Natural Nutrition in Pregnancy

Natural Nutrition in Pregnancy

Growing a baby is an amazing thing. Perhaps at no other time in your life will the choices you make around what to put in your mouth be more important. You're not just eating for two, you're building a baby.

Switching to a whole foods diet of natural, minimally processed foods is an easy way to make sure you're getting more of the good stuff and avoiding things commonly found in processed foods that just aren't helpful, such as artificial ingredients, excessive amounts of simple sugars, and unhealthy fats. With those things out of the way you leave ample room for the basics — fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, dairy, nuts, legumes and lean animal protein.

Listen to your body

Take some time to listen to what your body is telling you. You may find that some of your favorite foods no longer appeal to you or that foods you've sworn off in the past now sound increasingly tasty. Especially if you're a vegetarian or vegan — consider relaxing your dietary restrictions if your body craves animal protein. While it's possible to maintain a healthy pregnancy through vegetarian sources, it can be much more challenging. Looking for local and humanely-raised sources of animal protein may be one way to compromise during pregnancy and ensure you're getting what you and your baby need.

Smaller portions more frequently

You may find eating smaller portions frequently throughout the day helps you feel better as well. Keep some raw nuts in your purse, office drawer and car. You'll be amazed at how some quick, dense calories can affect you. The experience of being pregnant provides its own level of emotional ups and downs, no need to add to any mood swings because you've let your blood sugar get too low. You may also find you need to snack at new hours. A piece of fresh fruit before bed and then a couple whole grain crackers as soon as you wake in the morning can make for a more comfortable sleep and less nausea the next day. If you do wake during the night, consider a small snack of a complex carbohydrate, such as a few whole grain crackers, to help to keep blood sugar balanced and help you to feel more able to take on the day.

Multi-vitamin and essential fatty acid

Regardless of your philosophies on supplementation, almost all health professionals recommend taking a prenatal multivitamin while pregnant.

Your doctor will hopefully also recommend an essential fatty acid. The science on essential fatty acids and fetal brain, nervous system and immune system development is strong and Western diets tend to be low in omega-3 fatty acid.

There's some debate about whether plant sources of essential fatty acids are sufficient to provide benefit to fetal development. Essential fats from fish are the closest in structure to the form we need, so you may want to consider a fish oil supplement. If you are vegetarian or vegan, consider expanding your diet to include this form of fatty acid.

Key nutrients

All nutrients found in a prenatal vitamin are important. However, there are a few that can either be confusing or are worth drawing specific attention to:

  • Beta-carotene is simply two vitamin A molecules stuck together. While too much vitamin A can be toxic to a fetus, beta-carotene is not since the body can decide how much to break down and use. You can find beta-carotene in orange- and yellow-colored fruits and vegetables. Take up to 5,000 IU vitamin A in supplement form daily.
  • Antioxidants help support immune function during pregnancy. Your immune system is naturally depressed while carrying a baby, so being sure to consume lots of antioxidants is one way to help maintain your body's natural defenses. Citrus fruit and dark berries are great sources of antioxidants.
  • Folate is part of the B vitamin family and plays an important role in DNA synthesis and nervous system development. Too little folate during pregnancy can result in neural tube defects, premature birth and anemia. Take 400-800 mcg in supplement form daily and eat lots of dark green leafy vegetables, orange juice, and lima, kidney and garbanzo beans.
  • Calcium makes strong bones. Look for calcium citrate and calcium malate, which are easier forms to absorb than calcium carbonate. Take 1200 mg each day in supplement form. Dairy and dark green leafy vegetables are excellent sources.
  • Iron. When you are pregnant about a third of your iron supply is used by the fetus to form its blood. Because your own blood supply also increases during pregnancy, the risk for iron deficiency anemia is real. Anemia can lead to fatigue, increased risk of hemorrhage and premature birth. Ask your doctor to run a ferritin test at the beginning of your pregnancy as a way to assess your level of stored iron. This will help you create a plan to ensure adequate intake of iron during and after your pregnancy. Take 30-90 mg Iron in supplement form daily. Dietary sources of iron include whole grains, nuts, prunes, egg yolks and red meat. It's a great idea to eat foods containing iron and vitamin C together; vitamin C increases iron absorption.

Please consult your health care provider for advice about any specific diet, nutrition, or exercise concerns during pregnancy.

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