Healthy eating is crucial to your well-being and the health and development of your baby. Include these important nutrients in your meals and snacks as much as possible:
- Whole grains
- Green leafy vegetables
- Dairy products and other foods high in calcium
- Foods high in protein, such as chicken and nuts
Take your prenatal vitamin to get the folic acid you need and to fill any nutrient gaps you might have.
Eating foods that are high in calcium and getting plenty of fiber may help decrease blood pressure and reduce the risk of preeclampsia.
Whole (not packaged or processed) foods from all the food groups give you and your developing baby all the necessary nutrients. Buying your food from producers who avoid using chemicals and hormones is also a wise precaution during pregnancy.
Post this list of the nutrients you need on your refrigerator to help you plan healthy meals and snacks:
- Vitamin C: Citrus fruit, cantaloupe, broccoli, cauliflower or tomatoes help your baby's developing bones, cartilage, muscles and blood.
- Calcium: Milk or calcium-fortified orange juice, dark green leafy vegetables (kale and spinach, for example), canned salmon or sardines (no more than twice a week), cottage cheese, yogurt or hard cheese provide the calcium needed to build your baby's bones and teeth.
- Vitamin A: Yellow vegetables, milk, cantaloupe, peaches and green leafy vegetables provide the vitamin A that helps create the cells that will make up your babys internal organs.
- Vitamin D: Milk, egg yolks, sardines and canned salmon, and a little daily sunshine are all you need for this nutrient important to bones and teeth.
- Vitamin E: Green leafy vegetables, whole grains and fish all contain vitamin E. Because a diet rich in vegetables and grains will provide plenty of E, extra supplements (beyond what is already included in prenatal vitamins) are not recommended.
- Iron: Dried fruit, lean red meat, beans, pasta, whole-grain breads, prunes and green leafy vegetables, along with your prenatal vitamin, provide the iron needed to make hemoglobin, which carries oxygen through your bloodstream and your baby's. It also helps your baby build her own blood supply. You need twice as much iron now as before you were pregnant.
Iron is best absorbed by your body when you eat foods high in iron. Iron supplements are not as easily absorbed, so you need to take a lot more of them to absorb a small amount. Take iron with a food high in vitamin C so that the iron is absorbed more readily.
- Folic Acid: Broccoli, asparagus, lean beef, oranges, lentils, peanuts and leafy green vegetables are all rich in folic acid. When taken at the right levels in pre-pregnancy and in early pregnancy, this B complex vitamin:
- Can help prevent neural tube birth defects.
- Produces the extra blood you and your baby need.
(Don't know much about folic acid? Try this brief quiz and learn more.)
- Protein: Eggs, lean meat, milk, yogurt, hard cheese, peanut butter, fish, poultry, nuts, seeds and beans are all good sources. The amino acids found in protein are the building blocks of your baby's body, your uterus, and your increasing blood volume.
- Zinc: Whole grains, meat and milk, as well as oysters, beans, nuts and pumpkin and sunflower seeds provide this nutrient newly recognized as important for your baby's growth.
- Carbohydrates: These nutrients provide energy and fiber. Your diet should include the good ones found in whole grains, potatoes and corn, rather than the empty ones found in white sugar, white flour and the foods (cake, white bread) that contain them.
- Fats: Fats aren't always bad! They are an important source of energy, as they help your body use the vitamins A, D, E and K provided by other foods. Still, you don't want to overdo it's couple ounces of cheese; 2 tablespoons of butter, peanut butter or mayonnaise; an egg; a serving of lean meat; or half a small avocado each day will give you what you need.
- Omega-3 fatty acids: DHA, an omega-3 fatty acid, is an essential nutrient for brain and vision development. Developing babies and infants get at least half the necessary level of DHA for brain development in the womb and half from breast milk after birth.
During the third trimester, the growing baby's brain cells are especially hungry for DHA and benefit from a maternal diet rich with 300 mg of these fats. (Most women in the U.S. have diets low in DHA, with less than 50 mg per day.) Research also suggests that having enough omega-3 fatty acids in a mothers diet during the pregnancy may increase her baby's birth weight and reduce the risk of premature birth.
DHA comes from cold-water fish, including mackerel, salmon, herring, sardines, black cod, anchovies and albacore tuna, as well as cod liver oil. Unfortunately, some fish, including mackerel and white tuna, carry levels of mercury considered unsafe for pregnant women. Canned and fresh salmon and light tuna, however, are low in mercury and an excellent source of DHA.
DHA supplements are also available, and some prenatal vitamins now include the nutrient. Another essential fatty acid, ALA, is found mostly in sunflower and flax seeds and leafy dark-green vegetables (spinach, kale, and collard greens). Omega-3 fatty acids have also been shown to be good for mothers, as deficiencies are associated with postpartum depression.
- Fluids: Your babys developing new cells and your increased blood volume require water lots of it. At least eight 8-oz glasses a day will also minimize swelling, constipation, and your risk of urinary tract infections. When you are exercising, you will need to drink more water. Also, for every cup of a caffeinated beverage you drink, drink one glass of water for good hydration.
Take your prenatal multivitamin as directed, but avoid taking additional fat-soluble vitamins (A, D, E and K). These remain in the body a long time. Very high levels of Vitamin A have been linked to severe birth defects. A healthy diet and your prenatal vitamin should provide you with what you need.