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Dietitian's Dish: Eating well is important during pregnancy

April 20, 2010 at midnight
Updated April 19, 2010 at 11:20 p.m.

Nutrition is important in all stages of life.

During pregnancy, nutrition not only impacts the mother's life, but also the unborn child. A woman's weight prior to conception influences fetal growth. An underweight woman has a high risk of having a low-birth weight infant, especially if she is unable to gain sufficient weight during pregnancy. Rates for pre-term births and perinatal mortality are high for underweight women. Being overweight may cause problems related to pregnancy and childbirth, such as hypertension, gestational diabetes and post-partum infections.

Weight loss dieting during pregnancy is never advisable. Overweight women should try to achieve a healthy body weight prior to conception, avoid excessive weight gain during pregnancy and postpone weight loss until after childbirth.

Recommended weight gain for someone underweight is 28-40 pounds, normal weight is 25-35 pounds and overweight is 15-25 pounds. For someone who is obese, a minimum of 15 pounds is recommended.

Calorie intake during pregnancy is important. The old saying "eating for two" doesn't apply anymore. To have healthy weight gain during pregnancy, it is recommended to have an additional 300 calories per day. This should come from nutrient-dense foods, such as lean meats, fish poultry, fish, eggs, legumes, whole grain breads and cereals, vegetables, fruits and nonfat milk products.

Protein is made up of amino acids, which are the building blocks of you and your baby's body cells. Protein is important for pregnancy, but especially during the second and third trimester, when your baby is growing rapidly and your body is preparing for the baby's needs. Seventy grams of protein per day is recommended for a healthy pregnancy.

Beans, lean meats, poultry, fish and eggs are all excellent sources of protein. Aim for 3-4 servings a day in order to meet pregnancy needs.

Fish is important during pregnancy. It is a good source of omega-3 fatty acids (DHA and EPA), which are important for your baby's brain and eye development. However, all fish contain some mercury. Exposure to high amounts of mercury may impair a baby's growing brain and nervous system. Shark, king mackerel, swordfish and tilefish are shown to have the highest amounts of mercury. Other fish should be limited to no more than 12 ounces per week.

Folic acid (B9), among other B Vitamins, is important during pregnancy. It has a fundamental role in DNA synthesis and cell replication. A deficiency in early pregnancy can result in placental and fetal abnormalities. Folic acid helps prevent neural tube defects, such as spinal bifida and anencephaly. It is recommended to take 400 micrograms per day.

Food sources of folic acid are fruits and fruit juices, green vegetables, and whole-grain or fortified cereals.

Nutrition is just a part of everything that goes into a healthy pregnancy. It's best not to make drastic changes in your diet, unless under the care of your physician or dietitian. Eating well is important for all stages of life, but is extremely important while pregnant.

Christie Mayer Bain, MS, RD, LD. Send questions or comments to dietitian@vicad.com.


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