It was Mother’s Day last month and we all agree on the fact that moms and moms-to-be need a lot of love, respect and attention. But what they also need, and especially so when they are expecting a little one, is the right kind of nutrition!
Dr. Shweta Khandelwal, MSc, PhD (Nutrition), MSc (Public Health), Senior Research Scientist and Associate Professor, Public Health Foundation of India, tells us what.
Mothers need love and respect and they also need nutritious food, healthy lifestyle and good sleep. I am dedicating this post to women who are planning to or going to embark on this additional role in their lives - that of being a mother! Pregnancy has been referred to as the critical window of opportunity to improve health outcomes for both mother and baby in the long run.
Numerous websites and documents give tons of (unfortunately mostly non-scientific) advice for pregnant women. The catch here is that food and diet is such a personalised experience that people believe what they want to and actually find instances/cases supporting their hypothesis. Since we are so many and so varied, you can find examples for both or multiple sides of the story. Often self-searched/googled information substantiates “Little knowledge is a dangerous thing.”
We understand that for every small query, running or calling your doctor is not possible. Thus for your convenience, we have summarised pregnancy related information from some of the most credible sources of information. Please note these are drawn up assuming your pregnancy is a normal, healthy one. These tips can also be useful if you are not pregnant but are thinking about having a baby! By making changes now, you can get used to new eating and activity habits and set a healthy example for your family for a lifetime.
- Eat a colourful, varied but balanced and fresh diet (See table 1). Include plenty of fruits and veggies (they provide vitamins and fiber), whole grains, like whole wheat, millets, unpolished rice, oatmeal, whole-wheat bread (they provide fiber, B vitamins, and other needed nutrients); fat-free or low-fat milk and milk products or non-dairy soy, almond, rice, or other drinks with added calcium and vitamin D; protein from healthy sources, like pulses, eggs, lean meats, seafood, unsalted nuts and seeds. Maximum amount of energy (about 60%) can be obtained from rice, wheat and millets. Cooking oil provides both energy and polyunsaturated fatty acids. Good quality protein is derived from milk, fish, meat, poultry and eggs. A proper combination of cereals, pulses and nuts also provides adequate proteins.
- Eat breakfast every day. If you feel nauseated, try dry whole-wheat toast or whole-grain crackers when you first wake up. Eat them even before you get out of bed. Eat the rest of your breakfast later in the morning.
- If you have heartburn, eat small and frequent meals. Try to eat slowly and avoid spicy and fatty foods. Have drinks between meals instead of with meals. Do not lie down soon after eating.
- Eating high-fiber foods (25g/1000 kcal), drinking plenty of water (8-12 glasses), and getting daily physical activity may help prevent constipation. A healthy eating plan also limits salt, solid fats (like butter, lard, and shortening), and sugar-sweetened drinks and foods. Don’t use excuses to stuff yourself with unhealthy junk foods or ultra-processed foods high in sugars, salt and trans fats. Eg. burgers, chips, colas, packaged juices, bakery products etc. Light exercises like walking are recommended for 30 minutes per day. Yoga especially breathing exercises are very good.
- Weight gain of a total of 10-12 kgs is considered optimal. More weight gain than this is found to be associated with several risks like preeclampsia, gestational diabetes, etc.
Excess intake of beverages containing caffeine like coffee and tea adversely affect fetal growth and hence, should be avoided.
- Stay away from superfoods, powders, overuse of supplements. A well balanced diet will take care of most needs.
- Mood swings are normal. Don’t get too worked up because of them. Try and minimise stress from all possible sources. Spend some quiet time with yourself. Rest for a few hours each day. Explore hobbies like reading, listening to soft music, cooking, painting, etc.
- Smoking, consuming tobacco and/or alcohol should be avoided.
- Blood sugar and haemoglobin levels monitoring is important. Also get required vaccination (tetanus toxoid immunization) for yourself as well as for the baby once s/he arrives in this world. Antenatal check-ups are very crucial. Do attend to them with sincerity. Usually once every month for the first two trimesters and then once every week in the last trimester is advised. These meetings also give you a chance to ask queries from your doctor.
As has been mentioned before, a well-balanced diet should be able to take care of most of the additional requirements that arise during pregnancy followed by the breastfeeding and weaning phases. It is interesting to note that the amount of energy required is actually higher during the breastfeeding and weaning phases than during pregnancy! Same goes for calcium, iron and zinc.
Source: RDA for Indians 2010, ICMR
As you see from the table, some micronutrients are additionally required during these physiological periods. Though it is possible to meet the requirements for most of the nutrients through a balanced diet, pregnant/ lactating women are advised to take daily supplements of iron, folic acid, vitamin B and calcium. Folic acid, taken throughout the pregnancy, reduces the risk of congenital malformations and increases birth weight. Calcium is essential, both during pregnancy and lactation, for proper formation of bones and teeth of the offspring. Calcium also helps to prevent osteoporosis in the mother. Iodine intake ensures proper mental health of the growing fetus and infant. Iron is required for blood (esp RBC) formation. Bioavailability of iron can be improved by using fermented and sprouted grams and foods rich in vitamin C such as citrus fruits.
Pregnancy is a beautiful time. This time should be utilised in taking care of yourself as well as laying the foundation for a healthy offspring. Enough evidence indicate strong linkages between maternal health and offspring growth and development not only during early life but also in adult life.
A happy pregnancy and a healthy life to you!