Eating a well-balanced diet during pregnancy is essential for both the mother’s health and optimal growth and development of a happy and healthy baby. Eating well not only enhances your physical and emotional wellbeing but also plays a role in the health of your child throughout their different stages all the way into adulthood. Eating well during pregnancy isn’t all about eating more, it’s the quality of your overall diet that is most important.
Nutritional Requirements During Pregnancy
Despite what you may have heard, energy requirements during pregnancy only slightly increase during the second trimester by around 1400kJ which is roughly 2 slices of toast with peanut butter and during the third trimester by about 1900kJ – 2 slices of toast with peanut butter and a small tub of yoghurt. Although the increase in energy requirements is only small, requirements for a number of important nutrients increases quite a bit during pregnancy.
Increases in specific nutrients include protein, iron, folate, zinc, iodine, calcium, fibre and Omega-3 (specifically DHA). It is due to the increase in requirements for these nutrients that a focus on an overall well-balanced, quality diet is important. Consuming a large variety of mainly fresh, whole foods including lean meat, poultry, fish and alternatives, wholegrain breads and cereals, reduced fat dairy and alternatives and a wide range of fruits and vegetables will provide you with the best chance of meeting your requirements.
Women require additional water during pregnancy due to support the amniotic fluid and baby’s needs. Water is crucial for the absorption and delivery of nutrients to your baby and can also help the mother feel more energised, reduce fatigue, nausea, constipation and heartburn. Pregnant adult women require roughly 2.3L or 9 cups of fluid each day but this may vary depending on climate and your activity levels.
Managing Morning Sickness
Eating smaller, more frequent meals may be more manageable and won’t leave you feeling too full which may assist with your morning sickness and help keep your energy levels up. If you are feeling nauseas and finding it difficult to include healthy and nourishing foods at certain times of the day it may be best to include these nutritious foods at a time when you are feeling your best. Some other ways you may be able to manage your symptoms include snacking on plain dry foods such as wholegrain crackers and toast, try including ginger in foods or tea as this may relieve symptoms. Drink liquid between meals rather than with food to avoid feeling too full and bloated, avoid foods with strong smell or while they are cooking if this makes you feel unwell and avoid meals that are too large, greasy or really spicy as these may lead to nausea in some women.
Foods to Avoid
A mother’s immune system is reduced during pregnancy meaning you are at a higher risk of picking up food bourne illnesses that can be harmful for you and your baby.
Pregnant mother’s should avoid:
- Pre-packaged salads, fruit salad and sandwiches as they may contain harmful bacteria.
- Precooked cold foods such as pate, quiche, deli meats like ham and processed chicken and soft cheeses including brie, feta and ricotta unless heated to above 75°C.
- Raw eggs – ensure eggs are cooked through and avoid raw egg in cake and cookie mix.
- Any raw or undercooked meat including beef, pork and poultry.
- Bean sprouts and rockmelon.
- Unpasteurised dairy foods.
- Cold or raw seafood.
It is important to prepare and store food safely. Wash all fruits and vegetables before using and consume leftovers after heating above 60°C within one day.
Mercury in Fish
Consuming the suggested two to three serves of fish a week is beneficial to both you and your growing bub, however there are some types of fish that contain levels of mercury that may be harmful to your growing baby. These include shark, swordfish, marlin and broadbill which should be limited to one serve (150g) every two weeks and eat no other fish during this two week period. Orange roughy or deep sea perch and catfish should be limited to one 150g serve per week with no other fish consumed that week. All other fish and seafood such as salmon and tuna can be consumed two to three times a week as part of a healthy diet. In fact it is encouraged as fish contains valuable vitamins, minerals and essential fatty acids that are important for yours and your baby’s health and development.
- Aim to eat a well-balanced diet that includes a wide variety of foods from the five food groups.
- Ensure you’re aware of foods that are best to avoid and ensure all food is stored and prepared safely.
- Limit fish that contains high levels of mercury but aim to include 2-3 serves of other fish such as salmon and tuna per week to support growth and development.
- Aim to meet your fluid requirements each day to support the growth of your healthy baby and help keep you feeling your best.
- If you are struggling with morning sickness and maintaining a balanced diet, try snacking on plain try foods when feeling unwell and focus on including nutritious foods when you are feeling your best.
It’s important to keep in mind that you may not be able to meet your requirements for all vitamins and minerals through food as some requirements may be quite high. Speak to your health care professional about supplementation if you are, or are thinking about becoming pregnant.
Written by: Maddison Elliottsidebottom (Dietitian Student)
Reviewed: Emily Ross (Dietitian)