The nine months of pregnancy represent the most intense period of growth and development humans ever experience. How well these processes go depends on many factors. Of the factors affecting fetal growth and development that are within our control to change, nutritional status stands out. At no other time in life are the benefits of optimal nutritional status more obvious than during pregnancy. Moms-to-be need a variety of foods from all the MyPyramid groups. Safe food practices are important, too, since pregnant women are at higher risk of foodborne illnesses.
Weight gain during pregnancy is an important consideration because newborn weight and health status tend to increase as weight gain increases. Rates of low birth weight babies are higher in women who gained too little weight during pregnancy. Weight gain provides an indicator of dietary adequacy. The average weight gain of 30 lbs. usually predicts the average 8 lb. full term baby. When weight gain was restricted to 15 - 20 lbs. earlier in the last century, it was more a matter of what was socially acceptable than what was healthier. Minus the weight of the baby, the rest of the weight gain includes increased blood volume, fluids, and maternal tissues. It is not uncommon to lose 15 lbs. during the delivery.
The calorie need increases during pregnancy due to the increased work load of the heart and lungs of the mother, the increase in breast tissue, uterine muscles, and the placenta. The baby accounts for about 1/3 of the total calorie needs. The second trimester requires approximately 340 additional calories, and the third about 452 extra calories per day. Protein recommendations are an additional 25 grams per day. The average non-pregnant female in the U.S. should be receiving about 71 grams per day (depending on height, weight and frame). Prenatal vitamins are routinely advised, thought iron is probably the most important of the nutrients, since most women of child-bearing age in the U.S. are iron deficient. An additional 300 mg. of Calcium is recommended. Folate is also extremely important for multiple issues. Both fetal development abnormalities and clinical complications during pregnancy can arise from folate deficiencies. Many cereals are now fortified with folate to reduce these incidences. Most vitamins are supplied by a healthy, balanced diet, and extra supplements are recommended for specific deficiencies. Consult with your health care provider or a Registered Dietitian for a nutrition screening and customized health plan before taking any supplements! Excessive amounts of certain nutrients or herbal remedies can be toxic. Vegan moms need to make sure they are getting enough B-12, D, calcium, zinc, omega 3 fatty acids, and riboflavin, as these nutrients are more abundant in animal products. Vitamin B-12 deficiency may not be apparent until after delivery. Due to the presence of mercury and other contaminates found in fish, it is recommended that women who are pregnant or breast feeding to consume no more than 12 oz. of fish per week. Cruciferous vegetables (broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage) actually "detox" our bodies of heavy metals found in our environments. Make sure to include them in your diet also.
Exercise for pregnant women is similar to that of other healthy women; moderate exercise for 30 minutes 3 - 5 times per week. Regular moderate exercise can also help reduce the occurrence of gestational diabetes, and help regulate blood sugars of those with gestational diabetes.
As all health care providers will recommend, eliminate alcoholic beverages and all tobacco products.
All healthy women expect that their pregnancies will proceed normally, and the vast majority of them do. Nutritional interventions during pregnancy should be based on scientific evidence that supports their safety and effectiveness. A healthy lifestyle throughout pregnancy will be rewarded with a healthy newborn.