Pregnancy nutrition: healthy fuel while your baby is growing

Pregnancy nutrition: healthy fuel while your baby is growing

It’s important that you eat well throughout your pregnancy. You need the best possible nutrients to help baby develop. Hormonal changes mean you might also be experiencing nausea, food cravings (even cravings for non-food items), a heightened sense of smell and differing tastes. Some of your most loved dishes might seem unbearable as your body changes, so you may need to change the menu. This section lets you know how to get the best balance of nutrients and which foods contain them.

Remember that while you’re eating for two, only one of you is full sized - you need some extra calories a day, but you don't need to eat twice as much food! The third trimester is when your baby’s weight will triple so be sure to get plenty of goodness in your system during that time.

Weight gain is completely normal during pregnancy. It varies a lot from person to person, but around 12 to 16kg is average for a woman with a healthy weight. Your appetite might increase to make sure you’re eating enough too. As well as fuelling your baby, your body needs to lay down energy stores for breastfeeding later on. You also need plenty of nutrients for the increased tissue in your uterus, your placenta and your red blood cells.


 Food to fuel you during pregnancy

In NZ, the Ministry of Health makes recommendations for healthy eating during pregnancy (Ministry of Health.2006.Food and Nutrition Guidelines for Healthy Pregnant and Breastfeeding Women: A background paper. Wellington: Ministry of Health). Some of the important nutrients you need are summarised below:

  • Protein – this is important for your baby’s development. The amino acids that make up protein are literally the building blocks of all the body's cells. Sources of protein are lean meat, chicken, fish, eggs that are well cooked, legumes, nuts and seeds.
  • Folic acid (folate) –this is an essential B-vitamin that is important during conception and pregnancy to help prevent birth defects such as spina bifida. Your GP or lead maternity carer will recommend a supplement to take before and during pregnancy. Folic acid is found in some foods like green leafy vegetables, wholegrain breads, cereals and brown rice, but you don’t get enough in your diet during pregnancy, and that’s why you need to take a supplement.
  • Iodine- is an essential mineral important for your baby's healthy growth and development. You'll need to take a supplement right from when you first find out you're pregnant, through until the end of breastfeeding.
  • Calcium – is important for the healthy development of your baby’s (and your own!) bones, muscles, heart and nerves. Foods that are naturally high in calcium are milk, and milk products like yoghurt, cheese and custards. Make sure you choose the pasteurized hard cheeses, or safe soft cheeses like cottage or cream cheese. To get an extra calcium boost, add extra milk or yoghurt to your cereal, or try smoothies as a snack with some fruit thrown in. You can also keep a can of salmon handy for sandwiches - the soft bones are a good source of calcium
  • Vitamin D – is essential for good health and helps your body absorb calcium from food. The main source of Vitamin D is the action sunshine on our skin, but always be sun smart and be careful not to burn in summer. In winter it’s hard for us to get enough vitamin D from the sun as we are covered up in warm clothes. Still, make the effort to go outside and expose arms, hands and face to sunlight during the day to help your Vitamin D levels. Food is not a good source of Vitamin D because it is in such a small amount. If you are concerned you don’t get outside enough, or keep yourself very covered up with clothing, talk to your GP.
  • Iron – is a mineral that is critical to support your baby’s growth and development, and to keep you healthy and well. Iron is an essential part of red blood cells - which carry oxygen and nutrients to your baby. When you are pregnant you need more iron in your diet to support your baby’s extra needs. Make sure you eat plenty of iron-rich foods to give you that extra iron boost and to help keep your energy levels up.

Foods containing iron include lean meat, chicken, fish, fortified breakfast cereals, green leafy vegetables and legumes e.g. baked beans. But remember - the best source and the most easily absorbed iron, comes from lean red meat, chicken and fish. The redder the meat, the better the iron content..good old beef and lamb!  Eating fruit and veges which are high in vitamin C (like oranges, broccoli, tomatoes or capsicums) as part of your meal can help you better absorb the iron from non-meat sources. 
Aim to eat lean red meat three or four times a week at meal times. Also eat a good balance of green leafy veges, legumes, wholegrain breads and cereals and fruit and veges containing vitamin C. Another good idea is to choose a breakfast cereal with added iron, there are several in the supermarket, just read the label. You should also avoid drinking tea with your meals as the tannins reduce your iron absorption.

If you are concerned you are low in iron, have a chat with your GP who may suggest an iron supplement.

 A few things to watch out for

The NZ Ministry for Primary Industries has detailed information about safe eating during pregnancy including which foods to avoid. Here is a quick list of foods to stay away from during pregnancy:

  •  Certain types of cheese – avoid soft pasteurised cheeses e.g. brie, camembert, blue, ricotta, mozzarella because these can contain listeria, a bacteria which can harm your unborn baby. Stick to eating the harder yellow varieties like Edam or Tasty for now.
  • Cream and custard – avoid pre-prepared foods e.g. bakery items with custard or cream used as an ingredient, and avoid ready-made chilled custard as well.
  • Hummus – avoid store bought or homemade hummus - this includes tahini and pre-packaged chilled dips. It’s best to avoid these altogether during pregnancy as these can contain bacteria. 
  • Paté - avoid as this can contain listeria too - even vegetable paté isn't safe.
  • Raw or partially cooked eggs –  eggs can contain salmonella, which is a major cause of food poisoning. You should avoid any food that contains uncooked egg, like homemade mayonnaise. That doesn’t mean you should avoid eggs altogether, as they’re great source of protein. Just make sure the egg yolk and white are both well cooked before you eat them. 
  • Raw, cured and undercooked meat – switch that extra rare steak for something less pink. Raw, undercooked, or cured meats like ham and salami, or other deli meats, increase the risk of food poisoning and parasitic infections. These can affect your baby's development.  Be extra careful of chicken as it can contain salmonella and other bacteria. It should be well cooked, right the way through. You should also watch out for smoked salmon, as this hasn’t been through a traditional cooking process and can still carry bacteria. It’s a good idea to avoid this during pregnancy. 
  • Liver - liver contains large amounts of Vitamin A, and too much of this vitamin can harm your baby. Be selective with vitamin or mineral supplements too, if you think you need one, always check in with your GP or lead maternity carer for advice.
  • Some types of fish – fish are a source of vitamins, minerals and protein. Fish is also high in omega 3 fatty acids. Most common fish varieties are safe, but some may contain higher levels of Mercury. Check out the website for more information on fish varieties to avoid .
  • Raw shellfish – avoid all raw shellfish these can contain harmful bacteria that can cause food poisoning.
  • Pre-prepared chilled meals and leftovers - make sure you keep all cooked foods in the fridge and then cook them at high temperatures to kill off any bacteria. The whole dish should be piping hot.
  • Alcohol - safe limits are unknown, so many health professionals say it’s best to avoid alcohol completely. 
  • Caffeine - too much caffeine can lead to low birth weight, and it’s also been linked with miscarriage. Limit your intake for now or choose decaffeinated versions of your favourite hot drinks.
  • Sushi – it’s best to avoid sushi altogether for now.

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