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Women’s Nutrition: Pregnancy

Pregnancy is a special and unique time in a woman’s life. Growing a little bundle of joy is no easy task and having a lot of conflicting nutritional advice around doesn’t help. Everyone telling you what you should and shouldn’t eat during pregnancy, can feel overwhelming. We’re here to help ease the confusion, even if baby brain has set in.

pregnancy nutrition with tips from a dietitian


How much weight will I gain while pregnant?

It can be scary to think about the weight will be gained while pregnant. As steady weight gain is normal and vital during pregnancy. However, gaining too much or too little weight can contribute to problems for both you and your baby. A good approach is eating to satisfy your appetite, whilst monitoring your weight throughout pregnancy.


Target weight gain during pregnancy

​Pre-pregnancy BMI (kg/m2)

​Rate of weight gain 2nd and 3rs trimester (kg/week)

​Recommended total weight gain range (kg)

​<18.5 underweight

​0.51

​12.5 to 18

​18.5 to 24.9 normal weight

​0.42

​11.5 to 16

​25.0 to 29.9 overweight

​0.28

​7 to 11.5

​≥ 30.0 obese

​0.22

​5 to 9

Think of it like this, weight gain within these ranges is important to support the growth and development of your baby. Restricted eating while pregnant can compromise both your health and your baby’s health. This is not recommended during pregnancy, even if you are overweight.


Australian dietary guidelines for pregnant women

Choosing a wide variety of healthy foods from the 5 food groups ensures that you and your baby’s nutritional needs are met. The Australian Dietary Guidelines recommend that women who are pregnant should aim to consume the following on a daily basis:

​Food group

​Serves per day

​Sample serve

​Meat or alternatives

​3 ½

​65g red meat

80g chicken

100g fish

2 eggs

170g tofu

30g nuts

Dairy or alternatives such as soy or almond milk

​2 ½

​1 cup milk

2 slices (40g) cheese

Small tub (¾ cup) yoghurt

​Grain foods: high fibre (wholegrain) breads and cereals

​8 ½

​1 slice bread, ½ bread roll, 3 crisp breads, 1 cup cereal, ½ cup cooked porridge

½ cup rice, pasta or noodles (cooked)

​Fruit

​2

​1 medium fruit (e.g. apple)

2 smaller fruit (e.g. apricots)

1 cup tinned fruit

​Vegetables

​5

​½ cup cooked vegetables

1 cup salad

½ cup legumes (cooked)

​Unsaturated spreads and oils

​Use in small amounts

​Extra foods e.g., foods containing saturated fat, added salt/sugar

​Occasionally, in small amounts

Dietitian Tips for Pregnancy

  • Experiment with a new fruit or vegetable each week

  • Choose mostly wholegrain and high fibre carbohydrate options

  • Prioritize foods high in iron (such as lean red meat or tofu)

  • Go for reduced-fat varieties of dairy

  • Limit intake of foods and drinks high in saturated fat, added sugar and salt to small amounts

The importance of meeting nutritional needs in pregnancy

The importance of meeting nutritional needs in pregnancy

During pregnancy, nutrition is more important than ever. Choosing healthy food choices daily will help you give your baby what they need to develop and ensures that you and your baby gain the appropriate amount of weight.


Risks of excess weight gain during pregnancy

  • Gestational diabetes during pregnancy, and type 2 diabetes after pregnancy

  • Gestational hypertension

  • Difficulties during birth

  • Miscarriage or stillbirth

  • Later life obesity and metabolic syndrome for baby

Risks of insufficient weight gain during pregnancy

  • Low birth weight infant

  • Preterm birth

  • Gestational weight gain

Do I need to eat for two?

We’re sure you’ve heard of the saying “Eating for two” while you are pregnant many times. Turns out, eating for two doesn’t mean you should eat twice the amount of food. To maintain a healthy pregnancy, approximately 300 extra calories are needed each day. These calories should come from a balanced diet of protein, fruits, vegetables and whole grains.


Key nutrients for pregnant woman

FOLATE

Folate is important prior to conception and during the first trimester of pregnancy. It plays an essential role in formulating your baby’s neural tube, later developing into the brain and spine.

Foods high in folate include green leafy vegetables, legumes, fruit, and bread/cereals, so try to include these foods in your diet. Australian Guidelines recommend taking a folic acid-containing supplement at least 4 weeks before you start trying for a baby. This will ensure higher folate levels to help protect against neural tube defects.


IODINE

Iodine is another important nutrient, as deficiencies can impact your baby’s hearing and physical development. Foods high in iodine include seafood and bread. It is also recommended that women planning a pregnancy, who are pregnant, or breastfeeding should take an iodine supplement daily. However, those with pre-existing thyroid conditions should seek advice from their doctor before commencing an iodine supplement.


Dietitian Tip for Iodine during pregnancy

  • Use iodised table salt over normal salt

  • Eat fish 1-3 times per week (choose varieties lower in mercury)

IRON

Iron is required to make red blood cells that carry oxygen around the body. During pregnancy, more iron is needed because the volume of your blood increases and your baby’s blood is also developing. It is recommended women consume iron-rich foods during pregnancy, including red meat, poultry, tofu, and iron-fortified cereals.


Dietitian Tip for Iron during Pregnancy

  • Eating foods high in vitamin C (e.g. oranges, kiwi fruit, capsicum, broccoli) can increase iron absorption

VITAMIN D

Vitamin D is important for the development of your baby’s bones and teeth. Low levels can cause muscle weakness and pain in women, and skeletal problems in their babies.

Vitamin D is mostly made in the skin by the action of sunlight, but a small amount can come from foods like oily fish, egg yolks, and some brands of milk. Some groups of women may require additional supplementation, for instance women with dark skin or sun-avoidant office workers.


OMEGA-3 FATS

Omega-3 fatty acids are essential for healthy brain, nerve and eye development in your baby. They are found in fish, especially oily fish like tuna, salmon, sardines, and mackerel. Walnuts, chia seeds and linseeds also contain omega-3 fats.


Eating fish 2-3 times a week will help meet your growing baby’s needs. However, some fish may contain high levels of mercury and should not be eaten often, as it can build up and affect your baby’s developing nervous system.


Dietitian Tip for Omega-3 Fats during Pregnancy

  • Limit shark (flake), marlin, broadbill or swordfish to no more than one serve per fortnight

  • Limit orange roughy (deep sea perch) or catfish to one serve per week


Do I need to take supplements while pregnant?

There are 3 key nutrients most women are highly encouraged to take during pregnancy as a supplement. This is because it is unlikely to get enough from food alone, no matter how healthy your diet is.


In addition to a healthy diet, look for a pregnancy supplement that contains at least:

  • Folic acid: 500 micrograms (mcg) or 0.5 milligrams (mg)

  • Iodine: 150 micrograms

  • Vitamin D: 400 international units (IU) or 10 micrograms

Most pregnancy multivitamin supplements will contain these nutrients but in different quantities. Remember to read the label and know how many tablets to take each day.

Only take a multivitamin designed for pregnancy, as other supplements may contain vitamins that are harmful at high doses in pregnancy (e.g vitamin A).


If a blood test shows you have low levels of any other vitamin or mineral, you may need to take other additional supplements. Talk with your Dietitian and Doctor before starting any supplementation.


Be cautious with medications while pregnant

Did you know some drugs or medication taken in pregnancy can cross the placenta and impact the growing baby. Let your doctor know any medications and/or substances you take, so they can best support you and your baby. These include:

  • Prescription and over-the-counter medicines

  • Nutrition supplements and vitamins

  • Complementary medicine (e.g herbal medicine)

  • Alcohol, drugs or tobacco

Alcohol and other drugs/medications can cause harm to your baby by:

  • Interfering with normal growth and development

  • Impacting on the growth of baby’s organs

  • Impacting on the placenta (a source of food and nutrients for your baby)

  • Increasing the risk of pre-term birth

Seek professional help if you need support to quit smoking, alcohol or other drugs. Do not assume that non-prescription medications are safe because you can buy them over the counter. Seek advice from your doctor or pharmacist.


The risks of drinking alcohol while pregnant

Drinking alcohol has been associated with miscarriage, underweight infants and intellectual impairment. No safe level of alcohol consumption has been determined, so avoiding all types of alcohol is the safest option for you and your baby.


Dietitian Tips:

  • Avoid all alcohol if pregnant or planning to become pregnant

  • Limit yourself to less than 200 mg of caffeine per day

  • Avoid energy drinks

  • Experiment with caffeine-free herbal teas, such as Rooibos tea

  • Try squeezing lime or lemon into plain water to spice things up!

Food safety matters while pregnant

Food safety matters while pregnant

The immune system is suppressed during pregnancy, making women more susceptible to foodborne illness. During this time, pregnant women are considered vulnerable, therefore need the same level of food safety precautions as the elderly and very young.


Foodborne bacteria can spread to the baby and possibly cause miscarriage, premature or stillbirth. Pregnant women are advised to avoid foods likely to contain Listeria bacteria. Listeria is destroyed in normal cooking, so freshly cooked hot food is safe if eaten straight away.


Foods that should be avoided include:

  • Unpasteurised dairy products and soft, semi-soft and surface ripened cheeses (e.g. brie, camembert, ricotta, fetta and blue cheeses)

  • Cold seafood

  • Deli meats

  • Pate

  • Bean sprouts

  • Packaged salads

Food Safety tips

  • Wash raw fruit and vegetables thoroughly before eating

  • Eat freshly cooked foods as opposed to pre-packaged foods

  • Avoid eating food if it has been made more than 24 hours ago (If eating food prepared longer than a day before, always reheat food to steaming hot)

  • Avoid chilled or raw seafood e.g.) oysters, sashimi, smoked salmon, sushi, ready to eat prawns

How can a Dietitian help you during your pregnancy?

Our Dietitians are here to help you grow a healthy baby.

We can

  • Assess your nutritional needs for planning a pregnancy, during pregnancy or breastfeeding

  • Personalise an eating plan to address your nutritional needs

  • Advise on specific dietary needs (e.g vegetarianism, veganism, diabetes, coeliac disease)

  • Discuss supplements you need during pregnancy/breastfeeding

  • Receive practical tips to support a healthy pregnancy and breastfeeding

Reach out for personalised support with one of our Accredited Practising Dietitians today! Remember, it is important to seek guidance from a health professional before starting any special diets or supplements.


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