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Why it’s Important to Eat Right and How to Handle Pregnancy Cravings

Why it’s Important to Eat Right and How to Handle Pregnancy Cravings

Common sense tells us that what you eat during pregnancy is important. It influences both your health and the health of your developing baby. Important nutrients like protein, folic acid, and water that your baby needs must come from you.

Every bite counts

The food you eat nourishes both you and your growing baby. Your diet also supplies your body with the fuel and nutrients you need for the next nine months. Your healthy diet may ease delivery, and speed your recovery after your baby is born. That's why it's important to eat well before you conceive and in the months that follow.

Here's what eating well can do for you

Help you to maintain a healthy weight

By making healthy meal options and helping to ensure that you are gaining weight within a healthy range, you'll improve your chances of having a strong, full-term baby with a low risk of health problems after birth.

Learn more about gaining weight during pregnancy.

Help meet your increased need for iron and prevent iron deficiency & iron deficiency anemia

Iron deficiency can cause fatigue and decreased energy levels.  Iron deficiency can potentially lead to premature delivery and low-birth weight. You can prevent iron deficiency by incorporating lots of iron-rich foods into your diet, before, during and after pregnancy. Canadian health experts recommend taking a daily multi-vitamin containing iron throughout pregnancy1.

Provide needed energy

It takes extra energy to develop a healthy baby, and that energy comes from calories. During your second and third trimester you need to eat about 300 extra calories per day or 2-3 extra Food Guide servings. Eating for two doesn't mean eating twice as much. Choose healthy options such as reduced-fat and fat-free dairy products which supply calcium, as well as protein, vitamin D, B vitamins, and magnesium, all essential for the development of baby's bones, muscles, and nerves.

Speed your recovery after delivery

Your body will require energy- and nutrient-rich foods to mend itself after your baby is born. Good nutrition is essential for this recovery process.

Help prevent common pregnancy concerns

Fortunately, few women face serious complications during pregnancy. However, most women may experience minor nuisances, such as heartburn, constipation, fatigue, and mood swings. You can minimize and often avoid these common pregnancy concerns by maintaining a good diet.

What eating right can do for your baby

Reduce the risk of birth defects

Neural tube defects are a type of birth defect. One of the most common neural tube defects in Canada is called spina bifida which occurs before most women even know they're pregnant. While a healthy diet containing a variety of folic acid-rich foods is important, it is difficult to get the recommended amount of folic acid from diet alone. That's why Canadian healthcare experts recommend women who are thinking about having a baby should start taking a prenatal multivitamin containing 0.4-1.0mg folic acid 10-12 weeks before conception to help prevent neural tube defects2.

Ensure sufficient high-quality protein intake

You want to maximize the potential for your baby to have strong muscles, ligaments, hair, fingernails, bones, brain tissue, blood, and other tissues. By eating a healthy dose of meats, chicken, fish, beans, tofu, milk, and eggs you can help strengthen these, right from the start.

Supply calcium for bones and teeth

You need to consume 1000 mg of calcium a day. Two - three Food Guide Servings of dairy will supply this needed mineral to your body and will prevent calcium from being taken from your bones to give to your baby. It doesn't have to be just milk either, 3/4 cup of yogurt or 50 g of cheese or a cup of fortified soy can replace one cup of milk. Many legumes and vegetables such as spinach, broccoli and collard greens also contain varying amounts of calcium.

Help ensure a healthy birth weight

Following a nutritious diet and gaining a healthy amount of weight during pregnancy will increase your likelihood of having a healthy, strong baby.

Pregnancy cravings and aversions 

Pregnancy cravings and aversions to various foods are by-products of your pregnancy hormones. You may have noticed that some foods taste less appealing while others may have become new favourites. Sweets, fruits, salty or spicy foods, and hard or chewy foods tend to be high on favourite lists. Likewise, strong aversions to foods are common during pregnancy, especially during the first trimester. Typical foods that may cause aversions include caffeinated drinks and meat.

With both food cravings and aversions, it's best to follow your body's signals. If a craved food is not a healthy choice, try to find a healthier alternative. For example, if you crave high-fat, high-calorie doughnuts, try substituting a lower-calorie, lower-fat bagel or English muffin. When you have an aversion to a nutritious food, try substituting it with a similar, equally nutrient-dense food. For example, if you can't stand the sight of fish, try chicken as a high protein meat source. Talk to other parents and pregnant women for tips on favourite snacks and how to keep a balanced diet while balancing cravings and aversions.

If you don't find the information you're looking for, please feel free to contact us for additional support.

References:

1 Health Canada. Prenatal Nutrition Guidelines for Health Professionals. 2009. http://www.hc-sc.gc.ca/fn-an/pubs/nutrition/guide-prenatal-eng.php Accessed: February 28, 2014.
2 Society of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists of Canada and the Motherisk Program. J Obstet Gyneacol Can. 2007; 29(12): 1003-1013.

 
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