Pregnancy and Newborn Health

What are the Nutritional Requirements for Pregnancy?

The nine months of pregnancy are undoubtedly the most beautiful journey in a woman’s life. The mother’s body needs a whole lot of minerals and nutrients to recover and, at the same time, it should be sufficient enough to feed the infant.

Pregnant women experience multiple hormonal and physical pregnancy-associated changes in their bodies and their dietary and nutritional requirements may differ compared to before. Nutritional deficiency during pregnancy also includes the potential risk of developing anemia, fatigue, infection, and neurological complications.

Poor nutrition could adversely affect the baby’s health too and could result in Intrauterine Growth Retardation (IUGR), perinatal mortality, birth defects, underdevelopment of some organs, disorders (neurological, circulatory, intestinal, and respiratory), and cretinism (a congenital condition affecting the thyroid gland which results in a lack of coordination).

During the first trimester, morning sickness, food aversions, and weariness may make eating a low priority on the to-do list of a pregnant woman. During the first three months, there is an increase in hormones, which might cause nausea. Progesterone, in particular, has been linked to digestive issues such as acid reflux and constipation.

In the second trimester, hypertension, preeclampsia, and preterm birth are just a few of the pregnancy issues which can be avoided by consuming a proper diet. During the third trimester, the baby rapidly gains weight, and their body parts start to form. To mention a few, the baby’s eyes open, and hair and nails grow. With all of this going on, the food choices made in pregnancy are critical for the baby’s health.

A healthy and well-balanced diet for a pregnant female comprises carbohydrates contributing to 50-60%, fat 20-35%, and 60 gm of protein daily along with essential vitamins and minerals. The five most important nutrients during pregnancy are folic acid, calcium, iron, protein, and Vitamin D. The eight must-have food items in pregnancy include green leafy vegetables, sweet potatoes, Vitamin C-rich citrus fruits, milk and other dairy products, legumes and pulses, eggs, nuts, and bananas.

To-be mothers must consume a nutrient-rich diet rich in fiber, whole grains, seeds, nuts, avocados, leafy green vegetables, fruits, and beans. A well-balanced calorie diet comprising essential minerals and vitamins present in these foods can ensure sustained milk supply and proper energy.

Proteins are essential for the mother and baby’s muscular development and uterine tissue growth. Pregnant women must aim for 75 grams of protein daily. Tofu, paneer, curd, Greek yogurt, chickpeas. eggs, chicken, lean meat, and fish are good sources. Saturated, monounsaturated, and polyunsaturated fats are healthy fats that promote cardiovascular health and good cholesterol levels. Healthy fats are vital for the baby’s appropriate eye and brain development during pregnancy. Ghee, olive oil, and coconut oil are good sources.

Good hydration during pregnancy is necessary to generate amniotic fluid, construct new tissues, make more blood, improve digestion, deliver nutrients, and flush out toxins. Nursing mothers must also ensure good hydration and consume up to three liters of water every day.

During pregnancy, the requirements of iodine, iron, iodine, and folate increase, and when necessary, supplementations must be taken after doctor consultation. Green leafy vegetables such as broccoli, and spinach are a good source of iron, calcium, and folic acid. Milk and orange juice are other folate sources. Rich sources of calcium include milk and milk products like yogurt, cereals like ragi or nachni and almonds. figs, and sesame seeds, eggs, sardines, and shrimps.

Carbohydrates are your body’s primary source of energy and are broken down into simple carbohydrates like glucose, which readily pass through the placenta and give you the energy to help the baby grow during pregnancy. Complex carbohydrates must be consumed to avoid spikes in blood sugars. Millets and whole grains have a low glycemic index and high fiber and will keep you satisfied for a longer period and avoid fluctuation in sugar levels. The key here is not to have excessive weight gain as it might result in induced hypertension and/or diabetes while consuming enough carbohydrates necessary for the growth of the baby.

Vitamin D aids in the absorption of calcium from the blood and thereby is essential for the development of a baby’s teeth and bones. Fortified foods such as milk and cereals are good sources. The heart, brain, eyes, immunological system, and central nervous system all benefit from omega-3 fatty acids.

Pregnant women should avoid processed food, excessive caffeine intake, refined seed oil, and ripened uncooked soft cheese as it may cause harm. Fruit juices and sugary food that can spike blood sugar must be avoided. Avoid non-pasteurized milk, raw/ undercooked egg, or meat. The liver contains high Vitamin A content and should be avoided in pregnancy. Certain fish like salmon, Mackerel should be avoided as they may have high mercury content.


Pooja Toshniwal Paharia

Dr. Pooja Toshniwal Paharia is a Consultant Oral and Maxillofacial Physician and Radiologist, M.DS (Oral Medicine and Radiology) from Mumbai. She strongly believes in evidence-based radiodiagnosis and therapeutic regimens for benign, potentially malignant, or malignant lesions and conditions either arising from the oral and maxillofacial structures or manifesting in the associated regions.

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