Nutritional Needs During Pregnancy

When you eat, you are feeding not only yourself but also your growing foetus. Naturally, you will need to pay close attention to what you eat.

The good news is that eating well during pregnancy is not difficult. There are just a few extra nutritional needs to consider when you are pregnant.


What do I need?

Protein

When you are pregnant, your protein requirements increase slightly – an extra 6g per day. Lean, red meat, white meat, fish (fresh & canned), eggs, milk, cheese, yogurt, legumes (e.g. baked beans, kidney beans, soya beans, chick peas & lentils), nuts and seeds are all good sources of protein, with a high nutritional content. Aim to eat a variety of protein-rich foods every day.

Fat

A small amount of fat is needed in the diet because it provides you and your unborn child with fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E and K and essential fatty acids like omega-3 and omega-6 fats. Essential fatty acids are particularly important for your developing foetus. Fish is a good source of omega-3 fats, so aim to eat at least two serves of fresh or canned fish a week.

Choose oils and margarine spreads made from canola, sunflower seeds, olives, soybeans, peanuts, macadamia nuts, sesame seeds and grapeseed.

Carbohydrate

Carbohydrate provides energy for you and your baby. It is therefore a good idea to eat a wide variety of carbohydrate-rich foods and include carbohydrates at every meal. Carbohydrate-rich foods include breads, breakfast cereals, potato, sweet potato, rice, pasta, noodles, oats, legumes (e.g. chick peas, soy beans, lentils, baked beans) and fruit. Milk and yogurt are also good sources.

Fibre

A fibre-rich diet can help you achieve and maintain regular bowel movements. Fibre is only found in plant-based foods (not animal-based foods). Good examples include fruits, vegetables, legumes, wholegrain breads and cereals. Include a wide variety every day and don't forget the fluids. Fibre and fluid go hand in hand, so drink plenty of fluids every day.

Vitamins

Folic acid is a B group vitamin. It is involved in many functions but it is especially important for the normal development of your unborn child’s neural tube - the structure that becomes the brain and spinal cord. It is therefore necessary to increase your intake of folic acid both before and during pregnancy. So eat a variety of folate-rich foods. It is also advisable to take a folic acid supplement (0.5mg) daily, 1 month before and for the first 3 months of pregnancy.

For other vitamins, your requirements will be met if you eat a varied and nutritious diet.

Minerals

Your requirements for calcium increase during pregnancy, from 800mg to 1100mg a day. That’s an extra 300mg a day, which can be found in one glass of milk, one tub of yogurt or 2 slices of cheese.

Similarly, your iron requirements increase by an extra 10-20mg a day when you are pregnant. The main reason for this increased requirement is that your growing foetus needs to build up its own iron reserves and it does this by taking the iron from your body. It is therefore important to eat a variety of iron-rich foods like red meat, fish, wholegrain cereals and legumes when you are expecting. In some cases, an additional iron supplement may be required. Your doctor will advise you if a supplement is needed.


Do I need to watch the kilojoules?

A balanced diet should help you to achieve the normal weight gain during pregnancy of 12 to 15 kilograms. Pregnancy is not a suitable time to start losing weight. In fact, regular weight gain is one of the signs that your pregnancy is progressing well. If you do not eat enough nourishing foods, your baby may be deprived of important nutrients.

Remember that it is not the quantity of food that counts, but the quality of your diet.

How many kilojoules do I need?

Your daily energy requirements during the first trimester remain fairly constant. However, these requirements vary according to your weight, size and level of activity. And if your appetite increases, do not hesitate to eat nourishing food – without feeling guilty.

During the second and third trimesters, you need around 600 extra kilojoules a day to meet your baby’s rapidly growing needs. This is equivalent to 1 cup of full cream milk.