What you eat is always important. Now that you’re pregnant it’s even more important. It takes about 75,000 calories to make a baby. That may seem like a lot but if you do the math that comes out to about 2500 to 2600 calories a day, which may not be much more than you are already eating. The important thing is that these 75,000 calories need to be very high quality calories.
Just because you are eating for two doesn’t mean you can just double up on everything you eat. Your baby has certain nutritional requirements in order to grow and develop into a healthy baby. Since your body takes the development of your baby very seriously, nutrients go first to your baby and then to you. For example if you are not getting enough calcium, the little calcium you are getting would go to your baby first, leaving you depleted. Before the importance of nutrition was understood, there was a saying that for every pregnancy a woman had, she would lose a tooth. This could have been avoided if the mother had gotten sufficient calcium.
The nutrients you and your baby need during pregnancy
So what exactly do you need to eat to stay healthy and have a healthy baby? Here is are some specific nutrients that you will need and what you should eat in order to get these nutrients. The amount will vary depending upon the stage of pregnancy.
Folic Acid: This is necessary for the development of the nervous system. Your doctor has most likely recommended that you take a prenatal vitamin because it contains folic acid. Many cereals are also enriched with folic acid and it’s found naturally in leafy greens.
Calcium: The development of your baby’s skeleton needs calcium. You will need to take increasingly more calcium as your pregnancy progresses, which means you will need more in your third trimester than you did in your first trimester. This is one of those nutrients that goes first to your baby so it is very important that you have adequate calcium.
Dairy is of course a good source of calcium but it isn’t the only source. Dark leafy greens, sardines, and organic tofu are other good sources of calcium.
Protein: This is really important for growth and cell proliferation and repair. Your protein needs will double over the course of your pregnancy. This should happen gradually. Increase your protein by about 10 grams a trimester.
Lean meats, organic chicken, wild caught fish, eggs and nuts (especially walnuts) are good sources of protein.
If you are a vegetarian you don’t need to change your diet, but you have to be very careful that you are getting enough protein by combining foods such as rice and beans to give you a complete protein.
Fats: (essential fatty acids): You need fats and NO, fats do not make you fat. Fats are important for a baby’s brain development. If your developing baby does not get enough fat, it can cause learning disabilities and visual impairment. Fats are most important in the third trimester. Not all fats are healthy. Stay away from trans fats. Good sources of fats include olive oil, butter, flax oil and avocados.
Iron: This is a mineral that makes up an important part of the blood. It is not really necessary for your baby, but it is necessary for you. Without enough iron you will feel very tired – a lot of the fatigue you feel during pregnancy comes from hormones, but another big factor is lack of iron. In addition, without iron your body is not getting enough oxygen. Pregnant women need about 27 mg of iron daily in the second and third trimester. This is the amount found in most prenatal vitamins. You can also get iron from enriched grains, lean meats, fish and leafy greens.
It is important to remember that all nutrients work together. Some are needed in order for others to be absorbed. For example vitamin C helps your body absorb iron. Calcium and magnesium work together.
If the food on your plate is colorful instead of just brown and white there’s an excellent chance that you are getting all of the nutrients, vitamins and minerals that you need. Be sure to eat fruits and veggies not only for their nutritional value but also for their fiber. Fiber has minerals and vitamins that are necessary for proteins to be absorbed effectively. Along with water, fiber is needed for good digestion. Just add in a prenatal supplement to your diet and you should be all set. So eat well and have a healthy baby.
BTW – If you are concerned about getting all the nutrients you need, you can contact your doctor and get a simple blood test which will show your nutrient levels.