Proper Nutrition For a Healthy Pregnancy – Part I

Overview

Hormonal changes occur throughout the body cycle of an adult woman, and none more so than during pregnancy. The various hormones circulating in a pregnant woman’s bloodstream result in both psychological and physiological changes to a woman’s normal demeanor, often resulting in mood swings, food cravings, different sleep patterns and constipation. The alterations in the pregnant woman’s body are in direct response to her growing baby’s needs. This encourages her body to produce extra oestrogen, progesterone and various other hormones. These are important in the effect they have on the pregnant woman’s nutritional needs and include:

· Calcitonin

· Cortisol

· Erythropoietin

· Insulin

· Oxytocine

· Prolactin

· Thyroxine

· Relaxin

· Human Chorionic Somatomammotropin [HSC].

This is also known as Human Placental Lactogen [HPL]

When you consider that each of these additional hormones takes a share of a pregnant woman’s daily supply of food, it is hardly surprising that adequate nutrition plays such an essential part during pregnancy.

Ensure your Pregnancy is Healthy

The best way to ensure both you and your baby are healthy is to keep to an easy-to-follow diet pattern and get into the routine of eating a wide range of healthy foods that are full of the nutritional requirements needed by yourself and your growing baby. If you remember that your baby will ensure it gets all the nutrients it needs, even if you don’t have sufficient reserves stored in your body, I am sure you will understand how important it is to eat properly. In fact, even if your eating patterns weren’t particularly suitable before you became pregnant, eating healthily now will ensure you enjoy a healthy and active pregnancy, with a bouncing baby and radiant mother as the happy outcome.

Some nutrients are absolutely essential to ensure your developing baby doesn’t get any of the congenital defects that can occur during the earliest weeks of pregnancy, often before you even know you are pregnant. As a result, doctors cannot stress the importance of eating a nutritious diet even before your pregnancy begins. Doctors have known for many years that plenty of folic acid made available for the fetus in its very early stages will prevent neural tube defects such as spina bifida from occurring.

Breakfast cereals are well fortified with folic acid but there is no guarantee that your body has absorbed sufficient from your breakfast alone. This is the reason why doctors recommend that you take folic acid tablets if you are thinking of becoming pregnant: you should also take Vitamin C tablets at the same time as the Vitamin C helps the folic acid to be used within your body. As your baby is developing and growing it needs huge amounts of calcium. If you are not to deplete your own stores of calcium you need to ensure you have adequate amounts in your diet. Again, breakfast cereals have added calcium. You will also get calcium from various dairy products. Remember, however, that your body needs to be able to use the calcium in the food you are eating. For your body to be able to make use of calcium, you need sufficient amounts of Vitamin D and iron.

This is why your doctor usually provides you with multivitamins for you to take. Other sources of calcium are salmon, sardines, tofu, spinach and broccoli which is a particularly good source of calcium, iron, folic acid and Vitamin B12. All the ‘B’ vitamins are essential from healthy growth and the easiest and cheapest way to ensure you are getting enough is to take a couple of Brewers’ Yeast tablets, three times a day. In fact, all women who are menstruating or pregnant should be taking regular B vitamins because your body is unable to make use of iron from your food unless you have sufficient B vitamins.

The Power of Food Cravings

I expect by now you will have realized just how important nutrients are in your diet and how clever your body is in being able to remove essential nutrients from the food you are eating. In fact, your body becomes extra efficient are removing all the nutrients it needs during your pregnancy. However, there are times when you may crave specific foods during your pregnancy. These food cravings are particularly powerful and very difficult to resist. On saying that, however, not every pregnant woman gets food cravings and, although reasonably common, most food cravings are fairly understandable and are not likely to do you any harm.

There is actually quite a wide-held view that these cravings arise from your body crying out for nutrients that have been withheld from it. There may be some truth in that, considering that chocolate, believe it or not, does contain various nutrients – especially plain chocolate which is an excellent source of iron. In rarer instances you may crave non-food items such as wanting to eat coal or clay, neither of which is unheard of. This craving for non-food items is a condition referred to a ‘pica’.

Clearly, this is not particularly healthy for either you or your growing child so you would certainly be advised to mention this to your midwife or doctor as soon as possible. Nowadays they can certainly help you to avoid pica moments.

Where Does the Extra Weight Come From?

I am sure that many new mother, when presented with her tiny little newborn feels slightly bemused at the amount of weight she put on during her pregnancy, only to find she is cuddling less than 3.5kg of baby, which tends to be the weight of an average newborn these days. Even if you have been excellent at sticking to the addition 3,000 extra calories you should be eating a day, your body will still have gained weight as your body changes to that of a post-natal mother. The average amount of weight you should have put on during your pregnancy is between 11.34kg and 15.88kg. Suffice to say that, if you have eaten sensibly during your pregnancy and followed a nutritious diet, that additional weight will soon get used up as your uterus and your breasts start to get back to their pre-pregnancy shape and size.

So, where does that extra 11 – 15 kg go as you put on this weight during your pregnancy? Is it all fat that is going to find its way to your abdomen or hips and stay there? Basically, the distribution of this additional weight can be found distributed around your body and accounted for as:

Baby’s average weight: 3.50kg

Additional Blood Volume: 1.81kg

Additional body fluids such as lymph: 1.81kg

Amniotic fluid creating a safety cushion for baby: 0.91kg

The placenta, your baby’s lifeline: 0.68kg

Breast enlargement due to milk sacs: 0.91kg

Thickened uterine wall 0.91kg

Extra protein, fats and circulating nutrients: 3.18kg

This provides you with an overall total weight gain of 13.71kg. If you want this converted to lbs, you will find this is equal to 30.23lbs. None of this is set in stone and every pregnancy is different, especially when it comes to weight gain. Patterns of weight gain differ with each and every pregnant woman: if you were underweight to begin with, or overweight, you will find a different distribution of weight gain. Additionally, if you are expecting a multiple birth you are bound to put on much more weight, with a different patter of weight gain than an expectant mother carrying a single fetus.

The Importance of Adequate Nutrition

It can’t be stressed enough how important adequate nutrition is during pregnancy, to keep both mother and baby healthy. There is certainly no room for empty calories. In fact, in-depth studies of nutrition in pregnancy have revealed how supremely important to both mother and her growing baby nutritious food really is. It is only really in recent years that the extent to which nutrition in pregnancy has become fully understood. This is one of the reasons why doctors now advise pregnant women to stay completely clear of alcohol and, if they were in the habit of eating it, liver. Another source to avoid is the skin of fish. Too many people underestimate the importance of this advice.

However, alcohol is full of empty calories; liver contains far too much Vitamin A that can cause nerve damage if taken in excess; and the skin of fish contains far too much mercury and other impurities that are filtered through the skin of a fish as it swims amidst its natural element. You are now advised to eat salmon regularly, including the bones. This is an oily fish that contains lots of Omega-3, one of the healthier fats and one that affects the developing brain. The bones contain lots of calcium your body can make use of, so the crushed-up bones mixed into the salmon are a particularly palatable source of calcium, especially if you are not a great fan of dairy products.

What does a Healthy Diet Consist of?

We all need a source of different kinds of food every day. For adequate nutrition you need servings of protein, carbohydrates, and fats – preferably less of the unhealthy saturated fats and more of the healthy monosaturates. You also need adequate vitamins and minerals and a good supply of fresh water to drink every day: in fact, when you feel thirsty your tissues area already exhibiting the beginnings of dehydration! You can tell the kinds of nutrients your food contains by reading the labels that come with the food you buy. There is also plenty published regularly about the various kinds of nutrients and what the government food agencies in different companies recommend.