A healthy pregnancy paves the way for easier childbirth and postpartum recovery and is the basis for the healthy development of the baby, which is the main wish of the parents.
Food plays a major role at this stage, reducing the risk of complications during pregnancy (anemia, gestational diabetes, preeclampsia…) and illnesses with the baby. A balanced pregnancy diet can contribute to healthy birth weight, better development of the baby’s brain or less risk of birth deficiencies.
Concern for a healthy lifestyle should begin before pregnancy, trying to improve your eating habits, as well as reassessing the quality/frequency of your physical activity or other habits such as drinking or smoking to provide the best conditions for the baby development.
Increased body weight in pregnancy
The increase in body weight in pregnant women is almost inevitable as a result of the formation of the placenta, amniotic fluid, uterine and blood volume, breast tissue, increased fat stores and obviously as a result of the baby’s growth.
Below we summarize the recommendations for weight gain during pregnancy:
Energy and nutritional needs during pregnancy
Energy and nutritional needs vary throughout pregnancy. In the first trimester, the needs of pregnant women are identical to those of the pre-pregnancy phase, considering that there is a quality diet. During the 2nd and 3rd trimester, needs generally increase.
According to the recommendations of the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA, 2017), the average additional energy requirements are about 70 kcal/day in the first trimester, 260 kcal/day in the second trimester and about 500kcal/day in the third trimester.
General dietary recommendations for pregnancy
Dietary recommendations for pregnancy do not differ much from recommendations for the majority of the population, but there are some specificities. In general, pregnant women should follow the guidelines of the Food Wheel and should have a balanced, varied and complete diet.
- Eat several meals throughout the day, avoiding more than three hours without eating. Night fasting should not exceed 10 hours.
- Favor the consumption of vegetables, giving preference to seasonal products.
- Prefer the consumption of fatty fish (sardines, salmon, mackerel) and white meat (poultry, rabbit), balancing the consumption of red meat (2-3 times a week).
- Consume 3 servings of dairy daily, giving preference to lean options.
- Limit consumption of fats, especially those of animal origin. Favor the consumption of olive oil.
- Reinforce consumption of foods rich in essential fatty acids, namely linoleic acid (n-6) and alpha-linolenic acid (n-3), with good suppliers being olive oil, nuts or fatty fish (sardines, salmon, mackerel).
- Eat carbohydrate sources daily (bread, potatoes, rice, pasta, etc.), preferring the whole options. Try to distribute your consumption in small portions throughout the day.
- Moderate salt intake (see the article on reducing salt intake).
- Moderate caffeine intake (less than 200 mg/day), which equals about two cups of coffee per day.
- Do not consume alcoholic beverages.
- Limit the consumption of highly processed, sugary products (soft drinks, cakes, chocolates, treats…), snacks, fried foods, fast food, concentrated broths, industrialized sauces (ketchup, mayonnaise, mustard).
- Increase water intake throughout the day to 2.3 L per day.
- Consume iron-rich foods daily (meat, fish, legumes, dark green leafy vegetables (see the article on iron in foods).
Nausea, vomiting, and heartburn – how to help control these symptoms?
These symptoms affect about 70% of pregnant women, being more frequent in the first trimester, and their intensity can vary greatly from woman to woman. Sometimes these effects can be so intense that they incapacitate women to perform their normal daily activities. Here are some tips to help control these symptoms:
- Eat small and frequent meals (about 2 hours apart).
- Eat something just before getting up, for example, drier foods such as crackers, toast or dry cereal flakes.
- Avoid foods or environments that trigger nausea.
- Opt for foods that are usually better tolerated in these cases such as well-cooked cereals, crackers, toast with jam, well-cooked potatoes, boiled eggs, and lean meats.
- Avoid irritating foods (eg coffee, black/green tea, chocolate, and spicy food).
- Avoid foods high in fat.
- Sleep with the head of the bed slightly raised.
- Evaluate the effect of food temperature, as some become more tolerable when cold or frozen. On the other hand, toasted bread can also be a very effective option in these cases.
- In case of difficulty in drinking liquids, try to drink water outside meals and opt for foods with higher water content (eg fruit) as compensation.
- Include ginger at different times, such as tea, cookies or in the cooking itself (soup, rice,…).
- Some women find it comforting to smell or taste lemon.
Constipation – How to help minimize?
- Increase the consumption of fiber-rich foods such as whole grains, vegetables and fresh fruits (orange, kiwi…) and dried, like plums and figs.
- Ingest lots of fluids.
- Exercise regularly (as directed by your healthcare professional).
Food safety in pregnancy – precautions to take into consideration
- Avoid foods such as undercooked meat, fish and eggs, unpasteurized dairy products, unhygienic vegetables, and raw pates.
- Discard foods that raise any doubts as to their conformity for consumption (appearance, smell, preservation…). Consult the labels and respect the specified expiration dates, as well as the respective storage conditions.
- Ensure food preparation stands, including available utensils, are properly cleaned.
- Pay special attention to hand hygiene (after use of toilets, before and after handling food, after contact with animals, after gardening activities (wearing protective gloves) and whenever deemed necessary.
- Ensure rigorous sanitation of vegetables. Do not consume raw vegetables outside the home if proper hygiene is not available in their preparation.
- Avoid cross-contamination. Never allow contact of ready-to-eat foods with raw foods.
- In the case of reheated food, regenerate once and ensure that the food has reached a boiling point or reheated to high temperatures for some time.
- Defrost in the refrigerator and never freeze a previously defrosted food.
- Avoid contact with cat feces or if unable to, wear protective gloves – a possible source of toxoplasmosis.
- European Food Safety Authority (EFSA). (2017). Dietary Reference Values for nutrients Summary report. EFSA SupportingPublications, 14(12), e15121E.
- Teixeira, D., Pestana, D., Calhau, C., Vicente, L., & Graça, P. (2015).. Alimentação e nutrição na gravidez. Programa Nacional para a Promoção da Alimentação Saudável da Direçção Geral de Saúde.
- Associação Portuguesa de Nutrição. Alimentação nos primeiros 1000 dias de vida: um presente para o futuro. E-book n.o 53. Porto: Associação Portuguesa de Nutrição; 2019.
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