Nutrition & pregnancy

Nutrition is always important but it tends to take on a new focus when you’re pregnant. Suddenly there are specific foods that you’re advised to avoid, people make comments about you eating for two, nausea / dips in energy / cravings may completely change what you want (and don’t want!) to eat and weight gain is often a concern for many women.

So here are the answers to some commonly asked questions…

Should I be eating for two?

It’s only in the last three months of pregnancy that a women’s energy needs increase and this is only by around 200 calories per day (i.e. less than two slices of bread or a Mars Bar!), so eating for two is very much a myth!

How much weight will / should I gain?

This varies dramatically across women and will depend on many factors. Most pregnant women, however, gain somewhere between 10-12.5kg, putting on most of the weight after week 20.

There are risks to being overweight during pregnancy and so healthy weight gain is important. Being overweight or obese (a BMI over 30) increases your risk of gestational diabetes, pre-eclampsia, a longer labour, needing assistance during labour (in the form of instrumental delivery or a c-section), blood clots, shoulder dystocia in baby during birth, a big baby, slower wound healing post delivery, postpartum haemorrhage, miscarriage and stillbirth.*

Equally, pregnancy is not the time for dieting as baby needs the nutrients for its development and growing a baby requires energy. Please seek advice from your midwife/GP if you’re concerned about your weight. 

And remember that moderate-intensity exercise during pregnancy is beneficial to both mom and baby and at least 30 minutes per day is the current Government recommendation.

How is that weight gain typically made up?

Approximately,

  • 32% is baby
  • 18% retained water
  • 15% additional fat reserves to support baby
  • 10% extra blood volume
  • 8% your enlarged uterus
  • 7% placenta
  • 7% amniotic fluid
  • 3% enlarged breasts.

What are your top tips for healthy eating in pregnancy?

In no particular order…

  • Eat a balanced diet with each meal ideally comprising carbs, protein and healthy fats.
  • Fruit, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, seeds, beans & pulses are great sources of many nutrients and specifically fibre, which is really important for digestive health. Your digestive system typically slows during pregnancy with constipation being a common complaint and dietary fibre combined with drinking lots of water will help massively with this. (Also see the squatty potty)
  • Eat slowly and mindfully, stopping when you’re comfortably full. Both because it’s a great food habit to have to avoid over-eating and because it may well help with any indigestion/heartburn/reflux.
  • On the subject of gastric complaints, eating smaller meals more often and not eating within three hours of going to bed can be helpful. As can cutting down on fatty, rich and spicy foods and drinks with contain caffeine. You might also benefit from propping yourself up slightly when sleeping and obviously see your GP if you’re struggling.
  • Many women become anaemic or have lower iron levels during pregnancy, so keep an eye on your energy levels and make sure you’re eating enough lean red meat, egg yolks, beans, almonds/hazelnuts and green leafy vegetables. And remember that vitamin C helps iron absorption.
  • Think about reducing the toxins in your body by eating organic, minimising processed & charred foods, avoiding storing & heating food in plastic, thinking about what you put on your skin, etc.
  • Don’t worry if you have a bad food day, particularly where nausea and cravings are involved. Add more good choices where you can and remember that eating well even 50% of the time makes a real difference.
  • Try and cut down on sugary, processed foods and remember that if a food is readily available at home, you will eat it at some point! Meal planning really helps with this and means you’re less likely to overspend / buy more than you need each week.
  • Supplement as necessary and remember to take 400mg folic acid during the first 12 weeks of pregnancy to aid baby’s spinal development.

Finally, if you’re looking for further support with your nutrition habits you can read more about my nutrition jumpstart here. It’s perfectly suitable for pregnancy.

(* NHS, ‘New weight advice for pregnancy,’ 2010 https://www.nhs.uk/news/pregnancy-and-child/new-weight-advice-for-pregnancy/ )

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