I'm Hungry! The Skinny on Nutrition in Pregnancy
Nutrition is one of the easiest, most important aspects of a healthy pregnancy. I'm NOT a nutritionist. I'm not a doctor. However, I work with pregnant women, and from casual observation, I can easily say that the women who take nutrition seriously have less complications such as high blood pressure and gestational diabetes and seem to have easier deliveries. I will also state that you don't have to be a fitness nut or a fashion model at conception for nutrition to make a difference. Even women who are considered obese, who make healthy choices in pregnancy, have better outcomes than those that do not. It would be great if I could tell you that pregnancy is the ultimate excuse to eat whatever you want, whenever you want, but I can't and I won't. I can refer to the experts for their advice on nutrition.
First let's talk about water. We are mostly made of water, and most of us don't come close to drinking our 8 glasses of water a day. When you are pregnant you have a higher blood volume, which means more fluid needs. You are also providing all of the fluid needs for your baby and the amniotic fluid, which is completely replaced roughly every 3 hours. A Pregnant woman needs between 80 oz at the low end of suggestions. On the high end suggestions are to drink your body weight in ounces per day. As long as you fall somewhere in between you're probably doing all right.
The other, really important aspect of nutrition you can address is protein. At least 70 grams of protein a day! I know that seems like an extreme number but increased protein intake has been linked to better fetal/infant health and to reduced risk of gestational diabetes. If you think 70 is high, some sources even recommend 90! If you think you can't possibly hit 70-90 grams a day, just start small. Try to include protein in everything you consume; every meal, every snack. A pregnant woman only needs about an additional 300 calories a day, but those calories should be spread out, so try eating 3 small meals and 3 snacks a day. There are so many sources of protein: whole grains, beans, a variety of meats, seafood, dairy, nuts, legumes, and even some greens. Babies need the healthy fats that come in lean meats, avocados, and nuts to build brain and bone. There is never a better time to vary your diet and try new and exciting foods than in pregnancy. Eat the Rainbow - and I'm not talking about skittles!
What you don't need a whole lot of in pregnancy is refined sugar, refined flour, and caffeine. While a bit in moderation most likely won't harm you or the baby, these three things don't really benefit you on a daily basis. It also makes it easier to hit your nutrition goals of high protein and varied fruits and vegetables if you aren't wasting your calories on low nutrition foods. Some care providers recommend avoiding lunch meat, highly processed foods like hot-dogs, raw seafood, large game fish like shark, soft, unpasteurized cheeses, and shellfish. The risk associated with each are very small, but you should talk to your care provider to understand the risks and determine your own comfort level with consumption of each. Pregnancy weight gain, depending on maternal weight at the time of conception, should be between 15 and 40 lbs. Many women, especially those that experience hyperemesis or bad "morning sickness" may experience a first trimester weight loss. Typically, morning sickness fades into the second trimester and women gain most of the weight at the same time the baby is gaining weight, the end of the 2nd and 3rd trimesters. If it doesn't, consult your care provider. You could have a condition called hyperemesis gravidarum and need additional care.
A surprising nutrition trick that recently came to light is the tradition of eating dates during pregnancy. We learned there is actual scientific evidence to the practice and the most effective dose is 6 dates a day from week 36 to birth. Eating dates has been associated with shorter and less painful and less complicated labors.
We'll talk more in the future about the nutritional needs of the nursing mother. Just remember; eat a variety of food; fruit, vegetables, grains, and any good source of protein you can find. Drink lots of water. Cut back on refined and overly processed foods. If you do this, stay active, and get enough rest, you are doing what you can to support a healthy pregnancy.