Women who are trying to become pregnant or have recently become pregnant have many things to think about. From baby names to finding the right stroller or crib to ensuring that she will do everything possible to keep her and her baby safe and healthy, the list seems endless.
“There are many lifestyle behaviors such as regular physical activity, stress reduction, avoidance of toxins, and restorative sleep that support women and their babies during and after pregnancy,” said Dr. Daniel Witkowski, chair of OB/GYN at MelroseWakefield Hospital. “Nutrition is particularly important to supporting a healthy pregnancy.”
Dr. Witkowski offers the following five things to know about pregnancy and nutrition.
Lifelong nutrition goals
“Pregnancy is a unique opportunity to take a step back and re-analyze goals for your overall health,” said Dr. Witkowski. “If you are actively trying to become pregnant, it is a great time to focus on those nutrition goals and a mindset of living healthy. Living a healthy lifestyle is the best gift that you can give yourself and your family.”Dr. Witkowski added that, “rather than choosing the latest fad diet, it is important to focus on the basics about nutrition and the foods we eat. We can make a huge difference in our nutrition and health by making some simple changes in habits. For example, make sure that your pantries and refrigerators are well stocked with nutritious options, and planning and preparing healthy meals in advance to help limit the number of times you eat out or take out. This is especially important when it comes to cravings that invariably happen during pregnancy. You will want to have those healthy, go-to snacks and meals readily available when the cravings arise.”The first trimester can make focusing on good nutrition a challenge if you are experiencing morning sickness (don’t let the name fool you, it can linger all day!). If you are having trouble keeping food down, hydration is of utmost importance (divide your weight by two and drink at least that much water in fluid ounces). Have high protein snacks with you at all times, such as almonds and low-sugar high-protein bars. Morning sickness can be exacerbated on an empty stomach so having small frequent nutrient-dense foods can help.
Dr. Witkowski emphasizes that eating plant-based, nutrient-dense food, and limiting processed foods is the key to feeling your best during pregnancy. Nutrient-dense foods are whole, natural foods that are rich in vitamins and minerals and don’t contain the sodium, saturated fats, and added sugars that are in processed foods. Examples of nutrient-dense foods are fruits and vegetables, including leafy green vegetables, legumes, whole grains, and nuts and seeds. These foods not only contain protein, fat, and carbohydrates but they are also a great source of fiber, which is very important during pregnancy.“The best way to prepare for pregnancy from a nutrition standpoint, is to simplify your life,” said Dr. Witkowski. “By thinking about food prep and portion control in advance, it may be much easier to adapt throughout your pregnancy. Work closely with your physician and his/her staff to plan for times when you may need to increase calories or tweak your nutrition throughout your pregnancy.” If you are looking for more nutrition help throughout your pregnancy, ask your obstetrician to connect you with a MelroseWakefield Healthcare registered dietitian.
“My colleagues and I recommend multivitamins or prenatal vitamins,” said Dr. Witkowski. Ideally, if you are trying to become pregnant, you can start taking these vitamins even before you conceive. If you are taking other dietary supplements or herbal supplements should have other than the prenatal vitamins, you should review those with your physician.” A multivitamin or prenatal vitamin should contain at least 400 micrograms (mcg) of Folate (folic acid) to prevent brain and spinal cord birth defects in early pregnancy.
“Many years ago, people would advise pregnant women to avoid eating fish altogether,” said Dr. Witkowski. “While there is some truth to that train of thought, it turns out that what really matters is the type of fish you are eating.” In general terms, game fish such as tuna, swordfish, bass and bluefish, which are at the top of the food chain, tend to eat many other fish, concentrating the mercury in those fish in addition to their own, adding to the total amount of mercury in their bodies.The bottom feeders such as cod, haddock and flounder typically don’t eat other fish, and therefore don’t collect so much mercury in their systems. Those fish should be fine to eat in moderate amounts.”
“The phrase ‘eating for two’ is really a misnomer,” said Dr. Witkowski. “The calorie intake needed as the fetus develops doesn’t go up all that much.” At most, you will require an increase of about 300 calories per day during the later trimesters.“Regular physical activity during pregnancy can help to minimize excess weight gain, improve blood pressure, and decrease the likelihood of developing gestational diabetes.” Check with your OB/GYN team if you have specific questions about continuing or beginning a physical activity routine during pregnancy.