We all know that pregnancy is a time where a woman’s body experiences many significant changes which means that life can’t simply carry on the way it always has. During pregnancy you have to contend with morning sickness and weight gain, not to mention the tons of advice or guidelines you will be exposed to in books, online or from well-meaning friends. How do you make sense of all of this info and find what works for you?
People have different opinions on so many subjects from alcohol (some drink moderately while others avoid it completely) to diet (fish and caffeine in particular) to taking vitamin supplements during this time. How do you approach exercise while pregnant? And what do you do if you experience cravings for less healthy foods?
Firstly, weight gain is normal during this time as your baby grows, and I want to encourage you to keep up your good nutrition habits as far as possible. Of course you know that your body needs good healthy fats, protein, minerals and vitamins during pregnancy and as a Mom you want to do your very best to ensure that you eat accordingly, but it may not always be possible to eat the way you did in the past due to factors like morning sickness or food aversions that sometimes come along with pregnancy.
Experiment and see what your body is able to handle. But don’t worry too much if you can’t stomach full meals, rather eat smaller meals regularly and if you’re worried about getting enough of your vital nutrients you could consider using supplements to make up for any nutrients missing from your diet. With the physical demands pregnancy makes on your body fortifying yourself with the right nutrients will be beneficial to you and your little one – not matter how you ingest them.
If you do have a healthy appetite there’s some good news for you. Precision Nutrition recommends that, on a daily basis, active women consume 500 more calories, while less active women are encouraged to up their calorie intake by 300! It’s best if these added calories add some value and help strengthen your body, keeping yourself and your baby as strong as possible.
Let’s take a closer look at what the nutrients your body needs most during pregnancy.
This one probably isn’t all that surprising because protein is the building blocks of all our body’s cells, and this also applies to your unborn baby. You could always bulk up on plant proteins (chickpeas, beans, lentils, nuts etc.) if you are struggling to eat meat at the moment.
These long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acids play an extremely important role during pregnancy. They play a role in the early neurological and visual development of your little one as well as being vital to the development of your baby’s nervous system. It’s important to add them to your diet seeing as the human body can’t create Omega-3s by itself and pregnant women often run the risk of becoming Omega-3 deficient because the baby uses it for nervous system development. Oh, as an added bonus Omega-3s could help prevent early labour, may help increase your baby’s birth weight and helps to lower the risk of preeclampsia. On top of that it also helps in the creation of breast milk!
If you follow a traditional Western diet (not plentiful in oily fish) you could be at risk of not ingesting enough Omega-3s, so it is often recommended that you take a supplement. This is probably the best way to ensure that you get in your daily dose of DHA (marine sources), ALA (available through plant sources like flaxseeds and walnuts) and EPA (marine sources) especially as many pregnant people are careful of eating fish because of the possibility of it being contaminated by mercury.
I recommend the following three supplements: The Real Thing: Mega Omega, Biogen Omega 3 and Solgar Omega 3.
• Vitamin D
Studies suggest that a lack of this vitamin can lead to complications like preterm birth or a low birth weight. Sources include egg yolk, salmon, sardines, mackerel and good old sunshine!
This mineral is essential because it plays an important role when it comes to the rapid cell growth that takes place during pregnancy, and it also helps support your immune system. You will find this in pumpkin seeds, sesame seeds, wild game, poultry, beans, cashews, chickpeas, almonds, peas, yoghurts and mushrooms.
• Folate and Folic Acid
It helps to prevent birth defects. You can find this in spinach, citrus fruit, beans, whole grains, beetroot, cauliflower, lettuce and asparagus.
• Vitamin B-12
Also known as Cobalamin this vitamin helps maintain the health of your nervous system. It is also said that, if it’s combined with folic acid, it can help prevent complications like spina bifida and other spinal and central nervous system birth defects. Sources include: trout, salmon, beef, yoghurt, tuna and eggs.
As you probably already know calcium helps build strong bones and teeth. Importantly it can also help to reduce your risk for preeclampsia and high blood pressure. Consider adding beans, green leafy veg, broccoli, almonds, turnips, tofu, dairy and rhubarb to up your daily calcium intake.
This mineral helps your body to make extra blood (hemoglobin) for you and your baby. and also helps ensure that the oxygen you inhale makes its way to the rest of your, and your baby’s, bodies. Iron deficiency/anemia can also contribute to you feeling tired so it’s important to make sure that you keep your iron levels up. Dairy, soybeans, lentils, spinach, sesame seeds, kidney beans, potatoes, prunes, cashews, chickpeas, pumpkin seeds are all good sources of iron.
This is essential when it comes to creating thyroid hormones, ensuring that your body is able to effectively use and store the energy you get from food. You also need iodine to help with your little one’s brain and nervous system development. Sources include iodized salt, eggs, potatoes, milk, yoghurt and strawberries.
If you are finding it hard to eat and want to consider using supplements I can recommend two good options that are available from most health stores or Dischem outlets – Pregomega plus and Solgar Prenatal Nutrients come highly recommended.
Now for the ever-growing question: “What should I limit or omit from my diet?”
Items you could consider limiting:
Experts recommend that you have no more than 200mg of caffeine per day. But of course it is entirely up to you whether you consume caffeine or not, some women would just prefer not to. Don’t forget that caffeine is found in a variety of other foods and beverages so here’s a handy guide to help you keep your caffeine intake in check:
Mug of filter coffee – 140mg
Single espresso – 50 – 300mg
Regular latte – 40 – 75mg
Mug of instant coffee – 100mg
Mug of tea – 75mg
Green tea – 30mg
Mug of filter coffee (decaf) – 10mg
Can of soda – 35mg
Milk chocolate – 25mg
Plain chocolate – 50mg
This is completely up to your discretion but experts recommend limiting any alcohol intake to no more than 2 units per week. These days there are some great non-alcoholic beers (like Bavaria & Erdinger), sparkling wines and virgin G&Ts (Fitch & Leedes) available, so you can still get the taste of your favourite drink without the risk to your baby.
• Cured/deli meats and unpasteurised cheeses
Experts sometimes recommend avoiding these foods because of the risk of contracting bacterial infection, but it’s up to you how much of these deli foods you still enjoy.
• Sugar and artificial sweeteners
Although sugar might help you feel more alert for a short while it can lead to a crash or increase in fatigue later on. Why not grab a fruit and some almonds or a yoghurt instead? This will give you more sustained energy.
• Fish like swordfish, king mackerel, tilefish and shark
Should be avoided because they often contain high levels of mercury which could be harmful to your baby.
Can cause issues with the placenta which could lead to your baby not getting enough nutrients or blood. It could even contribute to miscarriages.
• Undercooked meat products and eggs
Not recommended due to the risk of bacteria (sorry for all your sushi and cookie dough lovers out there!)
Now that we’ve looked into your nutrition and food habits it’s time we examined what exercise should look like during pregnancy. Can you stick to your usual routine or should you be exploring different types of exercise you may not have considered before?
It probably wouldn’t surprise you that the answer may differ for each woman.
Just how active you should be will definitely depend on how your pregnancy is affecting your body.
How will exercise benefit you?
– It will make you feel better. During this time when you might wonder if this strange body can actually be yours, exercise releases endorphins, which will make you feel more in control and energised.
– Appropriate exercise can help relieve backaches, reduce constipation and help you sleep better.
– It helps to prepare your body for birth – a strong body and fit heart can help ease labour and delivery. Not to mention if you do have a lengthy labor the muscle endurance will be most beneficial.
– It will also help prevent water retention.
– Your chances of developing varicose veins decrease if you stay active.
– It helps decrease chances of gestational diabetes.
– Exercise helps prevent bloating.
– If you take a new class you could make new friends who can relate to what you’re going through.
Although your routine might have to look a bit different than it normally does during this time (depending on your body’s needs) it is certainly worth finding something that works for you. Some great options to try are swimming, yoga, Pilates, light weight training, aqua aerobics and walking. Walking is a great option as you can increase the intensity by adding hills and increasing the pace as your fitness level increases.
Most importantly I want to encourage you to listen to your own body and do what feels right to you at this time. Don’t worry too much if it’s not your usual routine, you will have plenty of time to get back to your regular training routine after your baby is born. Enjoy this moment. Yes, your body is changing but remember it is creating the most beautiful and wonderful miracle. It is working incredibly hard to make sure your baby is strong and healthy while keeping you healthy too, so don’t be too hard on yourself and embrace this exciting season of life.
Why not get in touch with me if you would like to chat about some more ideas around nutrition and exercise during this happy new phase of your life? You can contact me on 083 7929 496 or at email@example.com