Optimal Nutrition in Pregnancy: A Primer

At Health Foundations, we know that nutrition during pregnancy is paramount.  Overwhelming scientific and anecdotal evidence shows that excellent maternal nutrition almost always results in healthy moms and healthy babies, while poor nutrition leads to complications. Nutrition Primer PostThe pressure of busy lifestyles and weight ideals, plus lack of knowledge about nutrition are major obstacles to optimal health for many women—add to these feelings like nausea, fatigue, and other physical stresses of pregnancy and it can be extra challenging to eat right in pregnancy.  But by educating yourself about nutrition in pregnancy, taking this time to really honor and nurture your body and your baby, and listening to your intuition; you can achieve excellent nutrition during pregnancy—when its more important than ever.

There is much to be said about nutrition during pregnancy—too much for one blog post.  In future posts we’ll explore in greater detail the fundamentals of optimal pregnancy nutrition with special focus on:

  • the essential nutrients (i.e. protein, iron, calcium, vitamins A, D, C, E, and Bs, etc),
  • optimal foods in pregnancy, and
  • the use of supplements.

For this introductory post, we wanted to share some of the top advice we give to pregnant mamas in our practice about pregnancy and nutrition.

1  Don’t “Eat for two”—Eat for optimal health.  While you should listen to your body for what it tells you it needs, it’s important not to give into frequent cravings for junk or processed foods, sweet foods, and other calorie-packed treats.

Strive to eat a wide variety of minimally processed, whole foods.  Limit simple carbohydrates such as dairy and sweets and opt for veggies, meats (or other sources of protein) and a small amount of fruits. Eat organic whenever possible and avoid high mercury fish (such as shark, swordfish, king mackerel, walleye or tilefish).  Read more about fish here.

2  In terms of serving sizes and overall caloric intake, pregnant women only need about 200-300 more calories a day in the second and third trimesters—which is the equivalent to an extra small snack a day.

3  Protein, protein, protein.  Protein is so, SO important in pregnancy, and women need a lot of it during this period.  In fact, women should aim to consume about 4-6 servings totaling 80 grams of protein every day.  Women should strive to incorporate some protein into every meal and every snack throughout the day.

4  Frequent meals and snacks will help maintain a healthy blood sugar, which is important in pregnancy.  It can also reduce unpleasant conditions like nausea and fatigue.  Women should strive to eat every few hours, keeping meals smaller and snacks frequent throughout the day.

5  In terms of beverages, it is important to stay hydrated by drinking at least 6-8 cups of water every day.  Pregnant women should limit fruit juices and milk, which are packed with sugar, and reduce or eliminate caffeine.  Besides water, good liquids to consume in pregnancy include nutritive herbal teas (tisanes) such as nettle, raspberry leaf, and chamomile; EmergenC; and POM juice mixed with a little sparkling water.

6  No ice cream!  We know some of our mamas hate this one, especially during a Minnesota summer.  But we say this with good reason (and not to be mean!).  Ice cream is too highly concentrated with fat, sugar, and calories to eat safely on a regular basis during pregnancy.  Truly, we have seen the effects of frequent ice cream consumption on many women in our practice: they often have bigger babies and remarkably more difficult deliveries.    We strongly recommend that women avoid ice cream or strictly limit it to no more than a small serving once a week at the most.

7  While food aversions may keep you away from some foods (including vegetables), do your best to eat healthy despite these limitations.  We can work with you to come up with healthy choices that don’t make you gag at the sound of them.

8  Listen to your body and be kind to yourself.  Your body intuitively knows how to nurture its creations (i.e. your baby)—pay attention to how foods make you feel and to which foods you are drawn.  Practice kindness toward yourself during this time by nourishing your body not only with good foods, but with adequate rest, movement, and relaxation.

9  Enlist support.  Seek help from your partner or other close family/friends in meeting your nutritional needs (i.e. shopping for and making healthy foods).

10   Seek help from your midwives if you have any questions or concerns about healthy eating in pregnancy.

Stay tuned for more articles about nutrition in pregnancy.