Diet and Pregnancy


Nutrition and weight gain during pregnancy are of concern to all pregnant women. An average weight gain is 12 to 15 kilograms (25-35 lb.). Women who are overweight before becoming pregnant can keep their weight gain down to 8 to 12 kilograms. Excessive weight gain during pregnancy and an inability to return to the pre-pregnancy weight post partum are signs of a high body mass index over the medium or long term. A healthy diet provides the resources required to handle higher energy needs during pregnancy, allow the normal development of the fetus and prepare adequate reserves for subsequent breast-feeding. Good eating habits learned during pregnancy and maintained afterwards can also have an impact on the quality of the partner's diet and that of other children. A balanced diet is therefore important for both you and your baby. Your daily diet should contain a variety of products from each of the dietary groups - i.e., 6 to 10 portions of grain products, 6-10 portions of fruit and vegetables, 3-4 portions of dairy products and 2-3 portions of meat and alternatives. It is important not to go on a weight-loss diet while pregnant, because this usually means a decrease in the nutritional value of your food intake. Severe energy restrictions mean that protein becomes an energy source instead of being used to form your fetus. If you are overweight, you can first eliminate complex sugars and lower your fat intake by drinking 2% milk and avoiding fatty sauces, fried food and the visible fat in meat.

Milk and dairy products are the best sources of calcium. The need for calcium increases during pregnancy to help form the fetal skeleton and keep your own bones healthy. If your calcium intake is too low, the fetus will draw what it requires from your body. Pregnant women need 1,200 mg calcium per day (one cup of milk equals 300 mg). This intake level is also suggested for women who are breast-feeding.

Many women have an iron deficiency at the start of their pregnancy. Iron requirements are very high during pregnancy (particularly during the second half) in order to cope with the increased blood volume and the formation of red blood cells in both the mother and child. Iron intake is also important to build up iron reserves in the fetus' liver during the last trimester of the pregnancy. It is recommended that iron intake be increased by 15-30 mg a day. Iron from animal sources (e.g., meat, poultry, fish, eggs) is more beneficial than that from vegetable sources (e.g., fruit, vegetables, beans, nuts). Vitamin C increases the absorption of vegetable iron, while tea and coffee reduce it. Even if you eat properly during your pregnancy, you will not be able to meet the high requirement for iron. It is one of the few elements, with calcium and folic acid, that has to be taken in the form of a supplement. It should be noted that while vitamin supplements can provide the appropriate amount of iron, calcium and folic acid, they cannot take the place of a balanced diet.

Certain precautions must be taken during pregnancy, such as washing fruit and vegetables, avoiding unpasteurized dairy products and delicatessen products and making sure that meat is sufficiently cooked. (This is very important.) Fish can be contaminated by mercury and PCBs. It is suggested that fresh water fish such as doré, bass, pike and perch be set aside in favour of cod, haddock, herring, sole, shellfish and salmon. Fish can be eaten two or three times a week.

It is recommended that alcohol and products containing high levels of caffeine (coffee, cola, tea, chocolate) be eliminated during pregnancy. Caffeine decreases the absorption of calcium and consuming excessive amounts of it can increase the risk of spontaneous abortion and even the child being stillborn. Caution should also be used with regard to aspartame and other sugar substitutes. No long-term studies have been carried out on their consumption during pregnancy. Products containing them should not be used to replace food which is high in nutritional value and energy.

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