Eat a healthy pregnancy diet to support your energy, sleep and growing baby.
Pregnancy is the quickest and largest change that can be experienced as part of the human body. It’s an amazing and wonderful period of growth.
Whilst there are several anatomical changes that are obvious to see, for example belly and breast size increasing, there are also hidden changes that aren’t so obvious. Your blood increases, your heart works harder, and your kidneys work extra hard too.
Your body grows your baby pretty much from scratch. It’s important your pregnancy diet supports this process, and gives you the nutrients you need to repair your body afterwards.
Your diet in pregnancy has been shown to influence a child’s lifelong risk of obesity, cancer, heart disease, Type 2 diabetes, and more. No pressure then!
What’s the best pregnancy diet?
There is no one “perfect” diet that works for everyone. The main principles are the same as normal healthy dietary advice:
- Drink water to stay hydrated
- Eat enough protein
- Get your 7 a day (5 veg and 2x fruit)
- Include healthy fats (omega 3, nuts, seeds, oily fish, avocado)
- If you eat a balanced diet including lots of vegetables don’t worry about the odd cake, crisps or things you fancy.
- Avoid processed foods, alcohol, smoking, drugs, too much caffeine
Some of the nutrients that can support a healthy pregnancy and postnatal recovery:
Increase iron in pregnancy
Iron is often low in women due to extra growth needs, we need to nurture blood building during pregnancy, and your iron levels will be commonly tested by your midwife and GP.
After the birth women may be low in iron due to blood loss.
A baby’s memory can be negatively affected by low levels in pregnancy so you may be given supplements if necessary.
Increase your iron by eating iron rich foods such as beef, lentils, fish, eggs, dried fruits and leafy green vegetables such as spinach.
Folic Acid or Folate for Pregnancy?
This bit is a little techy, but stick with it, read through.
You’re probably already taking folic acid, but some people (30-60% of us) have a genetic mutation (called a SNP) which affects the conversion of folate into its usable form, methylfolate.
Folic acid needs to go through a series of changes driven by enzymes to be useable. It’s important because it reduces the risk for neural tube defects and other congenital anomalies. and healthy maternal folate levels in mid-pregnancy is associated with a decreased risk of lower respiratory tract infections and atopic dermatitis in early childhood.
For those with the mutation our capacity to convert synthetic folic acid into methylfolate is reduced by 40-70%. To get around this look for a pregnancy supplement with the natural form of B9 which will be called folate or methylfolate in ingredients.
Protein in pregnancy
Protein is a key building block of our growing baby we need to include protein rich foods at every meal. Aim for meat, fish, nuts, seeds, eggs or soya to provide your protein.
Fibre for pregnancy
Fibre is also an important consideration for pregnant women, to keep the bowels moving and reduce the risk of constipation. Our digestion naturally slows in pregnancy, but maintaining a good level of vegetables, fruits, pulses and wholegrains can help. Drink sufficient water if you’re increasing fibre.
Essential Fatty Acids Are Essential
During pregnancy your baby’s brain is built from DHA, which comes from oily fish. The acronym SMASH = Sardines, Mackerel, Anchovies, Salmon, Herring can help us remember which oily fish are rich in Omega 3.
Aim for 2 portions of oily fish a week, or take a supplement to supports increasing gestation length, reducing the risk of preterm birth, and pre-eclampsia. Omega 3 has also been linked to improving your baby’s brain development including cognitive and visual performance.
It’s not just for the baby’s health, in some studies women who took fish oil supplements showed decreased risk of postpartum depression.
Vitamin D in pregnancy
Vitamin D is recommended for everyone in the UK and we know it helps build teeth and bones, as well as making the most of calcium in your diet. During pregnancy and after the birth it’s important to take a supplement.
What to eat after the baby
To help keep nourishing foods supporting you after the birth you can try freezing some meals or soups, and ask for help from anyone who offers. You may even be able to set up a food delivery service for the first few weeks after the birth from friends and family who want to help. When people ask what they can do for you, say cook or bring food.
Anna Mapson supports busy parents to get family nutrition right, taking away the stress if feeding your family. In Bristol or online via video call
- Weaning Consultations & Group Classes
- Children’s Nutrition Consultations (e.g. fussy eating, constipation, eczema, healthy growth, behaviour)