Diet and nutrition are factors, that if controlled, can reduce the normal risk that is associated with pregnancy outcome. Pre-pregnancy diet and diet during pregnancy influence the adequacy of nutritional support for the developing fetus. For optimal health of mother and newborn, attention should be placed on diet BEFORE, DURING and AFTER pregnancy.
During pregnancy, vitamins, minerals, and nutrients are transferred to the fetus through the mother's blood. These nutrients are provided by the reserve of nutrients before pregnancy and from the intake of nutrients during pregnancy. If the mother's diet cannot supply the nutritional needs of the fetus, her own stores will be depleted. If the mother has a history of good eating habits, and a good supply of nutrients, she is at an advantage. It is critical to maintain these good habits to meet the physical and mental stresses of pregnancy and to establish a healthy pattern for life.
Eating a well balanced diet consisting of a variety of carefully selected, nutrient dense foods (high nutrient value per total calories) will ensure that both the mother and the baby are getting the nutrients they need.
The concept of "well balanced" refers to the right proportions of a wide variety of foods with an emphasis on those that are nutrient dense. Although a boost in calories is necessary during pregnancy, it is important to ensure that those calories contain enough of the essential nutrients. Some foods, such as lean meats and fresh fruits and vegetables, are nutrient dense in their natural state, but ingredients added during food preparation can add calories, which lowers nutrient density.
It is important to start monitoring eating habits early, increasing the intake of nutrient dense foods throughout pregnancy. The development of the baby's bones, tissues, and organs requires different nutrients at different times. Maintaining a well balanced diet throughout pregnancy will ensure that those nutrients are readily available for the continued growth of a normal baby.
The American Dietetic Association's Handbook of Clinical Dietetics lists the following guidelines for nutritional management during pregnancy:
Ensure that energy sources (calories) are adjusted to 15% ABOVE average nonpregnant needs. Adjust total daily protein intake to 1.3 grams per kilogram of body weight. Two thirds of total protein intake should be of high biological quality, such as that found in eggs, milk, meat, or soy protein. Adequate total energy intake is essential for optimal protein utilization. Supplement diet with 30-60 mg of elemental iron daily throughout pregnancy (most ferrous sulfate pills with 325 mg of iron contain about 60-65 mg of elemental iron per pill).
Supplement diet with 400-800 micrograms of folic acid per day. Allow pre-pregnancy intake of sodium and fluids. Pregnant women usually require 300 calories more per day than their pre-pregnancy requirement. This number will vary according to height, body size, age, and level of activity. This number can increase to 500 additional calories per day if you are breast feeding. During pregnancy, a boost in the total calories and a gain in weight are necessary to nourish the growing fetus, sustain the normal increase in body size, and provide energy for the extra work of carrying the baby.
Being pregnant does not mean you should stop counting calories. Selecting nutritious foods becomes even more important now that you are monitoring your diet more carefully. Being pregnant and overweight ARE NOT synonymous. Although pregnancy is not a time to diet, it is a time to avoid overindulgence in foods with lesser nutritional value.