Eat just for yourself, not for two
During pregnancy, the food and nutrition your body needs to keep both you and your baby healthy will increase, says Natasha Murray, Accredited Practising Dietitian and spokesperson for the Dietitians Association of Australia.
“In most cases, eating the equivalent of an extra sandwich a day is enough to meet your new needs.”
It’s normal for women to gain some weight in pregnancy. And that’s healthy for the baby, Murray says.
“For women who are in the BMI range of 18.5 to 25, it’s natural for them to gain between 11kg and 16kg.”
If you’re concerned about how much weight you’re gaining, chat with your midwife or healthcare providers to make sure you’re gaining a safe amount of weight.
Pregnancy isn’t the time to diet
Good nutrition is crucial for a baby’s development, and pregnancy isn’t the time to try to lose weight or reduce your food intake.
“Pregnancy is not a time to be restricting intake or dieting at all,” Murray says.
The good news is, morning sickness is usually not harmful to your baby.
“If you’re worried about how much you are – or aren't – eating, have a chat with your care provider.”
You can also find a local accredited practising dietitian to personalise your nutrition advice.
Choose food packed with nutrients
Eating a variety of foods from each of the main food groups will ensure you get the nutrition you and your baby need.
Eat a wide range of food from these groups:
- Vegetables and fruit
- Whole grain breads and cereals
- Proteins including lean meats (such as chicken), fish, nuts and seeds
There are also some key nutrients that are essential to a baby’s growth and development.
Folate is a B-group vitamin that’s important for healthy growth and development of your baby and prevents neural tube defects.
It’s vital to get folate early in your pregnancy. To make sure you get lots of folate, eat foods such as:
- Green leafy vegetables
- Fruit including oranges, bananas, strawberries
- Legumes including chickpeas, lentil, beans
It’s also a good idea to take a folate supplement a month prior to conception, and for three months after conception. There are lots of pregnancy multivitamins available on the market. You can also take a folate supplement that includes iodine.
“Sometimes it is really tricky particularly in that first trimester to get everything you need,” Murray says.
Iodine is important for a baby’s thyroid, brain and nervous system development. Iodine is found in eggs and oily fish, as well as iodised salt. “If you do choose to use salt, use iodised salt,” Murray says.
Your baby gets iron from you, so it’s important to eat enough iron during pregnancy to make sure both you and your baby are getting enough.
“Red meat is an excellent source of iron, and so are other animal foods such as chicken and eggs. The iron in animal foods is absorbed most easily by the body,” says Murray.
Plant sources are good as well, including green leafy vegetables and whole grain cereals. But these plant sources of iron are better absorbed when eaten with vitamin C, such as a little bit of juice, or via fruit including citrus fruits, capsicum or potatoes.
Calcium is vital for both bone health and the development of teeth. And of course, dairy is the best source of calcium.
“To meet your calcium needs, have at least 2.5 serves of dairy a day. One serve is a cup (250ml) of milk or a calcium fortified alternative, 200g of yoghurt or 40g of cheese,” Murray says.
If you drink milk alternatives, make sure they’re calcium fortified.
Steer clear of risky foods
There are a few foods to avoid during pregnancy that can pose risks to your baby.
“There are some things we need to avoid eating such as high listeria-risk foods,” says Murray.
Listeria is a bacterium found in the environment and carried by farm animals and pets.
Infection with listeria (listeriosis) is rare, but it’s important to be cautious during pregnancy, as listeriosis can cause miscarriage and stillbirth.
Raw and undercooked meat should also be avoided due to the risk of toxoplasmosis, an infection caused by parasites.
The high-risk foods to avoid include:
- Deli meats
- Soft cheeses such as brie, camembert and blue cheese
- Soft-serve ice cream
- Raw or undercooked red meat, poultry, pork, sausages and hamburgers. Cook until steaming hot with no traces of pink meat or blood.
- Raw or undercooked eggs. Make sure whites and yolks are solid.
- Pate – both meat and vegetable
- Large fish including raw shellfish
- Pre-packaged salads
- Alcohol and energy drinks (caffeine is okay in small amounts)
Natasha Murray is an Accredited Practising Dietitian and spokesperson for the Dietitians Association of Australia.