For mums-to-be: Misconceptions and essential diet tips

Ingy Deif, Thursday 15 Dec 2011

Providing your baby with the right kind of nutrition is a key part of a healthy pregnancy. Ahram Online consults experts on nutritional tips for mothers-to-be


With excessive bouts of morning sickness that lasted throughout the day for almost nine months, Sara Sherif, a 28-year-old who first experienced the delight of being a mother five months ago, recalls how she frequently panicked over the effects of her illness on the nutrition of her baby."I was simply a bundle of anxiety and misconceptions. I thought that whenever I vomited I was depriving my baby of food, and that I had to eat excessively for two, and that I was allowed to eat everything I craved as long as I didn’t smoke or drink caffeine," she says. "Eventually I understood that the truth was something else!"

"Sara is an example of many women in society who could be helped by dispellings myths about pregancy and nutrition," says Dr Ahmed Guinina, an obstetrician and former head of the gynecology department at Agouza Hospital. 

"We always assure a woman that there is no need to worry about sickness in the first trimester as the baby takes its essentials from nutrients previously stored in the body. On the other hand, we emphasise that she needs not to eat for two, as commonly thought in society, but rather moderately, adding only 200 extra calories a day in the final months and paying attention to eating a balanced meal full of nutrients, plus folic acid and vitamins prescribed by the doctor, and to avoid the following: undercooked meat of all kind, anything containing runny eggs, salads and greens that haven't been vigorously washed, unpasturised dairy products, and finally consuming in moderation the following: liver, tuna (as it contains mercury), and caffeine, which should be limited to a maximum of two cups per day."

What you really need

"As soon as you start thinking about having a baby, you should start thinking about what you eat says Dr Eman Eltahlawy, assistant professor of public and environmental health at the National Research Centre. "Begin loading up on the foods that are rich in vitamins and minerals; learn the five food groups and balance your meals. And once you do become pregnant, make good nutrition a priority. While nutritional needs and your own tolerance for eating will change during the different trimesters of your pregnancy, there are some general guidelines that will be important to follow throughout the nine months. For starters, eat balanced meals, do not skip meals, eliminate caffeine and drink lots of water, six to eight glasses a day."

Dr Eltahlawy elaborates on the nutritional essentials as follows:

"Calcium is one of the most important minerals you will need during pregnancy. The current recommended amount of calcium intake during pregnancy is 1,200 mg, an increase of 400 mg a day over your usual needs. There are also many good non-dairy sources of calcium, including salmon, kale, broccoli, beans and calcium-fortified orange juice.

"Folic acid is essential for a healthy baby and helps in the development of the fetal brain and spine. It is especially important during early pregnancy. Women should take 400 micrograms of folic acid every day throughout their pregnancy and may need to take a multi-vitamin or prenatal vitamin to meet this requirement. Some excellent sources of folic acid include dried beans, tofu, peanuts and peanut butter, as well as fortified cereals. Many types of bread are now also fortified with folic acid. Folic acid can also be found in many dark green vegetables, corn, cantaloupe, squash and beets.

"Vitamin B12, found in animal products, is essential for proper nerve and brain functioning for both mother and baby. This is of special concern for women who are vegetarians. Vitamin B12 can be found in fortified soy milk and/or soy meat replacements, as well as vitamin supplements.

"Protein intake should be increased by 10 grams a day and can easily be found in animal products, including meats, milk and eggs. Some plant foods, such as legumes, seeds and cereal grains, can also provide high quality protein."

Understanding the three phases

"What you need to eat and what you will want to eat will change during each trimester of pregnancy," says Eltahlawy. "During the first trimester one of your main nutritional concerns may be battling morning sickness, which doesn't necessarily occur in the morning. Some strategies that might help include eating small meals frequently, whether you are hungry or not, eating foods high in carbohydrates and potassium and low in fats, eating dry food a half hour before getting out of bed, eating liquid and solid foods a half hour apart, and munching on salty snacks."

Dr Eltahlawy also points out that during the first trimester of pregnancy, you should also be cautious of herbal teas; the composition and safety of many of them are unknown. Choose products in filtered tea bags.

Dr Eltahlawy lists the guidelines for nutrition in the following trimesters as follows:

Second trimester

During the second three months of pregnancy, continue to eat a well-balanced diet and increase it by about 300 calories a day. Iron supplements will continue to be important, but avoid taking them with products that contain calcium, magnesium, zinc or tannic acid (found in tea). It is best to take iron pills with fruit juice or water at bedtime or in-between meals.

You may experience more problems with your digestive system and be more intolerant of certain foods, such as milk products, during this time. As your pregnancy progresses and the baby grows, your stomach slows down, which can cause gas and indigestion. Eat more slowly, eat smaller main meals and more snacks, walk after eating, and drink a lot of liquids between meals.

If dairy products become difficult to tolerate, try some that are easier to digest such as yogurt, cottage cheese, processed cheese and cheddar cheese. Salmon and sardines are also a good source of calcium.

Third trimester

In the final three months before delivery, the weight of your baby will more than triple. For you, that means feeling fuller faster. However, it is still necessary for you to eat a well-balanced diet with sufficient calories. The best way to do this is to eat smaller amounts of food more often. Snacks will become increasingly important. Pick a variety of snacks that will supply the nutrients you need.

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