How To Have a Healthy Pregnancy – What do I need to know?
It’s quite common to hear people say that they’ve stopped a negative behaviour such as smoking once they find out they’re pregnant but what about the benefits to your health and your baby’s by being healthy before you get pregnant.
In order to grow your baby, your body draws on all your reserves of vitamin and minerals and so to maintain your health, and develop a healthy baby, those reserves need to be topped up before and maintained whilst you are pregnant. There are implications for both mother and baby if there is too much or too little weight gain during pregnancy so be mindful of your eating and stay within the healthy limits that your midwife recommends for you. Smoking and alcohol intakes prior to pregnancy can also affect fertility and the health of your baby. If you are thinking of becoming pregnant then along with taking your folic acid, consider your alcohol intake and stop smoking before you start trying.
Being overweight prior to pregnancy and during pregnancy can increase numerous risks to you both including miscarriage, gestational diabetes, neural tube defect and an increased risk of a c-section. Most of us know that we should take folic acid prior to pregnancy but over 900 pregnancies a year are affected by neural tube defects of which 70% are preventable. The recommended dose of folic acid is 200mcg per day, increasing to 300mcg once pregnant, unless you are in a high risk group i.e. diabetic, epileptic and then it increases to 5mg but your GP or midwife will guide you on this. Whilst folic acid can be found in our food, primarily leafy green veg, pulses and wholegrains you would need to eat 3 times the usual amount to consume the recommended intake. Therefore, supplements are suggested prior to conception and up to week 12 of pregnancy. The Department of Health also recommends that all pregnant and breastfeeding women should take a daily supplement containing 10mcg of vitamin D, to ensure the mother’s requirements for vitamin D are met and to build adequate foetal stores for early infancy.
Along with a balanced diet it is important to ensure that you have sufficient intakes of iron to avoid anaemia which can lead to low birth weights. Iron is found in eggs, leafy green veg, fortified cereals and red meat. Vitamin C assists with the absorption of iron so try to have vitamin C rich foods too. Tea and coffee actually inhibits absorption so try and avoid these with your meals. Another thing to be mindful of is vitamin A from sources of offal. Vitamin A from fruit and vegetables is perfectly safe but it is best to avoid liver products during pregnancy.
If you follow the Eatwell Plate model (http://www.nhs.uk/Livewell/Goodfood/Pages/eatwell-plate.aspx) this will give you a guide for healthy eating in general. Contrary to wishful thinking there is no need to eat for two. In reality no extra calories need to be eaten until the 3rd trimester and then only 200kcal increase is required. It is really important to have regular healthy snacks as well as well balanced meals. Unless you have an allergy/intolerance there is no need to cut out a specific food group. If you are overweight, then dieting in pregnancy is not recommended. However, adopting a healthy diet at any time can only help you but you shouldn’t aim to lose more than 1-2lbs per week.
So having established it’s good to be a healthy weight and eating a healthy diet prior to and during pregnancy what about all those dos and don’ts that we are bombarded with. Can you eat cheese? What is the risk with fish? How much coffee can I drink?
As a rule anything unpasteurised should be avoided. This is because there is a risk of listeria, which whilst small can be fatal to the baby at any stage of pregnancy. Cheese with a white rind such as brie, soft goats cheese and camembert and soft blue veined cheese are all to be avoided as the moisture in the cheeses allows the bacteria to grow. The good news is all pasteurised cheeses and hard cheeses (even blue such as stilton) are allowed.
Regular consumption of fish during pregnancy has been shown to increase the social and communication skills in children according to a study carried out in Denmark. But as always beware! Excess consumption of some fish can cause problems due to the toxins contained so avoid those things high up the food chain such as marlin, shark and swordfish. Tuna should also be limited. Shellfish if well-cooked is permitted but avoid it raw. Aim to have at least two portions of fish a week but limit oily fish to only two portions. The usual white fish such as cod and haddock can be eaten freely. (But try and avoid too much batter!)
Eggs and meat are all safe if prepared and cooked properly. Make sure all surfaces are clean and that you wash your hands. Be vigilant for cross contamination – i.e. ensure different boards and knives are used when preparing meat and vegetables. Ensure that all eggs and meat are cooked through. Things such as home-made mousse, ice cream and mayo are all potentially a risk as they contain unpasteurised egg which should be avoided so it is a good idea check when eating out or avoid altogether. Most shop bought varieties will all be pasteurised and perfectly safe.
Used to a bucket of coffee to get you going in the morning? Caffeine is definitely something to consider weaning yourself from before pregnancy. Caffeine should be limited to two cups of instant coffee per day. Overall caffeine shouldn’t exceed 200mg per day. As a rule of thumb a mug of filter coffee contains 140mg and tea 75mg of caffeine. An average bar of chocolate contains 25mg so it doesn’t take long for you to reach the limit. Instead choose fruit tea, decaffeinated tea and coffee and of course water. Drink lots of water – it’s important to stay hydrated.
Alcohol – AVOID! If you are tempted to have a tipple, then avoid the first trimester as regular drinking can cause irreversible damage to the baby’s neural pathways and organs. Limit yourself to 1-2 units per week in the 2nd and 3rd trimester and remember that a 125ml glass of wine can be as much as 1.8 units.
Remember a healthy balanced diet before and during your pregnancy will reduce your risk of complications throughout. I hope you have a happy and healthy pregnancy.
Written by Pam Lamplugh