What you eat and drink is important at any time in your life but in pregnancy it affects your baby’s health as well, both when you’re pregnant and after the birth.
All parents to be worry about making sure they are doing all the right things, taking all the right supplements and eating the right food to support their baby’s development and keep healthy.
It can however, be hard to try eating well if you are struggling with early pregnancy sickness and tiredness, or even later symptoms such as heartburn. Try not to worry too much if this is the case and do your best to eat a range of healthy foods every day if you can.
The key to eating well is having a good variety of foods from all the different food groups every day. You don’t need to eat a special pregnancy diet – there are loads of delicious, healthy foods to choose from.
Eating for two
Some people may say that you should have second helpings or extra snacks because ‘you’re eating for two now’. This is not true! Your baby takes everything they need from your body for the first six months without you needing any extra calories at all (above the 2,000 that is recommended for a woman).
You may find that in early pregnancy your appetite disappears, especially if you are affected by pregnancy related nausea and vomiting, or you may find you are suddenly ravenous! It’s hard work growing a baby – so ensure your body has enough energy from healthy foods instead of junk food if you are hungry all the time.
Once you get to the last few months of your pregnancy, you may need to eat a little bit more. This is only around 200 extra calories a day, though, which is disappointingly about half a sandwich! Again, you may find a growing baby – this time one that is squashing up your stomach may mean you feel full very quickly. Try eating little and often to ensure you are getting all the nutrients you need.
Weight gain in pregnancy
Weight gain in pregnancy varies greatly. Most pregnant women gain between 10kg and 12.5kg (22lb to 26lb), putting on most of the weight after week 20.
Much of the extra weight is due to your baby growing, but your body will also be storing fat, ready to make breast milk after your baby is born.
It is difficult to put a number on how much weight each woman should gain when pregnant as we are all different. Your ideal weight gain will depend on your weight before you were pregnant and how active you are.
It’s very important not to try to actively lose weight by dieting when you’re pregnant. The most important thing is to keep weight gain to a safe and healthy level for you and your baby.
Talk to your doctor or midwife about what is right for you. If you find out that you may be overweight or underweight your midwife and doctor can give you extra support and care in pregnancy.
So what should I be eating in pregnancy?
Eat plenty of fruit and vegetables because these provide vitamins and minerals, as well as fibre, which helps digestion and can help prevent constipation.
Try to ensure you eat at least 5 portions of a variety of fruit and vegetables every day – these can include fresh, frozen, canned, dried or juiced. Always wash fresh fruit and vegetables carefully.
Starchy foods are an important source of energy, some vitamins and fibre, and help you to feel full without containing too many calories. They include bread, potatoes, breakfast cereals, rice, pasta, noodles, maize, millet, oats, yams and cornmeal. If you are having chips, go for oven chips lower in fat and salt.
These foods should make up just over a 3rd of the food you eat. Instead of refined starchy (white) food, choose wholegrain or higher-fibre options such as wholewheat pasta, brown rice or simply leaving the skins on potatoes.
Also try and add some protein-rich foods to your diet every day.
Choose lean meat, remove the skin from poultry, and try not to add extra fat or oil when cooking meat.
Make sure poultry, burgers, sausages and whole cuts of meat such as lamb, beef and pork are cooked very thoroughly until steaming all the way through. Check that there is no pink meat, and that juices have no pink or red in them.
Try to eat 2 portions of fish each week, 1 of which should be oily fish such as salmon, sardines or mackerel. There are some types of fish you should avoid when you’re pregnant or planning to get pregnant, including shark, swordfish and marlin.
When you’re pregnant, you should avoid having more than 2 portions of oily fish a week, such as salmon, trout, mackerel and herring, because it can contain pollutants.
Dairy foods such as milk, cheese, fromage frais and yoghurt are important in pregnancy because they contain calcium and other nutrients that you and your baby need.
Choose low-fat varieties wherever possible, such as semi-skimmed, 1 percent fat or skimmed milk, low-fat and lower-sugar yoghurt and reduced-fat hard cheese.
If you prefer dairy alternatives, such as soya drinks and yoghurts, go for unsweetened, calcium-fortified versions.
There are some cheeses you should avoid in pregnancy, including unpasteurised cheeses.
If you’re having foods and drinks that are high in fat and sugar, have these less often and in small amounts.
Try to cut down on saturated fat, and have small amounts of foods rich in unsaturated fat instead, such as vegetable oils.
Healthy snacks in pregnancy
If you get hungry between meals, try not to eat snacks that are high in fat and/or sugar, such as sweets, biscuits, crisps or chocolate. Instead, choose something healthier, such as:
• small sandwiches or pitta bread with grated cheese, lean ham, mashed tuna, salmon, or sardines, with salad
• salad vegetables, such as carrot, celery or cucumber
• low-fat, lower-sugar fruit yoghurt, plain yoghurt or fromage frais with fruit
• hummus with wholemeal pitta bread or vegetable sticks
• ready-to-eat apricots, figs or prunes
• vegetable and bean soups
• a small bowl of unsweetened breakfast cereal, or porridge, with milk
• milky drinks
• fresh fruit
• baked beans on toast or a small baked potato
• a small slice of malt loaf, a fruited tea cake or a slice of toasted fruit bread
Preparing food safely
• Wash fruit, vegetables and salads to remove all traces of soil, which may contain toxoplasma (a parasite that can cause toxoplasmosis) which can harm your unborn baby.
• Wash all surfaces and utensils, and your hands, after preparing raw foods (poultry, meat, eggs, fish, shellfish and raw vegetables) to help you avoid food poisoning.
• Make sure that raw foods are stored separately from ready-to-eat foods, otherwise there’s a risk of contamination.
• Use a separate knife and chopping board for raw meats.
• Heat ready meals until they’re steaming hot all the way through – this is especially important for meals containing poultry.
You also need to make sure that some foods, such as eggs, poultry, burgers, sausages and whole cuts of meat like lamb, beef and pork, are cooked very thoroughly until steaming all the way through.
Eating well in pregnancy can help you feel better, help keep baby well and help reduce the risk of your child having diabetes and heart disease in later life.