The Big 3+: Nutrition in Pregnancy

We all want to eat the right foods to have a healthy pregnancy and give our babies what they need, but where to start?  Here is my quick list of top three nutritional needs plus one!

Calcium 

dairy

You may have heard the old wives’ tale “gain a baby, lose a tooth” and it’s not too far from the truth.  The body is designed to control these levels carefully so that if they get too low, the bones release stored calcium to return the body to normal levels. If there is not enough calcium in the body available to draw and release from the bones, problems such as low bone mass, osteoporosis, dry skin and nails, depression, hypotension, and even congestive heart failure can result.[i]  Our bodies will take calcium stores from our bones and yes, teeth, during pregnancy if stores are not adequately replenished.

Not only do we want to protect our bones and teeth, but Calcium is needed by our growing babies to build their bones, teeth, and even protect proper heart development.  Additionally, studies have shown that women who intake 1500-2000 grams of Calcium a day while pregnant are 60-70% less likely to experience high blood pressure and preeclampsia.[ii]

Some good sources of Calcium are:

  • Low-Fat Milk
  • Cheese
  • Yogurt
  • Dark, leafy greens such as spinach, collards and turnip greens
  • Fortified orange juice
  • Almonds and almond butter
  • Salmon, sardines, and clams

Protein

protein

Protein is essential for tissue repair, cell growth, and blood production and is especially important in the second and third trimesters when baby is growing rapidly.  Adults need 1/2g per pound of body weight of protein per day and when pregnant, add an extra 25 grams.  For most women, that equates to about 80-100 grams of protein per day.  Where to get all this wonderful body-repairing, baby growing stuff?

  • Lean meats
  • Eggs
  • Low-fat dairy
  • Greek yogurt
  • Salmon
  • Cottage Cheese
  • Whole grain pastas and cereals

A note to vegetarians and vegans:  Proteins from animal sources are complete proteins.  Those that are from plant sources are incomplete in that they don’t have all of the essential amino acids your body needs.  Combining dairy and grains will make a complete protein.  For those who do not consume dairy, combine grains and legumes in addition to leafy greens and you will be set!

Iron

iron

Iron is responsible for helping oxygen attach to our hemoglobin and makes red blood cells which carry that life sustaining oxygen around our bodies.  MOST pregnant women will test as slightly anemic late in their pregnancies, and even being slightly anemic can cause tiredness and irritability.  However, very low iron counts can put your baby at risk for complications including low birth weight and premature birth.   We want to ensure baby is always getting enough oxygen to grow and develop, so here are a few great sources of iron:

  • Meat and poultry, liver, shrimp and clams
  • Potatoes  (with skin on)
  • Beans and lentils
  • Iron-fortified cereals

For a yummy and nutritional snack, try veggies dipped in hummus.  Full of fiber, vitamins and iron, it’s practically perfect!

Hate the effect iron has on you in the intestinal department?  Drink prune juice.  While still being full of iron, it also has a stool-softening effect that will help you stay regular while still getting the good stuff you and your baby need.

Note:  Calcium, coffee, and tea inhibit absorption of iron.   Vitamin C helps your body use it, so try eating iron-rich foods with a glass of orange juice and save the milk for in between meals.

And last but not least the + :  Omega-3’s

Your baby’s brain is made of millions of neural connections that will continue to expand and interconnect rapidly through childhood.  Proper myelination of these pathways (think insulation on an electrical wire) will help the connections to be fast and fire properly. Eating foods high in DHA, one form of Omega-3 essential fatty acid, will help not only your baby’s brain development, but can also help you with some of the pregnancy brain fog you may be experiencing.

Dr. William Sears, renowned pediatrician, recommends eating an Omega-3-rich food like salmon two times a week (6 ounces total).  Flax seed and flax oil are also sources and can be added to smoothies and used in cooking.  Canned tuna is also an excellent source, as are walnuts, spinach, and soy.  Try this recipe for a nutritious snack:

  • One can light tuna (packed in water)
  • 2TB – ¼ c. Greek yogurt (depending on taste)
  • Lemon zest/juice
  • Chopped celery
  • Green onions
  • Hard-boiled egg

Mix and enjoy with whole grain crackers!

A word on prenatal vitamins/supplements:  Supplements are just that, SUPPLEMENTAL.  They DO NOT replace eating quality, whole foods.  Good nutrition begins with healthy, whole food choices:  fruits and veggies to your heart’s content; lean meats, whole grains; and low-fat dairy.  Eating a balanced, nutritional diet will set you up for healthy weight gain in pregnancy and help keep you and your baby low risk for complications such as prematurity and low birth weight.  Wishing you happy, healthy eating!

Shannon Cheeseman is an antenatal and birth doula and owner of Blessed Birth, LLC in Tucson, Arizona.  She is also a certified Pregnancy Health Coach through the Dr. Sears’ Wellness Institute.

[i] Castro, Joseph. Gain a Child, Lose a Tooth: Myth or Reality?  www.livescience.com.  August 27, 2012

[ii] Sears, William.  Eat RIGHT Now. p. 44

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