Eating right for two

Ensuring balanced nourishment for mother and child

By Carol Stephanie Tan-Lim, MD

Pregnancy and motherhood are the most exciting and anxious times of a woman’s life. With these tremendous physical and emotional changes, maintaining one’s health through optimal nutrition has never been more important. Moreover, the responsibility of nourishing another human being through your diet can make you wonder if what you are eating is healthy and sufficient for you and your baby.

Eating right during pregnancy

How much food should I consume? While it’s commonly said that pregnant mothers are eating for two, this doesn’t mean that you should double your food intake! It’s recommended that pregnant women consume an extra 300 calories per day on top of their regular caloric intake.

Healthcare professionals commonly advise pregnant women to consume two glasses of milk per day, which already provides the extra 300 calories needed for a healthy pregnancy.

As much as possible, pregnant women should obtain their daily caloric intake from healthy food. The Pinggang Pinoy or Filipino Plate developed by the Food and Nutrition Research Institute (FNRI) is a useful guide on how to fill up your plate with nutritious and balanced food (Figure 1).

During the first trimester, pregnant women commonly experience nausea with or without vomiting. There may be certain tastes and smells that they will be averse to encountering, and are advised to be kind to themselves by taking in food that their stomach can handle. Try to opt for healthy food that’s palatable, or more suited to one’s taste.

Remember that the normal total weight gain for a healthy pregnancy is 25 to 35 pounds, and most of this weight is gained during the second and third trimester.

Do I need to take supplements? Supplements may be prescribed by healthcare professionals to ensure that adequate nutrients are available to you and your growing baby.

  • Folic acid. Folic acid supplementation is recommended 2 to 3 months before conception until the end of the first trimester. This reduces your baby’s risk of which are congenital defects involving the brain, spine, and spinal cord.
  • Iron. During pregnancy, the mother’s blood volume increases by approximately 50%, which increases her iron requirement. Iron supplements are commonly prescribed from the second trimester onwards to prevent iron deficiency anemia. Taking iron supplements in the first trimester may worsen nausea and vomiting.
  • Calcium and vitamin D. Calcium and vitamin D are needed as your baby’s bones and teeth develop. Although milk and other dairy products are good dietary sources, most healthcare professionals recommend supplementation to ensure adequate levels.

What food should I avoid? The growing baby is sensitive to toxins and microorganisms. The following food should be avoided during pregnancy:

  • Alcohol. Pregnant women shouldn’t consume any alcohol. Even a small amount can harm the baby’s growth and development.
  • Caffeine. Caffeine can pass through the placenta and negatively affect the baby’s growth. Pregnant women are advised to limit their coffee intake to a maximum of 200 mg per day, which is around one 12 oz cup of coffee. It’s also important to consider other sources of caffeine such as tea, soft drinks and chocolate.
  • Undercooked or raw food. Raw food contains various microorganisms and parasites that can harm the pregnant mother or the baby. This includes sushi, raw eggs, undercooked steaks and burgers, and deli meats such as cured sausages and ham.
  • Unpasteurized milk and cheese. Pasteurization is an effective way to kill harmful bacteria found in milk and cheese. Unpasteurized food may contain bacteria that can infect the growing fetus.
  • Unwashed produce. Fruits and vegetables that haven’t been washed properly or peeled may contain harmful bacteria and parasites that can harm the baby.

Depending on your health status, your healthcare provider may also recommend limiting your sugar intake to prevent gestational diabetes mellitus, or your salt intake to prevent hypertension and pre-eclampsia.

Eating Right While Breastfeeding

Breastfeeding has been said to be a very effective way to lose your pregnancy weight, for good reason. Breastfeeding mothers burn an extra of 500 calories per day.

Do I need extra calories? To ensure enough nutrients for the mother and the newborn, breastfeeding mothers are advised to consume an extra of 300 to 500 calories on top of her regular caloric intake. Similar to the pregnancy diet, breastfeeding mothers are advised to follow the Pinggang Pinoy for a healthy balanced diet that can supply the vitamins and minerals lactating mothers and infants need.

Can I drink alcohol and coffee? The diet of a breastfeeding mother is much more relaxed and the risk of transmitting harmful substances through the breast milk is much lower. However, it is still best to avoid or limit the consumption of alcohol and coffee.

Alcohol levels are highest in breast milk 30 to 60 minutes after consumption. Excessive alcohol levels can affect the baby’s sleep and development. To minimize the risk for the infant, breastfeeding women are advised to consume a maximum of 1 alcoholic drink per day. Furthermore, it is advisable to wait at least 2 hours after consuming alcohol before breastfeeding.

Breastfeeding mothers are advised to consume caffeine in moderation, with no more than 200 to 300 mg of caffeine intake per day. Too much caffeine can cause overstimulation of the baby.

Remember that it’s always better to err on the side of caution. If you have any concerns or questions, consult your trusted healthcare provider. HT

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