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Pregnancy Foods: Dos & Don'ts

Pregnancy Foods: Dos & Don'ts

Pregnancy can be a confusing time when it comes to nutrition. Your regular go-to healthy foods, salads and sandwiches may be off the menu due to listeria concerns. It is no secret that nutritious foods are important for both mom and baby’s health, but where do you even start?

Below are the Dos and Don'ts according to a registered dietitian for happy and healthy prenatal nourishment.

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DO...

1. Take a prenatal multivitamin:

No matter how good your diet is, it is nice to have a “safety net” during pregnancy to help fill any gaps. Folic acid is particularly important, because it prevents neural tube defects of the baby’s brain. Prenatals are especially helpful when you are dealing with nausea. Saltines and ginger ale may be the only thing you can keep down, so having a pill that can meet your baby’s demands is extremely helpful.

If you are vegan or vegetarian, make sure your prenatal vitamins include B12, iodine, and zinc. Omega-3 fatty acids (DHA) are also helpful while building a baby.

2. Get plenty of calcium:

Calcium is crucial for prenatal development (think of all the bones you are building!) You won’t find prenatal vitamins with calcium, because iron and calcium block each other’s absorption when taken together. The best way to get calcium is through your diet. Dairy is one of the richest sources, but you can also get it from dark leafy greens, sardines, tofu, beans, almonds, and figs.

Taking a calcium supplement may be recommended if you are vegan, dairy-free, or have a history of eating disorders. Talk to your doctor before adding one to your diet.

3. Eat lots of protein:

You may remember from high school biology that proteins are the “building blocks” of the body - so it makes sense that you need more while pregnant. Protein needs increase about 27% while expecting. Try to include a protein-rich food at each meal and snack.

Adding protein-rich foods to your diet may reduce nausea as well. Pairing carbs and protein can also help with blood sugar balance, which is especially important for moms with gestational diabetes.

Some great sources of protein are beans, tofu, nuts, lentils, seeds, quinoa, oats, meat, fish, shellfish, milk, cheese, yogurt, and eggs. Try to include one of these every time you eat.

Protein powders are not advised during pregnancy due to fear of contamination or additives. Talk to your doctor if you are thinking about adding protein powders or shakes to your diet.

4. Eat small, more frequent meals:

Up to 90% of women experience nausea while in the first trimester. In the second trimester, your symptoms might include indigestion, gas, and constipation. Near the end of pregnancy, your symptoms may change to feeling full too fast, even while still hungry. (Your baby is taking up a lot of real estate.)

You can tackle these side effects by eating small and frequent amounts of food. This is especially helpful with morning sickness, since an empty stomach often makes symptoms worse. Try to also separate drinking fluids and eating.

5. Embrace eating fats:

Thankfully, fat’s bad rep and the low-fat craze of the 90s is going away. Unfortunately, there are still lingering feelings that fats should be avoided. This couldn’t be further from the truth, especially while pregnant!

Fat provides energy, aids in digestion, and helps us absorb vitamins and antioxidants. Some great sources of fat include fish, cheese, yogurt, nuts, olives, coconut, and avocados.

Omega-3 fats are particularly helpful because they support your baby’s brain and eye development. They can be found in chia seeds, flax seeds, salmon, sardines, mackerel, and light tuna. Experts recommend not exceeding 8-12 oz of fish per week during pregnancy, due to mercury content.

6. Seek support with eating:

Eating disorders affect at least 9% of the population worldwide. If you have struggled with disordered eating, you are not alone. Pregnancy can be a particularly vulnerable time because of body changes and weight gain.

If you find yourself struggling, share these concerns with your OBGYN or a registered dietitian. It is crucial to make sure that you're getting all the support you need.

DON’T…

1. Don’t count calories

It is understandable to want to make sure you are getting the right amount of food for your baby. However, counting calories is not a helpful way to do so.

Calorie needs change drastically and dynamically throughout your pregnancy, as your baby’s growth stages shift. Needs also differ from person to person, based on genetics, lifestyle, and a multitude of other factors.

Counting calories can lead to disordered eating. It creates a deprivation mindset that can disturb your relationship with food, which is definitely not what you or your baby needs right now.

The healthier and more accurate way to ensure your body is getting what it needs is to listen to your hunger cues. Your body will tell you when it needs food and when it is full.

2. Don’t worry about eating “perfectly” (no such thing!)

Many moms feel guilty that because of nausea, they weren’t able to eat a single vegetable their entire first trimester. Maybe you too are feeling the pressure to eat nutrient-rich home-cooked meals every night of your pregnancy. What is important to remember is that there is no such thing as the “perfect” diet.

Of course, eating a variety of healthy ingredients, fruits, and veggies is always good. But at the same time, pregnancy is physically and emotionally draining. Most of the time you don’t want to stand over a hot stove for hours, and some nights you may crave a pint of Ben & Jerrys for dinner.

Rather than striving for perfection, aim for more attainable goals. For example, trying a new vegetable once a week.

3. Don’t completely cut out sweets or treats

Pregnant women who are worried about gaining weight or developing gestational diabetes will often be too strict on themselves when it comes to their diet. By restricting sweets and carbs, you will just end up craving them more. This will lead to you never feeling fully satisfied.

Keep enjoying your favorite snacks* throughout pregnancy, including chips and dessert. Enjoying them in moderation is completely safe for you and your little one. If you have gestational diabetes, pair sugary foods with protein packed foods, and go for a nice stroll. This will smooth out any blood sugar spikes.

4. Don’t eat undercooked animal products

This is the exception to the above section. If your favorite snack is sushi or a runny egg, they should be avoided. While pregnant, avoid eating raw fish, meat, and eggs to reduce the risk of listeria or food poisoning. Both you and your fetus are more vulnerable to food-borne illnesses right now. Just make sure to cook meat, fish, and eggs to the minimum safe temperature before consuming. You can also eat deli meat if you heat it up to 165°F before eating.

You should also avoid cheese made from unpasteurized milk and high-mercury fish. Fish high in mercury include tilefish, swordfish, shark, marlin, orange roughy, king mackerel, and bigeye tuna. Thankfully, most cheeses sold in grocery store chains are pasteurized, even soft ones. Look for “made with pasteurized milk” on the label.

5. Don’t compare yourself to others

Social media makes it tempting to compare yourself to other parents-to-be out there. Remember, videos can be heavily filtered and photos are likely photoshopped. Social media is never a good representation of real life. Follow people that make you feel good, unfollow accounts that don’t - or take a break from social media entirely!

What your healthy pregnancy looks like is going to look different than others. Even if every pregnant person ate the same exact diet, their bumps and bodies would still look different.

About the Author
Grace Dwyer MS, MA, RD, LDN, IBCLC
Registered Dietitian and Lactation Consultant

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