(1) Eat a regular diet–a healthy regular diet, that is.
There’s no need to go on a gluten-free, dairy-free, vegan diet once you get two lines on your pregnancy test (unless, of course, you have celiac disease or a dairy allergy, in which case you’d already be on a special diet). Shoot for a varied diet build around whole grains, fruits and vegetables, lean protein, and healthy fats. Use MyPlate as inspiration for putting together a healthy meal and browse THIH’s Update Your Plate series for specific ideas. The foods that you eat become building blocks for baby (just as they do for you), so it makes sense to choose nutrient-dense foods that pack more baby-building power per bite.
Special nutrient note: Typically a regular healthy diet means a multivitamin is not necessary; however, it’s smart to take a multivitamin with folic acid before and throughout pregnancy. Taking a multivitamin is especially important if you suffer from morning sickness and have trouble eating a balanced diet (and half a box of Kraft macaroni and cheese doesn’t count).
Pay special attention to: folic acid (800 micrograms), calcium (1000 milligrams), iron (27 milligrams–check with your doctor to see if you can reduce or eliminate the iron in your multivitamin if it is making you sick, you are eating a healthy diet, and your blood tests are stellar), and omega-3 fats (especially in the third trimester when baby’s brain is developing at a rapid pace). Also, drink plenty of water! Check out this thorough chart for what exactly all these extra nutrients are doing for you and baby.
Avoid: Raw meats, deli meats, high mercury fish, raw fish, raw eggs, unwashed vegetables, soft unpasteurized cheese and unpasteurized milk, excessive caffeine, and alcohol. You may know someone who has consumed any or all of these items during pregnancy with no adverse effects. While the likelihood of a problem is small for some of these items, the risk exists, and it is up to you to decide how much risk you are willing to take on.
Some women find that their diets improve tremendously upon finding out they are pregnant. Awesome! Those who keep it up post baby will have less difficulty dropping the baby weight.
(2) Aim for 300 extra calories a day in the second and third trimesters (more for multiples).
“Eating for two” is a misleading phrase. While calorie needs do increase during pregnancy, you only need an extra 300 calories per day in the second and third trimesters (and no extra calories in the first trimester despite ravenous hunger).
Examples of nutrient-dense snacks around 300 calories:
*1/4 cup hummus, small whole grain pita, 1 cup raw veggies
*Smoothie with 1 cup skim milk or nonfat plain yogurt, 1 cup frozen berries, 1 small banana
*1 slice whole grain toast, 1 tablespoon peanut butter, 1 small sliced banana
*1/2 cup-1 cup whole grain cereal (check nutrition label), 1 cup skim milk, 1 cup fruit
*1 cup nonfat or low fat plain yogurt, 1/2 ounce nuts, 1 cup fruit
*1 slice whole grain toast, 1/2 sliced avocado, 1 sliced hard boiled egg
(3) Don’t beat yourself up if you aren’t eating a “perfect” diet.
In the beginning of my pregnancy, morning sickness led me to eat the most bizarre foods. Protein foods went down the easiest, so I remember asking Peter for a couple of breakfast sausages on a day when I hadn’t eaten anything else. I alternated the sausages with a couple of baby carrots to get in a few molecules of vegetables, then spent the next hour nibbling 1/2 cup of whole grain noodles one-by-one.
It was not my finest moment.
Early on, I beat myself up over the weird “sometimes” foods that I was eating all the time. I’m a registered dietitian, I said to myself. I should know better. Of course, beating myself up did nothing to improve my diet. All I did was make myself more anxious.
Eating a healthy diet is important during pregnancy, but going crazy over a “perfect” diet is not. Sick? Eat what you can. Special occasion? Enjoy that cake! Your life doesn’t stop during pregnancy, after all.
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