There has been incredible retrospective research done to show the impact of nutrition deficits (or excess) during pregnancy. From mental illnesses to chronic diseases…the groundwork is laid for prevention or increased risk as early as the first few weeks of pregnancy (and in some cases even prior to pregnancy). With so much information on the internet about what to do and not to do these days, sometimes it is nice to return to the basics of what a pregnant woman needs and why. Here are a few important tips if you are heading into pregnancy.
NB: These are for a singleton pregnancy. If you are pregnant with multiples, the key nutrients are the same but the amounts needed vary in some cases.
Increased Need for Energy
Energy needs rise as pregnancy progresses. In the 1st trimester, your energy needs remain the same as they did pre-pregnancy. The important piece here is that you are not restricting calories or “dieting” in any way. Pregnancy is not a time to pursue weight loss.
In second trimester, you will need 370 additional calories and in 3rd trimester you need 450 additional calories from your original baseline needs.
It is best if these needs are met with whole, nutrient dense foods through additional 2-3 healthy snacks or 1 additional meal.
Increased Need for Macronutrients
Carbohydrates – Ideally a minimum intake of 175 grams/day of CHO is consumed. We all need a minimum of 130 grams of CHO per day to support our brain and central nervous system. In pregnancy this number increases as you are now supporting the brain and central nervous system of a growing fetus. Most pregnant women will need to consume well above 175 grams of CHO per day. This is simply a minimum, not a goal number.
Fiber in a form of CHO that is very important during pregnancy. Constipation is common in 2nd and 3rd trimester as the baby grown and mom’s internal organs are squished. Fiber (along with adequate water) helps with constipation. Choosing whole grains, fruits, veggies, and legumes as carbohydrate sources regularly is a great way to keep up your fiber intake.
The baseline for protein is 0.8 grams/kg body weight per day. You will need 25 additional grams of protein per day on top of this during pregnancy. Remember that protein supplements can be harmful and may overwhelm the kidneys, so protein-rich foods are best.
Healthy Fats such as omega-3 fatty acids are important for brain development of the fetus. Try to consume, almonds, salmon, olive oil, avocado, and other sources of healthy fat on a regular basis.
Micronutrients of Special Interest
Folate and vitamin B12 are needed in large amounts for their role in cell reproduction throughout pregnancy. The early weeks of pregnancy are critical periods for the formation & closure of neural tube (brain & spinal cord); when the neural tube fails to close properly, NTDs (spina bifida & anencephaly) may result. It is recommended that all women of childbearing age take a folic acid supplement of 0.4 mg per day.
Calcium and magnesium are in great demand for normal development of bones & teeth in the growing fetus. In final weeks of pregnancy, more than 300 mg or calcium is transferred to fetus each day. Adequate calcium intake by the mother is crucial during these weeks.
Iron: Absorption of iron by the mother increases 3x during pregnancy. This is because the fetus draws heavily on its mother’s iron to store a 3-6 month supply for after birth. A daily iron supplement of 30 mg per day is recommended during 2nd & 3rd trimesters. Iron supplements can be hard on your GI tract and may cause stomach pain and/or constipation. Although it is recommended to take them on an empty stomach, I always found just before bed was best for me as I did not feel the same stomach discomfort when I took it then. And as mentioned above adequate fiber and water can help with constipation.
Zinc is required for protein synthesis & cell development. Many foods contain zinc so a supplement is generally not warranted as long as the mother eats a varied diet.
If you have any further questions about this or any other topic that you see on my blog at any time, feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Until next time….stay healthy!