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Eating well

A healthy diet during pregnancy is good for you, your overall wellbeing and helps your baby to grow and develop.

Pregnancy is not the time to go on a restrictive diet and it also isn’t true that a person can eat whatever they want because they are pregnant. For most of your pregnancy, you do not need to eat more food than you ate before getting pregnant. In your third semester (from week 28 of your pregnancy until you give birth), you need around 200 extra calories a day if you are still active. This is the equivalent of a small bowl of porridge, or 2 medium-sized bananas.

Your own appetite is the best guide as to the amount of food you need during your pregnancy but it is important to think about what food choices will benefit you and your baby.

  • Cut down on the amount of fried or sugary foods that you eat, such as cakes, sweets or biscuits.
  • Try to eat lots of different vegetables and fruit; at least 7 portions each day (5 portions of vegetables and 2 portions of fruit).
  • Eat a range of starchy carbohydrates, such as potatoes, brown bread, pasta and rice.
  • Try to eat high-fibre, wholegrain varieties of starches, such as wholewheat pasta and wholegrain bread.
  • High fibre foods, such as fruit, vegetables and wholegrains, help to prevent constipation, which is common during pregnancy.
  • Include foods that are good sources of protein, such as chicken, eggs, milk, tofu, lentils, chickpeas, nuts, beans and green peas.

Try:

  • Adding fruit, like a banana, chopped apple or berries, to your breakfast.
  • Add extra vegetables to meals: for example, add mushrooms or canned sweetcorn to pasta, or serve vegetables as a side dish (maybe carrots, cabbage, broccoli).
  • Snack on nuts, fresh fruits, or vegetables such as chopped peppers, carrots or cucumbers with some humous.

If you have Type 1 or Type 2 Diabetes, talk to your midwife, dietitian or doctor about what you should be eating during pregnancy.

Here are some important things to know about what you should and shouldn’t eat during your pregnancy.

Folic acid

Folic acid is a B vitamin that is very important for your baby’s development. Taking 400 micrograms of folic acid every day before pregnancy and during the first 12 weeks of pregnancy will help prevent birth defects of your baby’s brain and spinal cord. As well as taking a daily folic acid supplement, you can also eat foods that have folate (which is the natural form of folic acid), such as green leafy vegetables, including spinach and brussels sprouts, beetroot, nuts, beans and whole grains.

If you have epilepsy and/or are taking certain medications (drugs), you may need to take higher doses of folic acid. Please ask your midwife or doctor for advice.

Iron

During pregnancy, you need 27 milligrams (mg) of iron, twice the amount of iron you needed before you were pregnant. Iron is needed to make red blood cells for both you and your baby.

There are two types of iron: heme and non-heme. Heme iron is found in red meat such as beef, pork and lamb, while non-heme iron is found in beans, dried fruits (such as raisins and apricots), eggs and green leafy vegetables (such as spinach and collards). You can eat both heme and non-heme sources of iron during pregnancy. Eating foods or drinks that contain Vitamin C alongside these iron-rich foods will help your body to absorb the iron.

Foods that contain calcium or caffeine can decrease your absorption of iron and shouldn’t be taken with iron-rich foods. So try to take a small portion of Vitamin C rich fruit, such as an orange or a kiwi fruit, after your meals and avoid drinking tea or coffee for an hour or two after taking iron-rich foods.

Vitamin D

Vitamin D is important for your baby’s bone growth. You can get it from some foods but you get the majority of your Vitamin D from exposing your skin to gentle sunlight for at least ten minutes each day.

To get enough of this vitamin, eat foods that are good sources of Vitamin D (such as eggs, meat, milk and fortified breakfast cereals) and get some sunlight. If you cannot eat these foods, ask your midwife if you should take a 10mcgs supplement of Vitamin D every day. This supplement is usually recommended if you are pregnant in winter months (October to March in the northern hemisphere, April to September in the southern hemisphere).

Caffeine

Too much caffeine can affect the growth of your baby and can increase your risk of miscarriage. There is caffeine in tea and coffee, ‘energy’ drinks, as well as chocolate and some fizzy drinks. Limit the amount of caffeine you have during pregnancy to about 200 milligrams (mg) a day. This is about the same as 2 mugs of instant coffee or 3 cups of tea and a small bar of milk chocolate.

You can find a list of more foods to avoid in Step 1.12 of the previous week.

Drinking fluids in pregnancy

Your body needs additional fluids to keep up with the demands of pregnancy. Water is the best choice, so try to avoid sugary drinks and keep to one glass of fruit juice a day. High in natural sugar, fruit juice can make your blood sugar levels fall and rise rapidly. Choose fresh juice with pulp, and avoid shop-bought juices with added sugar, or ‘made from concentrate’. Calcium is great for you and your baby, but when drinking milk, choose semi-skimmed, not full-fat.

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This article is from the free online course:

Journey to birth

Trinity College Dublin