Pregnancy is a journey of lifetime, it is a life changing experience for all couples and specially women. Pregnancy causes lot of changes in the body of the female and physiologically too. Pregnancy is also known as gestation, in which one or more offspring grow within the body of the female. Pregnancy is divided into three trimesters, each lasting for approximately 3 months. The first trimester includes conception, which is when the sperm fertilizes the egg. The fertilized egg then travels down the fallopian tube and attaches to the inside of the uterus, where it begins to form the embryo and placenta. During the first trimester, the possibility of miscarriage (natural death of embryo or fetus) is at its highest. Around the middle of the second trimester, movement of the fetus may be felt.
Physiological changes during pregnancy
Pregnancy is life changing process for the woman and her body. Due to pregnancy many changes are noted in all the systems of the female body. The changes are seen in all the systems of the body like the musculoskeletal, cardiovascular, respiratory and metabolic systems in the body. These changes affect the female body structures and functions as well. The growing embryo has lot of effect on the maternal health. The mother also has to cope with this changes. The changes noted in each system are as follows;
Cardiac output increases throughout the pregnancy , there is increase in heart rate, the systolic and diastolic blood pressure drops in first trimester and returns to baseline in second half of the pregnancy. This can lead to woman feeling, palpitations, dizziness etc.
Body weight - body weight increases drastically during pregnancy, around 10 to 15 kgs of weight gain is expected during pregnancy due to the growing fetus.
Pregnant woman requires increased nutritional requirement due to growing demands of nutrition of the fetus. caloric requirement goes up as compared to the normal woman. This can cause, increased hunger , food cravings like symptoms.
There are many changes in the posture of the female due to the growing fetus and weight of the baby. There can symptoms of leg pain, cramps or other joint pain could be noted by females.
The changes noted in female body are due to growing embryo and many changes in the hormones because of pregnancy. Hormones like estrogen and progesterone have many changes and hence, it cause lot of changes in the female body. Due to growing embryo there are growing demands of nutrition in the female body. Owing to that, caloric intake and other signs and symptoms could also affect during pregnancy. It is very crucial to follow a proper diet and nutrition during this phase.
There are many studies and theories as to what to avoid and what to eat during pregnancy, however, It is very essential to understand what to eat and what to avoid during pregnancy .It's as much about including foods that can be beneficial to your baby as it is about avoiding foods that may be harmful. You needn’t feel deprived during these exciting nine months if you know the facts.
Advice changes and differs from country to country.
Rule number 1 : The pregnant female need to be sure that she has a full healthy and balanced diet so that she is able to fulfill her and the growing baby's demands .
Rule number 2 : The diet of a pregnant female should include a balanced proportions of carbohydrates, fats, proteins. Also micronutrients play major role during pregnancy.
Rule number 3 : The food and nutrition of pregnant female may be influenced by the regional, ethnic or cultural beliefs so its very important for a female to take an expert advice to plan out the diet protocol. The expert could be a dietician, consulting doctor.
These are the basic rules that one can take into consideration while planning diet in pregnancy. however, lets take an overview of what to eat and what to avoid.
Fast facts on eating during pregnancy
A pregnant woman’s calorie intake grows during pregnancy. She does not eat for two; her calorie consumption just goes up a few hundred calories a day for most pregnant women.
Typical weight gain, if the mother is carrying just one baby, varies considerably based on pre-pregnancy weight and other factors. An underweight pregnant women is recommended to gain the most, whereas an overweight woman is recommended to gain the least.
A woman’s body absorbs iron more efficiently and blood volume increases when she is pregnant, so she has to consume more iron to make sure that both she and her baby have an adequate oxygen supply.
What to eat when you are pregnant ?
With a few exceptions, pregnant women should follow the same healthy and varied diet that’s recommended to everyone. Eat plenty of fruit and vegetables, wholegrains, lean meats or vegetarian protein foods such as beans, lentils and pulses. Drink lots of water, too.
Don't be tempted to "eat for two". Pregnant women need surprisingly few extra calories each day. The inevitable fatigue and cravings may make you reach for a quick pick-me-up in the confectionery aisle. Keep sweets and treats to a minimum and opt for slow-release energy foods that give you more of the vitamins and minerals you need.
Foods to consider
Fruits and vegetables
Like as always fruits and vegetables play a very vital part of a healthy diet and it is very important to consider fruits and vegetables on daily basis in the diet of pregnant females. Women can aim for 5 portions of fruits in variety of forms. It can be fresh, juice, dried, cooked or canned. Studies have shown that its very effective to have fresh fruits than juice or canned one as the amount of nutrients in fresh fruit are higher as compared to the processed or in the form of juices. Also, plenty of vegetables may be included in the regular diet to improve the nutritional benefits. One very important aspect to be considered while having cooked food is that the vegetables should be fully cooked , half cooked or undercooked may not be always beneficial.
Starchy Carbohydrate-rich food
Carbohydrates are the source of energy to the body , which is very essential during pregnancy as because of hormonal changes and other physiological changes and growing embryo, the energy requirement is higher. Starch Carbohydrate- rich foods include rice, grains, potatoes, pasta. These substances can be included in the diet. They are vital in providing energy requirement of the female during pregnancy.
Proteins are considered as building blocks of the human body. Proteins are essential for cell growth and other metabolic functions of the body. Protein rich foods like pulses, and other animal- sourced proteins like fish, lean meat, eggs should be included in the diet. Other proteins sources are as follows; Quinoa, tofu, soy, beans, lentils, legumes, nuts seeds can also be included in the diet. According to studies, females consuming seafood have lower levels of anxiety as compared to females not consuming seafood. So, the conclusion is that, females consuming proteins in diet are less likely to develop anxiety or related disorders.
Fats should not make more than 30 percent of women's diet. There are risks associated with high fat diet not only in females but also can pose some risks for the baby. According to studies, exposure to high fat diet before birth causes gene modification and the children may be prone to develop diabetes in later age of their life. Monounsaturated and omega 3 are the fats that should be included in diet. Getting enough omega-3 during pregnancy is important, but it can be confusing to understand which foods provide what you need.
Omega-3 fatty acids fall into two categories:
ALA: found in a range of plant sources, including chia seeds, ground flaxseed, rapeseed oil, walnuts, hazelnuts, pecans and green leafy vegetables. ALA can’t be made by the body so it’s important to get enough from these sources. Omega-3 enriched eggs are also a good source.
DHA and EPA: long-chain omega-3 fats have important benefits to brain development, especially in pregnant women and young children. The body can make these from ALA but not as efficiently as consuming them directly. Fish oil and microalgae-based omega-3 supplements are available, as are omega-3 enriched eggs.
Fish liver oil supplements should be avoided because they also carry high amounts of vitamin A. Foods which are higher in monounsaturated fats are foods like olive oil, sesame oil, peanut oil, canola oil, avocados, nuts, seeds.
It is very important to have fiber in the diet as it helps the metabolism and also improves the bowel movement and reduces constipation. Whole grain foods like, whole meal bread, wholegrain pasta, pulses like lentils and beans are high in fiber content. Women are more prone to develop constipation and also the risk of having haemorrhoids is higher in pregnancy. Increasing the fiber content in diet is very important to avoid constipation in females. Hence, it is very important to have plenty of fibers in the diet of a pregnant female.
Calcium is important for development of bones and other metabolic functions of the body. For a pregnant woman it is very much important to have a proper amount of calcium in body. Calcium rich food like dairy products cheese, milk, yogurt, broccoli, soya bean should be included in the diet of pregnant woman. Hard cheeses such as Cheddar, Parmesan and stilton are fine to eat, even if they are made with unpasteurized milk. The high acidity and low water content in these cheeses make them inhospitable places for bacteria to grow.
Water is life as rightly said, female should drink plenty of water in her daily food habit. woman can keep a check and continue drinking plenty of fluids either water or in any other liquid forms.
Foods to avoid
Healthy diet is always a right choice but, woman can develop some dislikes towards some specific foods, which can be due to changes related to pregnancy, However, there could be few foodstuffs that have to be avoided during pregnancy. The list of food are as follows:
Seafood- Fish is very important source of proteins and other micro nutrients but some of the fishes contain mercury which is not advised to be consumed during pregnancy. Shark, swordfish, marlin should be avoided during pregnancy as they contain mercury in amounts that is enough to damage growing foetus. Other, smaller oily fish can also contain mercury so the advice for pregnant women is to eat no more than two 140g portions per week of mackerel, salmon, sardines, anchovies, trout or other oily fish.
Uncooked or partially cooked meat- Uncooked or partially cooked food carry risk of developing bacterial or viral infection in woman, but it may also pose harm to the growing baby. It also increases the risk of food poisoning. Meat should be cooked through completely due to the risk of toxoplasmosis-carrying parasites. This includes steaks, roasts, burgers, sausages, poultry and pork.
Pate- Because of the high vitamin A content, pregnant women are advised not to eat liver or products containing liver (sausage, pâté and haggis). Pâté has an added danger of listeria.
Alcohol consumption- Alcohol consumption is not advised in pregnant females. Growing fetus cannot process alcohol during fetal life as well as even in their growing ages. Hence, consumption of alcohol should be avoided during pregnancy. Few researches say that, very small amount of alcohol may be recommended during each week, however, heavy drinking is totally restricted and may cause severe damage to the growing fetus and mother as well. Conditions like fetal alcoholic syndrome may be noted in cases where mother is a heavy drinker . So, most of the doctors advise to avoid drinking alcohol completely during pregnancy.
Caffeinated drinks- While having some caffeine is fine, the advice is not to exceed 200mg per day. Increased consumption of coffee can increase the risk of having low birth weight of the baby. Many foodstuffs other than coffee contain some amount of caffeine like soda, energy drink, tea, chocolate and even few medicines. So it advisable to consult any doctor before having any medicines and best to avoid foods containing caffeine as much possible.
Along with normal healthy diet , females may also have to take supplements to help in /improving the general health as well meeting the increased demands of the body and also to provide nutrients to the growing fetus. Following is the list of supplements that are usually prescribed during pregnancy.
Iron is the major component of hemoglobin. It carries oxygen in the body . During pregnancy there is increased demand of iron for the extra need of the growing baby. Decrease in the iron count can cause anemia which can pose risk of various defects in the baby like; preterm delivery, low birth weight, still birth, new born death. A pregnant woman requires 27mg of iron , which is mostly obtained very well from normal healthy diet, but if it is reduced too much then supplements may be required. Some of the females may experience heartburn or nausea due to iron supplements , so for them it is advised to take iron supplements with food. Other sources of iron from the foodstuffs are green vegetables like spinach, broccoli, legumes, brazil nuts, almonds etc.
Zinc is a trace micronutrient but plays very important role in growth and development of the fetus. It should be included in the normal diet of the pregnant lady as well as if required should be included in the form of supplements. The best source of zinc are onions, chicken, turkey, peanut butter, sunflower seeds, ginger, fish, meat, dairy products, beans, oyster, crab etc.
According to guidelines, pregnant females should include 10 mcg of vitamin D daily. Exposure to sunlight is the best source of vitamin D, however, the exposure should be limited as hazardous effect of getting exposed are skin conditions and even cancer. So exposure to sunlight in pregnancy and also after delivery are advised to the female.
Pregnant women are advised to take a 400-microgram folic acid supplement every day throughout the first 12 weeks of their pregnancy. Folic acid helps to prevent spinal defects (especially spina bifida) as your baby develops. Foods such as leafy greens contain folic acid, and you should eat plenty of these, but the levels you can get from diet alone aren’t considered sufficient enough for pregnant women. Ideally , women can start folic acid even before they are pregnant or are planning for one.
There are multivitamin supplements aimed specifically at pregnant women. If you are struggling to eat because of nausea or sickness, these may be helpful. High-dose multivitamins or any supplements containing vitamin A should be avoided. If you’re unsure if you need a vitamin supplement, or which one to take, talk it over with your doctor or midwife.
These are the essential supplements which may be advised during pregnancy. It is very important to take the supplements on regular basis and as advised by the doctor.
Pregnancy diet misconceptions
When a mother-to-be is experience morning sickness, the biggest mistake she can make is thinking that if she doesn't eat, she'll feel better, Krieger said.
The exact causes of morning sickness are not known, but it may be caused by hormonal changes or lower blood sugar, according to the Mayo Clinic. This common complaint can bring on waves of nausea and vomiting in some women, especially during the first three months of pregnancy.
Studies say that, feeling of nausea or vomiting can be in any time of the day.
It is common for women to develop a sudden urge or a strong dislike towards food during pregnancy. Some common cravings are for sweets, salty foods, red meat or fluids, Krieger said. Often, a craving is a body's way of saying it needs a specific nutrient, such as more protein or additional liquids to quench a thirst, rather than a particular food, she said.
Eating for two:
When people say that a pregnant woman is "eating for two," it doesn't mean she needs to consume twice as much food or double her calories. During the first three months, their calorie needs are basically the same as they were before pregnancy. During the first trimester, the recommended weight gain is between 1 and 4 pounds pregnant women is advised add 200 calories to their usual dietary intake during the second trimester, and to add 300 calories during their third trimester when the baby is growing quickly.
Healthy snacks in pregnancy
If you get hungry between meals, try not to eat snacks that are high in fat and/or sugar, such as sweets, biscuits, crisps or chocolate. Instead, choose something healthier, such as:
small sandwiches or pitta bread with grated cheese, lean ham, mashed tuna, salmon, or sardines, with salad
salad vegetables, such as carrot, celery or cucumber
low-fat, lower-sugar fruit yoghurt, plain yoghurt or fromage frais with fruit
hummus with wholemeal pitta bread or vegetable sticks
ready-to-eat apricots, figs or prunes
vegetable and bean soups
a small bowl of unsweetened breakfast cereal, or porridge, with milk
baked beans on toast or a small baked potato
a small slice of malt loaf, a fruited tea cake or a slice of toasted fruit bread
Preparing food safely
Wash fruit, vegetables and salads to remove all traces of soil, which may contain toxoplasma (a parasite that can cause toxoplasmosis) which can harm your unborn baby.
Wash all surfaces and utensils, and your hands, after preparing raw foods (poultry, meat, eggs, fish, shellfish and raw vegetables) to help you avoid food poisoning.
Make sure that raw foods are stored separately from ready-to-eat foods, otherwise there's a risk of contamination.
Use a separate knife and chopping board for raw meats.
Heat ready meals until they're steaming hot all the way through – this is especially important for meals containing poultry.
You also need to make sure that some foods, such as eggs, poultry, burgers, sausages and whole cuts of meat like lamb, beef and pork, are cooked very thoroughly until steaming all the way through.
What a woman eats and drinks during pregnancy is her baby's main source of nourishment. So, experts recommend that a mother-to-be's diet should include a variety of healthy foods and beverages to provide the important nutrients a baby needs for growth and development. You do not need to go on a special diet, but it's important to eat a variety of different foods every day to get the right balance of nutrients that you and your baby need.
It's best to get vitamins and minerals from the foods you eat, but when you're pregnant you need to take a folic acid supplement as well, to make sure you get everything you need. Usually, there is a big list of foods to be avoided but what is to be included in diet and what extent may be ignored or not mentioned effectively. So its essential to know what to eat and what to avoid. This is our attempt to make people aware about the what to eat and what not to eat during pregnancy.