If you’re reading this post and a little one is on the way, congratulations! We know how exciting this time in your life can be! It should come as no surprise that what you eat while you’re pregnant is extraordinarily important to the wellness and development of your baby. You’d be hard pressed to find a single healthcare professional that downplays the importance of nutrition during this season of your life. And since nutrition is our specialty, we’ll take this opportunity to talk about what’s most important for you to be eating while pregnant so that you and your little one are getting the sustenance you both need!
For Baby: What to eat to support fetal development
1. Plenty of Fat: Fat from nuts, seeds, avocados, coconut oil and butter give the developing baby what he or she needs for their nervous system and brain development. Omega 3 fats are often touted for brain and eye development, and also provide key elements that support nerve transmission, immune responses, blood pressure regulation and kidney health. Most people aren’t able to get enough through the foods they eat (not to mention salmon or sardines don’t always sound appetizing if you’re feeling a little queasy), so we recommend taking a supplement. When it comes to fish oil supplements, quality is absolutely key in order to avoid harmful mercury. We recommend the pharmaeceutical-grade OmegaGenics.
2. Key Nutrients: We absolutely recommend taking prenatal vitamins, and there are also additional ways to increase your intake of the vital nutrients your baby needs for development. First is folate which is so important for brain development and preventing birth defects. You can get folate from asparagus, broccoli, and spinach to name a few. Next up is zinc which helps with the production of DNA, the development of your baby’s organs, and it helps support your immune system. A great source of zinc is grass fed beef. Finally, calcium is vital for your baby’s bone, muscle, and nerve development. If you are not consuming enough calcium, the calcium needed for baby’s development will be leached from your bones, which isn’t going to do you any favors in the long run. We recommend getting calcium from salmon, leafy greens and almonds (since the calcium in these sources is the most readily available) and supplementing with Vitamin D to help your body absorb the calcium these foods contain.
For Mama: Avoiding complications
1. Nausea: Nausea can be such a nuisance. Our #1 tip to avoid or combat nausea is to eat small, balanced meals and snacks. It may be more like “PFC every 2” instead of every 3-4 hours like we usually recommend. Less food more often = smaller digestive load at once. If the nausea does hit, try a bit of ginger. It’s known for its stomach calming effects because it promotes the secretion of various digestive enzymes that help to neutralize stomach acid. Skip the ginger candies your doctor may have given you and instead, shave some fresh ginger root into hot water for a yummy, calming tea. We also suggest trying peppermint tea, which can also have a calming effect on your gut. Finally, if it’s the smell of food that triggers your gag reaction, try eating your food at room temperature so the aroma is more mild than when it’s fresh from the oven.
2. Constipation (before and after labor): This may come as no surprise but our first recommendation would be to increase your fluid (water) intake to help move things along, if you will. Practicing yoga and other safe pregnancy exercises can also be beneficial. Our next go-to is Magnesium Citrate, which helps to relieve this annoying pregnancy and postpartum side effect. Increasing your fibrous veggies can work wonders, too!
3. Poor Blood Sugar Regulation (gestational diabetes): During pregnancy, insulin resistance and increased blood sugar are the characteristics of this condition. It presents challenges to both the mother and the baby, as it puts the mother at risk for a whole host of negative effects associated with diabetes (such as kidney and nerve damage, heart disease, etc.) and in the baby it often increases birth weight, increases the risk of jaundice, and causes hypoglycemia (too low of blood sugar) once born. To combat the risk of gestational diabetes through balanced blood sugars, we recommend PFC every 3 and making sure you’re getting enough Vitamin D. Though still being studied, researchers are finding a strong link between low Vitamin D levels and gestational diabetes.
4. Pre-Eclampsia: This condition is often coupled with high blood pressure and protein being secreted into the urine. One of the biggest concerns with pre-eclampsia is that the condition interferes with nutrient delivery to the baby and it poses risks to both mama and baby during delivery. To avoid this, be sure to eat plenty of protein and we suggest supplementing with 200mg of CoQ10 to give your heart the antioxidants and energy it needs to help keep your blood pressure down.
For Both Mama and Baby: Supporting other physiological changes during pregnancy
1. Blood Volume: In the second half of pregnancy, a mother’s blood volume will increase by 50% (and baby creates their own blood supply!). To support this massive expansion, make sure you are drinking water, water, and more water! Staying hydrated is necessary. If you’re someone who is easily bored by water, add a squeeze of lemon or try some sparkling water (no artificial sweeteners—we suggest La Croix or San Pellegrino to meet fluid needs). You’ll also want to be sure that you’re getting enough iron. One of the reasons pregnant women are often tired is because as their blood volume is increasing, without additional iron intake, they can quickly become anemic. Some high iron foods include grass fed beef, liver, dark green leafy vegetables, and nuts, and we recommend an iron supplement too.
2. Weight Gain: Some of us women need reminders that it is good and healthy to gain weight during pregnancy. A healthy weight gain is typically 25-35 pounds, depending on your starting weight. Don’t forget that weight is coming from a larger blood volume, a growing placenta (I mean seriously, how amazing that you actually grow an organ?), and of course a brand new person growing inside of you. Now, it is important to eat responsibly during your pregnancy (we don’t recommend caving to every craving or doubling your servings in the name of “eating for two”), but it’s also important not to get hung up on the weight piece of your pregnancy. Pay attention to your other symptoms and make sure that you’re giving your body and your baby enough nutrition. Fat intake is good to mention again at this point, as eating enough healthy fats will actually help you to curb cravings and keep you feeling full among other added benefits. (It’s also important for Mama to get her Omega 3s through a fish oil supplement to protect against depression and inflammation.)
3. Evolving Gut Bacteria for Both Mom and Baby: Additional probiotics (2-4 capsules per day) are necessary not only for digestive health, but also for a healthy immune system for both of you. During a vaginal delivery, baby gets its first dose of bacteria from mom and this comes from healthy strains like those found in probiotics. Maintaining a healthy ecosystem during pregnancy will improve your child’s gut health later in life. For more on gut health, check out this post.
As you can see, pregnancy nutrition is far more than just “eating for two.” We know you’re probably already feeling a bit of parental strain thinking about the responsibility you have for this little one growing inside, whether it’s your first or fifth, but take comfort in the fact that you’re already taking the right steps in even reading a post like this! We know it’s a big job to take care of a little one, and we’re cheering you on! We’re proud of you for making good choices now before your baby has even entered the world. We’d also suggest individualized support as you make these healthy changes to your diet. An appointment with one of our Dietitian Coaches can help you feel confident that you’re covering all of your bases, both for your baby and yourself!