Becoming a mother will have a huge impact on your life, both physically and mentally. Needless to say, pregnancy is a period of major changes in the maternal physiology, and during the approximately 266 days of pregnancy, you will experience alterations to your cardiovascular, endocrine and renal systems and of course, also your body composition.
Nutrient recommendations for pregnancy
The nutrient guidelines and recommendations for pregnant women vary from country to country, and from woman to woman. There are a lot of different factors, so always talk to your physician about which diet and exercise recommendations meet YOUR needs.
Generally, it is always a good idea to eat a healthy and balanced diet, and this also applies to pregnant women. Make sure you eat a lot of vegetables, and some fruit, whole grains, fatty acids (e.g. omega-3 fatty acids from fish) and protein from, for example, poultry, eggs or low-fat beef. It is also a good idea to drink a glass of milk and eat some low-fat cheese or yoghurt etc. so you get some calcium, but it depends on your lactose tolerance level.
Eating for two?
Obviously, a pregnant woman requires more energy than before she became pregnant. Her energy requirements are influenced by a lot of different factors, like, for example, her pre-pregnancy weight, her maternal weight gain, foetal growth rate, lifestyle, activity levels, maternal body composition and genetic factors.
Some women think that when they are pregnant they need to eat for two, and therefore they increase their daily energy intake substantially. This can result in a large weight gain, which can increase the risk of gestational diabetes, hypertension and other complications during pregnancy.
The recommendations regarding extra energy intake during pregnancy vary, but a woman with a healthy BMI before pregnancy will normally need approximately 250–475 extra kcal per day.
WHO nutrient supplement recommendations
Some general nutrient supplement recommendations from the WHO (World Health Organisation) apply to most pregnant women, so we will highlight some of them here. But as mentioned before, you should always talk to your own physician about YOUR specific needs:
Iron and folic acid supplements
Daily oral supplements of 30 mg to 60 mg of elemental iron and 400 g (0.4 mg) of folic acid are recommended for pregnant women to prevent maternal anaemia, puerperal sepsis, low birth weight, and preterm birth. In some countries, it is recommended that you start taking folic acid when you are planning a pregnancy and before you get pregnant.
In populations with a low dietary calcium intake, daily calcium supplementation (1.5–2.0 g of oral elemental calcium) is recommended for pregnant women to reduce the risk of pre-eclampsia.
Multiple micronutrient supplements
Multiple micronutrient supplementation is not recommended for pregnant women, since there is no evidence to show it improves maternal and perinatal outcomes.
Restricting caffeine intake
For pregnant women with a high daily caffeine intake (more than 300 mg per day), lowering daily caffeine intake during pregnancy is recommended to reduce the risk of pregnancy loss and low-birth-weight neonates. Be aware that caffeine can be found not only in coffee, but also, for example, in tea, chocolate and cola. So, read the nutrient information on the packaging.
Smoking and alcohol
You should avoid smoking and drinking alcohol during pregnancy, as this can be harmful to the foetus.
Did you know
That more than 135 million women give birth every year?
That the uterus will expand a lot during pregnancy? During the first trimester, it is about the size of an orange. But by the third trimester, it expands to the size of a watermelon.
That a pregnant woman will usually gain approximately 3 to 4 kg of extra fat during pregnancy? This fat is important when she starts breastfeeding.