Prenatal Nutrition

A balanced diet is essential to maintaining a healthy pregnancy. It can prevent excessive weight gain, and keep gestational diabetes and high blood pressure (preeclampsia) from developing. Every expectant mother can benefit from following a diet that provides her with sufficient nutrients, vitamins and minerals, and her baby will benefit as well.

An expectant mother is advised to add an extra 300 calories a day to her diet. An ideal pregnancy diet is rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, low-fat dairy products and lean protein. There are also foods that a pregnant woman should avoid because they can pose a risk to the fetus. Drinking plenty of water to stay hydrated and help prevent constipation is recommended.

Although a healthy diet is the best way for an expectant mother to get all the nutrition she needs, taking prenatal vitamins is also important. They provide both mother and fetus with the additional vitamins and minerals needed during pregnancy. Prenatal vitamins contain high amounts of folic acid, which helps to prevent neural-tube birth defects, and iron, which helps to prevent anemia, and supports the fetus's growth and development.

Foods Needed During Pregnancy

In addition to requiring extra caloric intake during pregnancy, mothers-to-be especially require the following nutrients and minerals.

  • Folate and folic acid for fetal nervous system development
  • Calcium and vitamin D for strong bones and teeth
  • Protein for fetal growth
  • Iron for production of hemoglobin

To ensure she takes in all of these necessary elements, the pregnant woman should include most of the following in her diet: green leafy vegetables, dried beans, citrus fruits and juices, low-fat dairy products, fatty fish, lean meat, poultry, and fortified cereals. Most doctors also recommend taking a vitamin and mineral supplement.

Foods to Avoid During Pregnancy

While it is important to eat a healthy and varied diet during pregnancy, it is equally important to avoid foods that may present a danger to the growing fetus. Extra caution should be taken by pregnant women to avoid contaminated food because not only are they more susceptible to food poisoning, but their illness reaction may be more severe. Also, in rare cases, food poisoning may affect the fetus as well as the mother. Foods that present a danger during pregnancy include:

  • Seafood high in mercury, such as swordfish
  • Raw or undercooked seafood, meat, poultry and eggs
  • Uncooked frankfurters or cold cuts
  • Refrigerated pâtés
  • Foods with raw eggs, such as raw batter
  • Unpasteurized foods
  • Unwashed fruits and vegetables
  • Raw sprouts

Excess caffeine should also be avoided during pregnancy since caffeine increases fetal heart rate and is associated with increased risk of miscarriage. Alcohol presents serious risks to the unborn child, including increased risk of miscarriage or stillbirth, and the danger of fetal alcohol syndrome. Herbal teas, like herbal supplements, should also be avoided unless the patient first checks with her doctor.

Because what the mother-to-be eats and drinks can have major effects, both positive and negative, on her unborn child, it is important that she keep informed and consult with her obstetrician regarding any questions about prenatal nutrition.

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