Your diet can help to keep both you and your baby healthy throughout your pregnancy. Here are a few tips to make sure you’re getting all the nutrients you need:
- Start taking folic acid tablets if you’re trying for a baby or have recently found out that you’re pregnant and try to eat foods that are rich in folate; these include spinach, watercress, nuts and wholegrain foods. You should be taking in at least 400 micrograms of folic acid for the first 3 months of your pregnancy. Folic acid helps to protect against defects which affect the development of your baby’s spinal cord; these are known as neural tube defects, the most well-known example of this is spina bifida.
- Eat plenty of fruit and vegetables as these are rich in the minerals, nutrients and vitamins that you need to stay healthy and that your baby needs to develop properly
- Eat plenty of wholegrain starchy carbohydrates such as bread, pasta and rice; you need these foods to keep you fuelled and nourished
- Eat and drink dairy products but try and choose reduced fat versions; these foods contain calcium which is important for the development of healthy bones and teeth
- Eat plenty of foods that contain iron, such as lean red meat, spinach, watercress and certain cereals (most will have a label saying ‘fortified with iron’ on the front’; your midwife may also suggest that you take iron supplements.
- Get lots of vitamin D; this helps to keep bones strong and also provides a store that your baby will use for the first few months of their life. Vitamin D is produced naturally by the body as a result of sun exposure but you may wish to take supplements.
- Eat plenty of protein-rich foods and omega 3 oils; the body needs these for regeneration and building new muscle tissue; they also provide a number of other health benefits.
There are certain foods and drinks which should be avoided during pregnancy; below are some guidelines about what not to eat during pregnancy
- Avoid drinking alcohol- if you must drink, limit it to 2 units per week
- Avoid eating cheese with mould on, such as Stilton and blue cheese; hard cheeses and processed cheese are fine and will provide you with calcium and protein
- Avoid eating pate; it can contain listeria, which may cause health problems
- Avoid eating raw shellfish and limit oily fish to two portions each week (these foods may be high in mercury, which can affect your baby’s health)
- Avoid eating marlin, shark and swordfish; these foods are also high in mercury
- Avoid eating liver or any liver product as these foods are high in vitamin A, which can contribute to birth defects
How much should I be eating?
The classic line ‘I’m eating for two’ doesn’t really have any truth, as the baby doesn’t need anywhere near the amount of calories an adult would normally consume. Experts recommend that mothers actually only need to increase their calorie consumption during the final stages of pregnancy and then this should only be by around 200 calories per day. If you feel hungry, then try and snack on healthy food options. Towards the end of your pregnancy you may find it more comfortable to eat 4 or 5 smaller meals instead of 3 main meals, as this can reduce heartburn and make you feel less uncomfortable after eating.
Preparation and cooking tips
It is important that you check that the food you eat has been prepared in a clean environment as bacteria associated with food preparation (including salmonella and listeriosis) can cause harm to an unborn baby. Some guidelines are listed below:
- Make sure meat is thoroughly cooked and piping hot before you eat it
- Rinse all fruit and vegetables thoroughly before eating them
- Make sure eggs are cooked thoroughly and avoid foods that contain raw or partly cooked eggs, such as mayonnaise
- Make sure you wash your hands before you cook or prepare food
Travelling during pregnancy
It is possible to travel during pregnancy but you need to take extra precautions if you do decide to go away. The best time to travel is between 14 weeks and 28 weeks; travelling before this period of time can be uncomfortable for the mother as they may feel nauseous and tired and there may be a risk of going into labour if you choose to travel during the final stage of your pregnancy. The risk of miscarriage is much higher during the first trimester so it is advisable to avoid travelling long distances during this stage of pregnancy. If you are worried about travelling or have questions, talk to your midwife or GP about your trip.
If you choose to go abroad during your pregnancy, here are some tips:
- Make sure you have a comprehensive travel insurance policy, which will cover you if you have any problems or go into labour prematurely
- Research where you are staying and make sure there are good healthcare facilities close to where you are staying
- Have a check-up before you leave to make sure everything is ok with you and your baby
- If you are flying, remember to drink plenty of water and wear flight socks and do exercises to prevent deep vein thrombosis
- Avoid travelling to countries where there is a high risk of dangerous illnesses and diseases; vaccinations are not recommended for pregnant women so try to avoid places where vaccinations are recommended
- Make sure you drink bottled water when you are abroad and wash fruit, vegetables and salad with bottled water. Make sure meat is cooked thoroughly.
Many pregnancies are healthy and run smoothly, but some women suffer the heartache of complications during their pregnancy. Some of the more common complications are outlined below, as well as articles offering advice on how to cope with losing a baby.