A healthy diet ought to be an important part of lifestyle of all, but more attention should be focused on diet and feeding during pregnancy. Healthy feeding during pregnancy is of immense importance to the health of not only the mother but also the developing and emerging new-born. The developing foetus is helpless and depends solely on what the mother eats for survival. Therefore it is important to eat healthy to get the nutrients needed by both mother and child. Meals should be planned from the variety of food groups available, which include fruit and vegetables, protein sources, carbohydrate sources, mineral sources as well as high calorie foods. As we have the good and bad sides of life so we also have safe and unsafe foods to consume during that important 9month period. Pregnant women have to increase protein content, increase certain vitamins and minerals (such as folic acid which helps in prevention of neural tube defects and calcium which helps develop strong bone), and more of energy giving foods.
It is important to note that during the months of pregnancy, care must be taken in planning diets, as what the mother eats is what is transferred to the foetus. Therefore, during pregnancy it is important to stay away from foods such as fish that are known to have high mercury content. This is because these species of fish is said to contain traces of methylmercury, which when in high doses is harmful to the brain of developing foetus. The USFDA recommends limiting consumption of fish to 12 ounces a week, which is the equivalent of about two servings. Fish species such as tuna, tilapia, catfish and even shrimps have been found to have low levels of mercury, thus they can be consumed without fear and also will get the required amount of omega 3 fatty acid which help in boosting baby brainpower. Also, mothers who are used to taking alcohol should cut down drastically on consumption of alcohol. Alcohol consumption can result in physical disabilities, learning as well as emotional problems.
Foods rich in antioxidants should also be richly consumed. Antioxidants protect the baby brain tissue from damage. Antioxidants are readily available and abundant in fruits and vegetables. Thus when planning diets, vegetables should be included and expectant mothers should snack more on fruits than “junk-food”. Dark leafy vegetables, pawpaw, tomatoes, berries are all rich sources of antioxidants.
Considering the fact that proteins are building blocks of life, the protein intake should be increased to meet the requirement of mother and child. Protein helps in cell generation and formation and development of hormones. Lean beef, whole grain, lentils, peanuts are sources of protein that should be included in diet.
Iron intake needs to be increased in the diet. Iron helps in transporting oxygen to the tissue and cells of the developing foetus. If the developing baby is deprived of oxygen there is a risk of poor growth and retarded IQ. Fortified breakfast cereals, legumes, chicken are sources of iron and so should be included in the diet of pregnant women.
The role of vitamins and minerals during pregnancy cannot be overemphasised. Folic acid should be introduced into diets as soon as pregnancy noticed. Adequate intake of folic acid helps in in prevention of birth defect such as spina bifida. Vitamin D is important in regulating the amount of calcium and phosphorous in the body. Inadequate amount of these can cause softening of the bone which will result in rickets and other bone related deformities. Zinc helps in cognitive development of the developing foetus. Research shows that the average requirement of zinc is 9mg/day but some women may require as much as 11mg/day. Iodine, though needed in small quantities is essential in the development of the foetus. It is necessary for the development of thyroid hormone which regulates body temperature, blood cell production and also nerve and muscle function.
While trying to eat healthy, it is important to plan meals in such a way that illnesses such as constipation or nausea will not occur. It is therefore advised to eat small portions of food frequently than to eat heavy meals at once. This will give room for easy digestion and comfort to both mother and child. However, it is important to see a doctor regularly during the period of pregnancy to carry out necessary checks to ascertain the health of the mother and growth and development of the developing child.