Prenatal Nutrition

If you are reading this and are already pregnant – congratulations! If you have decided you’re going to start trying for baby, this is a very exciting time and I urge you to read my previous blog ‘Food for Fertility’. Before we get going, this article is based on evidence based research and should not be considered as personalised advice. If you have any specific concerns about your diet whilst pregnant please seek help from your GP, Midwife or Registered Nutritionist / Dietitian. 

Depending on how far along you are in your pregnancy, you have likely experienced some of the side effects (fatigue, nausea, mood swings etc.). Our bodies go through physical and hormonal changes when growing a baby and it is important to support yourself nutritionally.   

Your body will require increased nutrient intake when pregnant however the ‘eating for two’ myth does not apply here. Think quality over quantity. The current NHS guidelines advise that you should eat the same (healthy) amount as you would do normally, until you get to your third trimester and consume around an extra 200kcals. This is an estimate and equates to 1-2 extra snacks. 

What to eat… 

There is no specific ‘pregnancy diet’ however there are some key food groups and nutrients you will need to consider. 

Carbohydrates

Particularly, in the first trimester, carbs seemed to be the only thing some women can stomach.  Carbs are needed to provide you and your baby with energy and may also help with nausea in the first 12(ish) weeks. Choosing wholegrain carbs is a good way to increase your fibre intake and may help support your digestion (as this is often affected during pregnancy). 

Protein

It is important to consume enough protein in pregnancy to support the growth and development of your baby. It also plays a role in making antibodies to support their immune system. In line with the current guidelines, its advised to consume 1-2 portions of oily fish a week (salmon) as this is important for omega 3 consumption, and a good variety of both meat and plant proteins. Plant proteins such as beans, pulses, tofu and nuts contain an abundance of nutrients and fibre. 

Dairy

Calcium supports the formation and maintenance of your baby’s teeth and bones (and is needed for the health of your own teeth and bones too). The BDA recommend 3 portions of dairy a day (200ml glass of milk, 150g yoghurt, 30g cheese) as it is a great source of calcium. Non dairy sources of calcium include: tahini, spinach, broccoli, tofu, beans, sardines, almonds and dried fruit.

Fruit and vegetables

Try to consume at least 5 fruits or veg a day and switch up the variety as much as you can for a diverse range of nutrients. Soups and smoothies are a great way to sneak in veggies if you are feeling a little nausea. 

Prenatal supplements: Pre natal supplements are essential. 400mcg of Folic Acid is advised 1-3 months prior to conception and in the first 3 months of pregnancy. You should choose a prenatal supplement to take throughout your pregnancy that also contains 10mcg Vitamin D and 150mcg Iodine. Additional Vitamin A is not advised and you should always check with your GP if you are unsure in regards to which prenatal supplement to choose. If you are vegan / vegetarian you may want to also consider a prenatal supplement that includes omega 3 as well as B12. 

Morning sickness

The dreaded morning sickness! It is estimated that around 70% of women will suffer with nausea and or vomiting in the first 12-14 week of pregnancy. Although it may deter you from eating, an empty stomach can actually make nausea worse so try and eat small and frequent meals (even if it’s just some crackers!). Some additional things you may want to try are:

  • Avoiding foods with offensive smells
  • Limit fried or spicy foods
  • Stay hydrated throughout the day
  • Eat plain carbs first thing in the morning
  • Try ginger tea 
  • Have someone else prepare your meals if possible

Caffeine in pregnancy 

The research around caffeine in pregnancy in relatively inconclusive however the available research we have suggests that it should be limited. This is because Foetuses are less able to break down caffeine than adults, and thus may be exposed to the same stimulant effect as the mother. Research by the CARE Study Group in 2008 suggests that small amounts of caffeine (up to 100 mg/day) are safe during pregnancy, but high levels (greater than 200 mg/day) increase the risk of miscarriage, premature birth and low birthweight babies. So, what does 200 mg/day look like?

  • The average ‘coffee shop’ cappuccino contains around 150-190mg however depending on the coffee beans this may be more or less so be cautious.
  •  A cup of instant coffee is around 95mg
  • A cup of green tea can be between 65-90mg
  • A cup of breakfast tea is around 60mg
  • 50g of dark chocolate (>60%) is around 45mg
  • 50g milk chocolate 10mg
  • Can of coke 35mg 

Remember that energy drinks often contain high amounts of caffeine too, and so do over the counter remedies for cold or flu. 

additional tips  

  • Avoid alcohol throughout pregnancy.  Within minutes of consumption, alcohol travels in mother’s bloodstream and crosses the placenta. When the foetus is exposed to alcohol there is an increased risk of miscarriage, stillbirth and pre-term birth.
  • Don’t smoke 
  • Ensure all meats are cooked properly 
  • Practice good hygiene around food
  • Eat freshly prepared foods
  • Wash all fruits and veggies
  • Avoid soft cheeses and unpasteurised dairy (hard cheese are fine)
  • Stay active when you can 
  • Stay hydrated
  • Do not consume high mercury fish: Swordfish, marlin, shark
  • Consult your GP and / midwife if you have any specific concerns 

  

References

https://www.nhs.uk/start4life/pregnancy/healthy-eating-pregnancy

https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/pregnancy-week-by-week/in-depth/pregnancy-nutrition/art-20045082

https://www.bda.uk.com/resource/pregnancy-diet.html

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