The first months of a baby’s development in the womb will affect its health and development for the rest of its life. That is why it’s so important to know what to eat during pregnancy, to be well nourished, not only over the course of the nine months, but before conception too.
In particular the first trimester is a critical time for nutrition, it’s a period of rapid developmental change, when a baby’s need for a complete set of vitamins and minerals, some more abundantly than others, is paramount. It’s not only the mother who should be well-nourished, there is some evidence showing that the father’s nutritional status has an impact on their sperm’s genetic make-up.
For the pre-conceptual mother nutrition plays a vital role in determining whether her body will support the growth of a healthy placenta. Without a healthy placenta a foetus will nor thrive, as the placenta provides all nourishment via a network of blood vessels intertwining between mother and baby. They don’t share vessels but nutrients are passed from one to the other via the vessels’ close proximity. The placenta collects nutrients, hormones, antibodies and everything needed to build a robust human being and actively delivers them to the foetus. If those nutrients are lacking they obviously cannot be delivered, and the baby’s development will suffer. This period (pre conception and the first trimester) is also critical for development and closure of the neural tube, which surrounds the spinal chord and if left open leaves the spinal chord unprotected. This neural tube development is sensitive to nutritional deficiency, in particular lack of folic acid.
So you can see how important it is to eat healthily, not just during but before pregnancy.
The first few months after the birth require a good healthy diet too, especially if you’re breastfeeding; not only for the baby’s health but for the mother’s recovery and long-term health as well, and the health of any future children. This can commonly be a time of low iron reserves, which will make women feel more tired, the last thing they need when looking after a newborn. Additionally calcium stores can get low during formation of the baby’s skeleton, and via breast feeding. Calcium and magnesium go hand-in-hand, so the diet should have these well covered; vitamin D plays a significant role in the absorption of calcium and a large percentage of the population are vitamin D deficient, the best source is sunlight between April and September, then the body stores it over the winter. I could list every vitamin and mineral here and say how important each is to a baby’s health but it would be a very long article! Just rest assured that good nutrition is fundamental.
The information above makes it somehow seem like a big task to become and remain well-nourished. It really isn’t, it’s just healthy eating with an eye on a couple of things. The problem these days is that people’s diets are so poor in terms of the range of natural foods they eat. Our diet, as a nation, is high in sugar, processed fats and additives. It has an abundance of processed foods, which are alien to our bodies and whose components are unrecognisable to our systems. We need to get back to basics, start cooking again, select fresh foods and make sure we eat a wide range of colourful natural foods. In reality this means lots of fresh vegetables, some fruit, quality meat and fish, unprocessed full-fat dairy products, free range organic eggs, and whole grains. It simply means most natural things, in moderation.
Being underweight or overweight can affect the health of a pregnancy and ultimately, the baby. An underweight, undernourished mother is more likely to have fertility problems then go on to have a low birthweight baby or one with developmental defects. An overweight mother also affects her chances of conception and is more prone to pre-eclampsia, blood clots, gestational diabetes and miscarriage. In terms of calories, pregnant women do not need to eat for two. A couple of hundred calories extra is all that’s needed and even that isn’t until the last trimester. On the other hand, conception and pregnancy are not the times to be on a weight loss diet, particularly not one of the many fad diets that darken our doors. If a woman is at either end of the scale it’s best just to change to normal healthy eating comprising maintenance calories for women of a healthy weight for height, approximately 2,000 a day – though calorie counting is a very inexact science and not one that fitnaturally encourages.
Lastly, there are a few nutrients and foods to keep a special eye on. As mentioned earlier, iron, calcium, magnesium, folate and vitamin D are very important; as well as these there are certain foods to avoid, largely because of food poisoning risk. Probably not as many as people imagine though! For instance, if mayonnaise or soft cheese are made from pasteurised eggs or milk they are safe to eat. If in doubt it’s best to check the NHS web page.
At fitnaturally we provide online healthy eating plans for everyday good nutrition and specific ones for pregnancy and postpartum. Our Everyday Plans can be used when women (and men) are trying for a baby, then the mother can switch to our eatmaternally nutrition plans to ensure she, and her baby, get all the nutrients they need for great health. Of course it’s not all about nutrients but about timing and types of food to help prevent spells of low energy, usually caused by low blood sugar and typically late afternoon. Our plans come with professional support so that if the mother is suffering with sickness we can work with her to try and reduce it and ensure she is well nourished.
Our eatmaternally for pregnancy plans provide delicious, natural, healthy, easy food, which is family-friendly and removes the need to constantly question what best to eat during pregnancy. We also provide bespoke plans which are written around lifestyle, food preferences and any issues affecting potential food intake.