women take 400+ micrograms (mcg) per day from a supplement. Folic acid can be found in enriched cereals and green vegetables, but most experts recommend women take a multivitamin supplement to ensure proper levels.
The most common nutritional issue for pregnant women is iron deficiency. Iron helps in the creation of red blood cells, which is important in pregnancy because your body produces nearly 50% more blood. Experts recommend that you increase your iron intake by 27 milligrams while pregnant. Iron supplements are recommended, but you can also get your daily intake from enriched cereals (1-2 cups), oatmeal (2-3 cups), and most bean varieties (2-3 cups). You may need more if you are carrying twins or have a natural iron deficiency. You can check with a maternity care physician for personalized recommendations.
During pregnancy, your protein intake must increase to support the additional energy needed to carry a child. Protein is also critical for helping your baby’s body and brain grow, especially in the final month before birth. The general recommendation is to increase your protein consumption by 25 grams per day. Foods like fish and eggs are especially good sources because of the additional omega-3 oils. Two serving of each is enough for your daily needs. Some fish varieties should be avoided if they contain methyl mercury or PCB’s. Common varieties like wild salmon, trout, cod, and halibut are considered to be safe, however. Vegans can get their additional protein needs from 3-4 servings of beans, nuts, tofu, and whole grains.
Substances to Avoid
Alcohol and Tobacco
Recently, several news media sources and medical blogs have indicated that moderate alcohol consumption is safe for pregnant women. The majority of experts disagree with this, however. The American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology (ACOG) states that “no amount of alcohol consumption can be considered safe during pregnancy” and that drinking during pregnancy exposes an unborn child to the risk of “growth deficiencies, facial deformities, central nervous impairment, behavioral disorders, and impaired intellectual development.” ACOG has reiterated this stance due to conflicting news reports from CBS and ABC.
Experts also recommend women avoid smoking altogether during pregnancy. Health risks of smoking include low birth weight, premature birth, stillbirth, and other pregnancy complications. Nicotine patches and other smoking replacements can also pose similar health risks to unborn babies.
While many medical studies have linked high caffeine consumption with an increased chance of miscarriage, one study from Dr. De-Kun Li of the Kaiser Permanente Oakland Medical Center found that just 200 mg of caffeine a day can significantly increase the risk of miscarriage. This amounts to a mere two cups of coffee per day. The study also found that the source of caffeine be it tea or other natural sources did not make any difference.
Even though pregnant women are prone to sugar cravings, research has shown that excessive consumption can put a baby at risk. As a mother’s blood sugar rises, the likelihood of giving birth to an overweight or obese baby increases. This poses risks to the carrying mother and could make for a complicated delivery.
The Importance of Regular Health Check-Ins
While medical research and generally advised nutritional habits can act as guidelines to a healthy pregnancy, you should check in regularly with a doctor for specific recommendations. When searching for a care provider, it’s important to choose a doctor who knows your medical history and personal health tendencies. That is one benefit of going to your family doctor for maternal care. At Western Washington Medical Group’s Marysville Family Medicine branch, our doctors offer the highest quality of care for expecting mothers and newborn infants. Learn more about our Marysville practice.