Archive | August, 2011

Healthy nutrition for you and your baby

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Healthy nutrition for you and your baby

Posted on 17 August 2011 by Annerley

Eating healthy food will be good for you and your baby. What you eat today can have long term effects on your baby’s health even into adulthood. Do you need to eat any differently from normal when you are pregnant or hoping to have a baby?

Folic acid

Folic acid is a B vitamin and it is thought that you need more of this than usual in early pregnancy. Folic acid protects your baby against birth defects at the time that the brain and nervous system are developing (e.g. Neural tube defects such as spina bifida). It is difficult to get enough folic acid from your daily intake of food, so the Department of Health has recommended that you take a tablet of folic acid every day (each tablet should contain 400 micrograms or 0.4 milligrams). If you can not afford healthy foods find out where to apply for wic near me.

  • Start taking folic acid when you know you want to be pregnant. If you get pregnant first, don’t worry.  Just start as soon as possible and continue until you are sure you have passed the 12th week.
  • Folic acid can be found in green leafy vegetables, potatoes, baked beans, yeast extract, fortified breakfast cereals and bread with the F symbol. Try to include these foods in your daily diet.
  • If you or anyone in your family has ever had a pregnancy affected by spina bifida or another neural tube defect, you need a much larger dose of 4-5 milligrams of folic acid and your GP will prescribe this for you.

Aim for 5-a-day fresh fruit and vegetables

Fruit and vegetables, whether fresh, chilled, frozen, canned or dried, are rich in vitamins, minerals and fibre. A piece of fruit, a portion of vegetables not including potatoes, a glass of fruit or vegetable juice, and even a ‘smoothie’, will all count towards one of your 5-a day goal. However, it is important that you keep the 5 items varied, so five of the same thing does not count!

Starchy foods including bread, rice, pasta and potatoes are carbohydrates and are satisfying, making you feel fuller for longer and providing you with energy. However, if you eat too many of these you may put on excess weight during your pregnancy. Wholegrain versions are especially nutritious and the fibre helps to prevent constipation.

Protein based foods are an important part of your daily diet. If you suffer from morning sickness try a simply thick protein shake until you’re able to eat regularly. Lean meat, fish (twice a week, including oily fish once), eggs, cheese, beans and pulses give you protein and important minerals like iron and zinc. There is more information later in this article about protein-based foods to avoid in pregnancy and while you are breastfeeding. Best blender for protein shakes will make your diet more various.

Dairy foods like milk, yoghurt and cheese contain calcium but can be high in fat, so it is worth considering lower-fat varieties if you are concerned about excess weight gain as they are just as nourishing. There is more information later in this article about cheeses to avoid in pregnancy and while you are breastfeeding.

Sugary and fatty foods are more likely to add excess weight because they are high in calories and have very little nutritional value, but they will add pleasure and choice to your diet as long as they are eaten in sensible amounts.

Your baby should have the best of starts if you are not over or under weight when you get pregnant. Cutting down the calories that you eat while you are pregnant in order to control your weight should only be done under the guidance of a general practitioner (GP) or dietician, as unsupervised dieting will not help your baby.


If you think you are overweight or underweight, mention it to your midwife or doctor. What is certain is that dieting, often going hungry or eating mostly junk food will not help your baby and might even be harmful. Pregnant women who diet excessively or who live through famines tend to have difficult pregnancies, problems in labour and small babies. Even women who are overweight or who put on a lot of weight early in pregnancy don’t benefit from dieting and nor do their babies.

You may find that your doctor or midwife no longer take regular recordings of your weight during pregnancy, as the evidence about this suggests that this may not be helpful.  You can check whether your weight is appropriate for your height; this is called the body mass index (BMI).You can use the formula below to work this out for yourself or you can ask your midwife to do it for you. This will tell you whether you are within a healthy BMI range, which is between 20 and 25.

Nausea and morning sickness

Although feeling or being sick occasionally is common in pregnancy and will not harm your baby, it can be a very trying time for you. By the 12th to 14th week of your pregnancy, any nausea and vomiting should have settled. To reduce the effects of the nausea and or sickness, studies show that the following may be helpful:

  • Wearing travel sickness bands on your wrists is effective;
  • Vitamin B6 (pyridoxine) appears to lessen the nausea;
  • Taking ginger may help, though the evidence is weak;
  • Your GP may be able to prescribe specific medication to relieve the sickness and these are very effective.

Also, acupuncture and homeopathy has often been helpful for women with morning sickness, although this has not been proved with studies.  If the sickness becomes so bad that you can’t keep anything down, particularly drinks, you should consult your midwife or doctor immediately.


Your body needs iron to make haemoglobin – this is found in your body’s red blood cells and transports oxygen around the body. It is normal for haemoglobin levels to fall during pregnancy, partly because the fluid that carries your blood cells increases. Mild iron deficiency (anaemia) will not harm your baby, but if the amount of haemoglobin falls significantly, you may start to feel tired and breathless on exercise. Studies show that in this case you would be advised to take iron tablets. You may be able to avoid becoming anaemic by a regular intake of iron-rich foods. These would include red meat, dark green vegetables, fortified breakfast cereals, dried fruits, wholemeal bread, plain chocolate and eggs.  Eating foods that are rich in vitamin C at the same meal as the iron rich foods helps your body to absorb the iron more effectively. Drinking large amounts of tea and coffee can reduce the ability of your body to absorb iron effectively.

Some women should not take iron pills; this includes women who need regular blood transfusions for a sickle cell condition or thalassaemia.

Doctors and midwives do not know yet:

  1. At what point in pregnancy a poor diet may most affect your baby.
  2. What really influences women’s eating patterns

Vitamin D deficiency

You need vitamin D from sunlight or your food to absorb calcium effectively. Some women may not have enough exposure to sunlight either because of their natural skin coloring or because their culture or religion requires them to keep their skin covered. If you are a vegetarian you may also have a low intake of the foods that contain a lot of vitamin D, such as eggs, margarine or enriched spreads and oily fish like salmon. In this case, you can choose to eat more of the foods that are vitamin D rich, ensure you have some exposure to sunlight or you can take vitamin D as a supplement.  If you feel you are at risk of vitamin D deficiency, discuss this with your midwife or doctor.

Is calcium good for you?

Trials show that calcium supplements can help to reduce your blood pressure; however, you should not start taking these yourself. If you need calcium supplements, your midwife or GP should discuss this with you. Extra calcium has been shown to help women most who are not getting enough of this from their regular diet. Calcium rich foods are dairy products such as milk, cheese and yoghurt or high-calcium non-dairy foods like spinach and tofu.

When you are pregnant, you will come across a lot of advice about what you should or shouldn’t eat. It goes without saying that if you are usually on the best nootropics stack in your regular life, now would be wise to stop since the baby surely does not need to deal with that. Although this advice is usually research based, you may not be able to follow it either   because of your personal tastes and preferences, or perhaps because of the cost.

Other information about diet may catch the attention of the media although the evidence to support this may not always be authoritative. Women frequently have to decide which advice they can follow and it may be that their personal circumstances will impact on these decisions. For example, a woman who eats a vegetarian diet will have to find alternative sources of iron, as she cannot obtain this from eating red meat. Where this is the case, a woman can be left feeling guilty and anxious that she has not done the best for her baby.

If you have concerns or questions about your diet, you can always talk to your midwife, GP or health visitor about these.

Food Safety

There is now reliable information about foods to avoid when you are pregnant and  breastfeeding.

Liver and vitamin A supplements

Very high intakes of one form of vitamin A (retinol, found in liver, liver pate and sausage, fish liver oils and some supplements) have been linked with the baby being born with birth defects.  The other form of vitamin A is called ‘beta carotene’ and this is safe to take in pregnancy, but always check with your doctor or midwife before taking any vitamin A supplements.

Nut allergy

It may be wise not to eat peanuts or peanut products while you are pregnant, especially if you or your baby’s father or any brothers or sisters have a history of allergies. Studies suggest that a baby can develop peanut allergy before birth or while breastfeeding, but the evidence is uncertain.


A survey by the Food Standards Agency in the UK has found high levels of mercury in some fish. As mercury can affect the developing nervous system of the unborn baby, it is advised to limit the amount of tuna you eat to two medium cans or a single fresh steak a week and to completely avoid swordfish, marlin and shark. This applies when you are planning a pregnancy, actually pregnant or breastfeeding.

Cheese, meat and eggs

Listeria is a bacteria that grows in some specific foods and can cause miscarriage, stillbirth or serious illness in the newborn baby. Other bacteria such as salmonella can also cause serious illness to you and your baby. While hard cheeses are mostly safe to eat in pregnancy, it is advised to avoid soft mould-ripened cheeses like Camembert, Brie and all blue-veined cheeses. You should also avoid eating all types of paté and oven-ready meals that are uncooked or undercooked as well as raw or part-cooked eggs.


Studies show that high levels of caffeine are linked with miscarriage and stillbirth. It is better to choose decaffeinated drinks or keep to no more than 300mg of caffeine a day. That is three cups of brewed coffee or four cups/three mugs of instant coffee.

More information at


2009 Hulda Thorey/ Article based on the MIDIRS database  

Comments (0)