Nutrition in Pregnancy
nutrition in pregnancy
Written by Jade | Midwife, Mama of 3 & Tiny Hearts Educator
When you find out you're pregnant, the last thing on your mind is probably nutrition. In fact, if you've got morning sickness, food is not something you're going to be reaching for quickly. But it's important to know about so once you start feeling better, you know what foods aren't recommended during pregnancy, which supplements to start taking and how much of certain food groups you should be eating during pregnancy. That's where this blog comes in; we've done the research for you, so you can spend time focusing on growing that belly bub.
As soon as you find out you're pregnant, you should start taking a folic acid supplement, which you can purchase from a chemist or a supermarket to help prevent neural tube defects, such as spina bifida. Depending on early blood test results, your doctor might also recommend taking an iron supplement. If that's the case, I suggest taking Vitamin C with the supplement as well. You might also consider taking a pregnancy multivitamin. Regardless of which you choose, make sure it's got at least 400 micrograms of folic acid to meet those minimum requirements. If you're at an increased risk of bub developing neural tube defects, such as having a bub previously with Spina Bifida, you may need to take a higher dose and should chat to your doctor about what dose to take
what foods should a mama eat?
The Australian Guide to Healthy Eating has created five guidelines to help mamas get adequate nutrition during pregnancy. These five guidelines are:
1. Maintain a healthy weight, be physically active and choose nutritious foods and drinks.
A mama's recommended weight gain is calculated based on her pre-pregnancy BMI. As present, the guidelines are:
BMI <18.5 = 12.5=18kg weight gain
BMI 18.5-24.9 = 11.5-16kg weight gain
BMI 25- 29.9 = 7-11.5kg weight gain
BMI 30+ = 5-9kg weight gain
2. Eat a wide variety of the five food groups every day and drink plenty of water.
The five food groups are:
- Vegetables [e.g. carrot, celery, cucumber, broccoli]
- Fruit [e.g. apple, orange, watermelon, mango]
- Dairy, mostly reduced fat [e.g. cheese, yogurt, milk]
- Grains [e.g. pasta, cereals, bread, oats, quinoa]
- Meats, nuts + seeds [e.g. fish, eggs, tofu, chicken, beans]
For a pregnant mama, The Australian Guide to Healthy Eating has created a guide on the recommended daily servings of each food group:
Vegetables: 5 serves per day.
Fruit: 2 serves per day.
Grains: 8 serves per day for mamas aged under 18. For mamas between 19-50, the recommended daily serve is 8.5.
Meats, nuts + seeds: 3.5 serves per day.
Dairy: 3.5 per day for mamas aged under 18. For mamas between 19-50, the recommended daily serve is 2.5.
3. Limit intake of foods containing saturated fat, added salt, added sugars and alcohol.
- Foods high in saturated fats include things like hot chips, biscuits, pizza, pies, processed meats and fried foods.
- Avoid adding salt when cooking and to foods while eating.
- Added sugars come from things like soft drinks, lollies, cordial and energy drinks.
- There is no level of alcohol consumption that is considered safe during pregnancy, so the current advice is to avoid all alcohol whilst pregnant.
4. Encourage, support and promote breastfeeding.
This guideline doesn't provide any further information. However, it may be something to do with breastfeeding helping a mama manage their weight loss after birth, or potentially about promoting breastfeeding for bub after birth based alone on the health benefits of breastfeeding. We know there are many other factors that affect a mamas willingness or ability to breastfeed, so please, mama, don't take this one to heart.
5. Care for your food, prepare and store it safely.
When foods are prepared, cooked and stored correctly, there is a decreased risk of the food causing an illness that may cause a mama or bub to become unwell. This leads into our next topic; what foods to avoid during pregnancy.
what food should a mama avoid?
During pregnancy, there are certain foods that mamas are recommended to avoid. That's because your changing hormones lower your immune system. This makes it harder for your body to fight infections or sicknesses, some of which can cross the placenta and reach bub. Some foods are at higher risk than others of causing sickness or infections, which is why those foods are classed as "high risk" and aren't recommended in pregnancy.
Salmonella, Listeria + Toxoplasmosis
Two of the main sicknesses that some food groups can cause are Salmonella and Listeria.
Salmonella can cause a range of symptoms like fever, vomiting and headache. Most importantly, for a pregnant Mama, it can trigger a miscarriage. Salmonella is found in foods like raw meats, raw eggs and raw or lightly cooked sprouts.
Listeria can cause an infection called Listeriosis. In adults, it generally causes flu-like symptoms. But, if it crosses the placenta to your belly bub, it can cause miscarriage, preterm labour or stillbirth. The tricky thing is that some of the high-risk foods might contain Listeria even after being stored correctly. So knowing this, the recommendations are to eat freshly cooked food and avoid food that's been made more than a day in advance. Leftovers are ok to consume the next day as long as you refrigerate them quickly after cooking and heat them to an appropriate temperature.
Listeria is rare. NSW Food Authority advises that low levels of Listeria is present in high-risk foods only around 1-2% of the time. But they also advise that of all the Australian listeria cases [which are few], one in ten occurs in a pregnant mama.
Toxoplasmosis is a parasite found in raw and undercooked meats, unwashed fruits and vegetables, contaminated water, soil and cat litter boxes. If a pregnant mama eats contaminated meats, fruits and veggies, and becomes infected with toxoplasmosis for the first time in her life during pregnancy, the infection can cross the placenta and affect bub in ways such as impaired hearing, developmental delays, brain abnormalities, eye inflammation as well as an increased risk of stillbirth.
Thankfully, toxoplasmosis infection for the first time during pregnancy is rare. If a mama does become infected in pregnancy, the earlier she is, the lower the risk of passing it to bub, with the risk being 5% at around 12 weeks, which shoots up to 80% just before birth. However, the earlier a belly bub becomes infected with toxoplasmosis, the more likely they are to develop congenital anomalies [birth defects].
In this case, mama, the best thing you can do to try and prevent these three awful infections is:
- Wash your hands before and after preparing and eating foods.
- Wash all fruit and veggies before eating them.
- Cook all meat all the way through.
- Store all foods properly, at the correct temperatures.
- Cool foods quickly after cooking, and place in an airtight container in the refrigerator.
- Reheat all leftover foods until piping hot.
- Consume leftovers the next day.
- Avoid high-risk foods.
what are high-risk foods?
Like I said above, high-risk foods are those that are at an increased risk of being contaminated with or passing on infections or parasites. As a blanket rule, the best thing to do is avoid these foods if possible.
- Cold cooked chicken
- Cold processed meats
- Soft and semi-soft cheese
- Unpasteurised milk and dairy products
- Processed ready-to-eat meats and chicken, such as ham, salami and devon
- Pre-cut fruit, pre-packaged salads and unpasteurised juices
- Cold-smoked seafood and pre-cooked prawns
- Raw seafood, including oysters and sushi
- Seed sprouts
- Soft serve or fried ice cream
- Raw seafood and cold smoked salmon
- Pre-prepared or pre-packed cold salads
- Stuffing in chicken or poultry unless cooked separate and hot
- Raw eggs including in things like cake batter
According to NSW Food Healthy Authority, there are also some foods a pregnant mama can eat but should use caution. These include:
- Hot takeaway chicken [purchase freshly cooked and eat while hot. Store leftovers in the fridge, reheat until piping hot and eat within 1 day].
- Processed cheese, cheese spreads, cottage cheese + cream cheese [Store in the fridge and eat within two days of opening the packet].
- Store-bought custard [Can be eaten cold if freshly opened. Store in the fridge, reheat to at least 60 degrees and use within a day of opening. Also, make sure it's within the used-by date].
- Home-made custard [Cook thoroughly to at least 71 degrees, eat within a day and reheat leftovers].
- Cooked egg dishes, e.g. quiche [Don't use cracked or dirty eggs, and cook thoroughly to 71 degrees].
- Canned foods, e.g. tinned pineapple [Store leftovers in the fridge in an airtight container and use within a day].
- Hommus [Store in fridge and eat within two days of opening or making].
- Leftover cooked foods [Store leftovers covered in the fridge, eat within a day and always reheat to at least 60 degrees].
Would it really be a pregnancy blog about nutrition in pregnancy without mentioning cravings?
Cravings are a common and normal part of pregnancy, often beginning in the first trimester, peaking in the second, and declining in the third. Some say cravings come from a mama being deficient in something; however, there's no current research to support this claim.
In pregnancy, some mamas crave sweet, sour, spicy or even weird combinations of food. The old wives tales say that sweet cravings mean a little lady is on her way, and sour cravings mean a baby boy will be arriving soon. Other mamas crave things that are either not food, like chalk, or have no nutritional value, like ice. This condition is called 'Pica'.
It's still unknown why some mamas experience Pica during pregnancy, but the Journal of American Dietetic Association suggests iron deficiency or poor nutrition might be the cause.
Some of the most common pica cravings are:
- Burnt matches
- Laundry powder
- Coffee grounds
Whenever you eat something that isn't intended to be eaten as food, it might cause harm to you and your little person. Depending on what it is, your pica craving might be toxic, have parasitic ingredients, interfere with nutrient absorption or be poisonous. Because of this, it's always important to mention your pica craving to your health provider to make sure that you're keeping yourself and your belly bub safe. Your health provider might suggest alternatives or substitutes to manage your cravings, perform blood tests to check for any deficiencies and offer supplements if needed. There's no way to prevent pica, but the best thing you can do is to eat a balanced diet, take your pregnancy vitamins and seek help if you need it.
I also think it's important that you know there's always going to be people who tell you they ate soft serve for breakfast in pregnancy, never washed their fruit and veggies, and threw back ham like it was going out of fashion and their baby was fine. While that's true for most, it's not the case for everyone. An informed mama is an empowered Mama, so take this info and decide what's right for you, and don't ever be afraid or apologise for advocating for the little person you love the most; your bub.
I hope this helps you better understand feeding nutrition in pregnancy better. In the comments on the original post, tag your fam + friends, and while you're there I'd love to read about your experiences with nutrition in pregnancy. ✨
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