Healthy diet during pregnancy and breast feeding

'Eating for two' while you are pregnant or breast feeding does not mean eating twice as much. You will require up to 200 to 300 extra calories a day during pregnancy, and between 600 and 1,000 extra calories during the later stages if breast feeding. Doctors now usually prescribe a small dose if folic acid during the first three months if pregnancy, and iron supplements later in pregnancy. You should seek professional advice if you wish to take any other mineral, vitamin or herbal supplements during this period.

What should I eat?

Even if you are on a healthy diet, you will need extra supplies of protein to build the baby's tissues and the placenta. This can be decreased a little when you are breast feeding, but you still need more protein than usual. Ensure that you eat food containing sufficient minerals and vitamins. If your diet is inadequate, those nutrients needed by the baby will be taken from your tissues and bones, and can create a deficit.

What foods should be avoided?

The unpleasant nausea and vomiting that can occur in the morning during the first weeks of pregnancy may be reduced by:
  • Avoiding fatty food, sugar, refined white flour, citrus fruits and juice
  • Eating small meals frequently and not eating late at night
  • Having an early morning snack before getting up (dry biscuits, live yoghurt, soy bean soup or miso [soy bean paste] in hot water)
  • Avoiding constipation by eating a diet rich in fibre
Avoid refined carbohydrates, artificial flavourings, colourings and preservatives. Keep tea, coffee and alcoholic drinks to a minimum and try to stop smoking. Avoid liver, which can contain a large amount of vitamin A (see p43), and soft cheeses and pate, which can contain listeria. Listeria is a cause of miscarriage and stillbirth and, unlike most bacteria, grows at refrigerator temperatures. If you eat pre-cooked foods, they should be heated thoroughly to kill any listeria.

Baby boosters

The following list indicates particular ways in which minerals and vitamins provide for your needs and those of your baby during pregnancy and while you are breast feeding.

CALCIUM AND MAGNESIUM are needed for the baby's teeth and bones, muscle action (including the heart), blood clotting and nervous system. They also help to counteract high blood pressure in the mother, and can help reduce muscle cramps, insomnia, varicose veins and haemorrhoids (piles).

IRON is essential for the blood cells of both mother and baby. In addition to any iron supplement prescribed by your doctor, eat iron-rich food. Iron is absorbed best when food rich in vitamin C is eaten at the same time.

ZINC aids normal development of the baby's immune system, and may help to counteract stretch marks and insomnia in the mother.

SODIUM is needed in greater amounts during pregnancy. Too little may cause damage to the placenta and may also cause pregnant women to crave pickles, olives or sauerkraut. Too much sodium may lead to water retention and raised blood pressure. To achieve a balance, listen to your body's needs and seek advice.

IODINE needs are increased during pregnancy and it is best obtained from sea salt, sea fish and sea vegetables such as kelp, rather than iodized salt which sometimes contains other chemicals that are less welcome.

FOLIC ACID intake needs are doubled in pregnancy and deficiency is now known to contribute to spina bifida and other nervous system defects in the baby. Eat plenty of food rich in folic acid as well as taking a prescribed supplement.

VITAMINS A (AS BETA-CAROTENE), C, P, B6 AND E are all needed in increased amounts. Rubbing vitamin E oil into your skin may reduce stretch marks. Vitamins C and P may help to prevent haemorrhoids and varicose veins.

To avoid dietary imbalance, mineral and vitamin supplements should not usually be taken in large doses. except with professional guidance.

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