As with any condition, special care has to be taken during pregnancy. The diet or the food that is taken during pregnancy ,in many ways, affects the lil one inside the tummy. The ‘ effect’ can be positive which means the food that is taken in by the mother helps in the growth of the baby and in some cases can be negative- meaning- the food can cause harm to the baby.Since the nutrients and most of the other substances that the mom consumes passes on to the fetus,an expectant mom has to watch what she is eating.
Some of the Symptoms of pregnancy may affect the food intake but understanding the need for the right choice of food and meal planning is a key to healthy pregnancy. During the first trimester , nausea, vomiting , lack of appetite,etc may prevent you from eating anything at all. Some women have severe vomiting and they may even lose a little weight. It is okay as long as the gynecologist knows your condition. Always discuss with her the intake problems like dislike towards certain tastes and smells, nausea, vomiting, food aversion etc so that the gynecologist can assess you for malnutrition / deficiency.
When you are feeling well enough to eat, try to include a little from these food groups in your daily meal.
- Cereals , whole grains , nuts must be included everyday especially if you are a vegetarian. They provide a good source of protein. Protein are the building blocks that are required for the baby’s development.
- Milk and milk products are good sources of Calcium, Vitamin B-12 and protein. These can be included as whole milk, ghee, butter, yogurt, buttermilk, paneer etc. If you are Lactose intolerant talk to your dietitian to get a meal charted to suit your needs.
- Fruits and vegetables [including green leafy vegetables] are valued for their vitamins and mineral content.Another important benefit of including this group is that it is a major source of fiber which is needed to avoid constipation.It is better to avoid salads in restaurants as we may not be sure if they have been washed properly. If making them at home, ensure that it is really clean before consuming.
- Meat, fish and poultry are the concentrated sources of protein
- Choosing the right type of fat is also very essential.Unsaturated fatty acids are a better choice but other fats can be included in limited quantities.Low Saturated fat intake is recommended.
- Liquids/ fluids – Being well hydrated during pregnancy is very essential. Water and fresh fruit juices are the natural choices. But ensure that the water is filtered / boiled before use and that the fruit juices are prepared in a hygienic way. Buttermilk, soups, thin porridge are also some other forms of fluids that are nourishing. It is better to avoid fizzy drinks and packaged juices as they are not really good for health.
- Raw / under cooked foods must be avoided, especially meat fish and poultry as they may contain some harmful bacteria. Similarly avoid salads that are not prepared at home.
- Unpasteurized / unboiled milk should be avoided at all costs as it may contain pathogens.Unpasteurized cheese may contain Listera. Though this is rare, if present may cause some serious problem to the mother and the baby.
- It is better to give up alcohol and smoking during pregnancy. Alcohol causes several changes in the fetus that leads to physical , emotional and learning disability.Smoking causes birth complications , low weight babies and sometimes even genetic defects.
- Though liver is a good Vitamin B and Iron, it may contain high levels of Vitamin A which can be harmful to the fetus.
- Processed / canned foods are rich in salt so it is avoided as it may lead to water retention meaning swelling of the feet etc.
- Limit coffee / caffeine intake. A couple of cups is okay though. Some studies say that caffeine intake of more 300 mg / day increases the chances of miscarriage and / or the birth of low birth weight baby.
- Predator fishes like shark, sword fish contain above permissible levels of mercury.
- Avoid street foods like bhel puri / or chaats that are not cooked. Similarly for raw vegetable sandwiches.Uncooked sushi is also to be avoided.
- Wash you hands and the knives or other tools / equipment before you start cooking.
- Thoroughly wash the foods stuffs that are to be cooked.
- Cook the food to the correct ‘doneness’ as undercooked food is not recommended during pregnancy.
- If you are doubtful of including a certain foodstuff, leave it out till you get it clarified[if its ok to eat during pregnancy].
- Fasting for religious reasons is common in several households. Check with your Doctor if its ok to do so during pregnancy
- Dieting / Special diets – Pregnancy may not be the ideal time to be dieting. It is actually the best time for indulgence without guilt. But in case you have to follow any special diet due to certain conditions like celiac disease, lactose intolerance , gestational diabetes, multiple gestation[carrying more than one fetus], teenage pregnancy, food allergy, etc, consult the dietitian.
- ‘Unsafe’ foods – When there are some elderly people around, they are bound to tell you to avoid certain foods like papaya, mango, sesame seeds etc. Each culture / family has a set of food stuffs that are considered to harm the fetus if taken during pregnancy. Discuss these doubts with your dietitian.
- Use of artificial sweeteners – If you have been using them before getting pregnant, ask first and then continue if you get a green signal from your gynecologist.
- Cravings and dislikes – Pregnant women get some crazy cravings and some seriously strong food aversions. This has to be discussed with the health care provider to rule out nutrient deficiency.
- Clarify your doubts however silly or trivial they may seem. It is better to be in the clear than eat foods that are in doubt.
Eating small frequent meals help if you are suffering from nausea / lack of appetite. A healthy weight gain is very essential during this period.
Always remember that each pregnant women is different and their body condition and needs vary. Catch hold of a friend or join a ‘pregnancy group’ for support / discussion or to share your fears / joys.
Earlier in this series on pregnancy: