Pregnancy is a time when proper nutrition is even more crucial then it is at other times. Excess or deficiency of any of a number of nutrients can lead to birth defects for the child and other complications during pregnancy for the mother. By eating right, mothers-to-be can give their babies the best start, even before they are born. Following is a summary of points to keep in mind throughout your pregnancy, including current research that still may not be known by all.

1 – Eat a whole foods diet that is highly nutritious. Stay away from processed foods.

Pregnant women should be gaining approximately 4kg in the first 20 weeks and 8.5 kg for the second 20 weeks. They need 300 extra calories per day, extra protein, and lots more vitamins and minerals. As such, they must maintain a diet rich with grains, vegetables, and fruits. Protein is essential for the growth of a new human being inside you, and carbohydrates are needed for a constant supply of energy to keep up with all the work.

Eating a wholesome, natural food diet goes hand-in-hand with pregnancy. Junk foods have poor nutritional value and add calories, but not much else. If certain packaged items are important to you then read labels carefully. Information is often presented in a way that leads one to believe the nutritional value of an item, even though it is not of significance. Fortified sugary cereals, although may be fortified with “essential” vitamins and minerals are not nearly as nutritious as any natural food. The reason those items have to be fortified with nutrients that should commonly be found in any foods is because they have been so stripped of them during processing.

Also during label-reading be particularly cautious of trans fatty acids and partially hydrogenated oils. Research has shown that high trans fatty acid intake correlates with premature births. Fats are a vital component of fetal development, especially in the brain. The recommended oils are mentioned below.

Cured and smoked meats are best avoided during pregnancy due to their content of harmful nitrites and nitrates. Studies implicate that nitrite and nitrate exposure during pregnancy leads to higher rates of brain cancer, diabetes, and leukemia in the offspring.

Sample Food Guide: You may find it easier to eat five or six small meals during the day instead of three big ones. The Food Guide below can you give you some ideas for well balanced food choices.

Calcium-rich foods 4 servings each day Milk, cheese, broccoli, and refried beans. Cereals, orange juice, and tofu with calcium added.
Protein foods 3 servings each day Chicken, fish, lean meats, eggs, cooked dry beans, soy foods, and nuts.
Fruits and vegetables 7 or more servings each day Oranges, grapefruits, bananas, berries, peaches, potatoes, yams, broccoli, spinach, peas, green beans, corn, squash, and lima beans.
Grains 6 to 11 servings each day Oatmeal, cereal, bread, rice, and pasta.

2 – Increase the intake of omega-3 fatty acids from fish sources

Eat 2-3 servings per week of cold-water fish (salmon, mackerel, herring, halibut, etc.) or take a high quality fish oil supplement to increase the level of omega-3 fatty acids available to the growing fetus. There are two main types of omega-3 oils derived from fish sources; docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and ecosapentanoic acid (EPA). It is the DHA, however, that has been found to be most beneficial for a growing fetus. DHA assists in gray matter development of the brain and the retina of the eye, which the growing child receives completely from the mother. As such, pregnant women should incorporate healthy fats into her diet. Even once or twice a week during pregnancy and 6 months into breastfeeding has shown to increase IQ. Make sure to investigate mercury and other heavy metals in your source of fish or fish oil.

3 – Talk to your physician about supplementation

-Vitamins C and E: Recent studies have found that Vitamin C taken in combination with Vitamin E from week 20 onwards decreases the risk of developing pre-eclampsia.

-Folic Acid and B12 – Folic acid is just one of many essential nutrients. It used to prevent spinal or other neural tube defects. Folate doses should be around 0.4mg/day. B12 blood levels should be performed before conception ideally before supplementing with folate.

-Other B vitamins, calcium and magnesium may also help insure a healthy pregnancy and delivery. These supplements may help in preventing complications of pregnancy such gestational diabetes as well as preeclampsia.

-Choline: There is some evidence suggesting that choline during pregnancy and breast feeding can help ensure healthy fetal brain development. These studies indicate that adequate prenatal choline can have long-lasting positive effects on cognitive function, including memory.  450 milligrams of choline daily for pregnant women and 550 milligrams daily for nursing women is recommended.

-Iron: During pregnancy there is an increased need for iron and supplementation is often warranted. Usually the amount of iron contained in a prenatal multiple is sufficient, but if serum ferritin levels are low then pregnant women should discuss additional iron supplementation with their physicians.

-Zinc deficiency and low serum zinc has been linked with congenital malformations, increased premature rupture of membranes, tearing during delivery and slower healing, and pregnancy induced hypertension. Too much zinc may cause copper deficiency over the long term so zinc should be taken with a small amount of copper (roughly 7:1 ratio). Most good multivitamin and mineral supplements designed specifically for pregnant and lactating women should meet all of the above requirements.

-Keeping Kidney Essence strong: The kidneys (in an energetic sense) are the organs that take most of the burden during pregnancy according to the traditional Chinese medical model of the body. The Chinese recommend kidney tonics to keep up the strength of the organ by including foods such as millet, sesame, soybeans, raspberries (fresh as well as from a tea from the leaves), walnuts, nettles (again as a tea), and royal jelly.

To be Careful of:

-Vit A toxicity: Over 10,000 IU/day of vitamin A can cause birth defects. Further, animal or fish sources, such as cod-liver oil, will also have vitamin A content that may be too high for pregnant women. Vitamin A content should be provided in the form of beta-carotene rather than vitamin A.

-Vit D toxicity: Over 400IU/day of Vitamin D may negatively impact a growing fetus (again, avoid cod liver oils), but an adequate amount is needed to help the baby’s bones fuse properly and avoid deformity.

4- Other Ways You Can Help Your Unborn Baby

Some of these may be no-brainers for some, but it is worthwhile repeating them for those who do not understand their importance.

  • Do not smoke. Smoking can lead to small birth weights and damage to your baby’s growing lungs.
  • Do not drink alcohol. There is no minimum or safe level of alcohol for a pregnant women. From brain damage to many other deformities, a growing fetus should never be exposed to alcohol.
  • Do not eat raw fish or uncooked eggs. Bacteria in these foods can harm you and your baby. Do not eat sushi or raw cookie dough.
  • Oral Contraceptive pills can affect liver function, folic acid and vitamin B12 metabolism, and lowers blood zinc and vitamin C. Calcium, phosphorus and magnesium are also affected. These are all vital nutrients for fetal growth and baby cannot afford to have a decreased supply. Birth control should be discontinue for at least 3 months before attempting to conceive.
  • Keep food safe. Cold foods need to be kept cold and hot foods kept hot. Defrost foods in the refrigerator, not out on the counter. Wash your hands and the counter after touching meat, chicken, or fish. Cook meat well-done.