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Nutrition and pregnancy

So you’ve recently had a positive pregnancy test – congratulations!  After the initial elation you are quickly bombarded with a whole litany of dos and don’ts about what you should and shouldn’t be eating.  You, through the foods you eat, will be the only source of all the building blocks that your baby needs to develop and grow, so it is important to give some thought to your nutrition in pregnancy.

The old safety advice about avoiding unpasteurised cheeses and other dairy products, pate, raw or partially cooked eggs and making sure you cook your meat thoroughly is still valid.  You should also avoid peanuts, especially if allergies are common in your or your partner’s family.

There are some differing opinions about how much alcohol is safe during pregnancy, but zero alcohol is always the safest level.  It is a substance that your growing baby doesn’t need.  Tea, coffee and other caffeinated drinks such as colas are also worth reducing or better still, eliminating completely.  Caffeine crosses the placenta and will affect the baby the same way it affects you – i.e. it increases the heart and breathing rate.  As your baby is not yet fully developed, the effects are likely to be more profound.

Nutrition for a healthy pregnancy is also very much about what you should be eating.  Your baby’s organs are all formed in the first 3 months of the pregnancy, so it’s important that you can provide all the necessary building blocks through your diet.  Below are some simple guidelines to point you in the right direction:

  • Ensure you have some protein with every meal (protein sources include all animal foods, eggs, dairy, beans, lentils, nuts, seeds and soya).  Protein is an important building block required for many structures in the body and you need to be able to provide enough both for yourself and the growing baby.  Making sure you have protein with every meal will also boost your energy levels and can help reduce morning sickness.
  • Eat 5 or more servings of fruit and vegetables daily to boost your intake of key vitamins and minerals.
  • Drink lots of water to help avoid constipation.  A good way to help you achieve this is to fill a 1.5 litre bottle in the morning and make sure you’ve finished it by the end of the day.
  • Include oily fish (salmon, mackerel, trout, sardines, herring, and tuna) and fresh (not roasted) nuts and seeds in your diet.  They are a source of essential fats which provide building blocks for the baby’s brain.
  • Choose wholemeal bread and pasta and brown rice to boost your fibre intake and help avoid constipation.
  • Remember that dairy is not the only calcium source available.  Almonds and sesame seeds actually have a higher calcium content and come with a package of other useful minerals that make it easier for the body to absorb and utilise the calcium.

In addition, a good nutritionist can advice you on your individual needs and whether you need to supplement with any vitamins or minerals to optimise your nutrient intake.

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