Nutrition Requirements During Pregnancy and Breastfeeding

When you’re a mumma to be it becomes even more important to eat a healthy, well balanced diet. During pregnancy, your body actually becomes more efficient at utilising the energy you obtain from food. Despite this, pregnant and breastfeeding women require extra nutrients and kilojoules, so eating a range of healthy foods from the five food groups is essential.

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During pregnancy it is important to:

  • Eat a wide variety of fruits and vegetables every day
  • Increase your intake of grain and cereal foods to 8-8 ½ serves a day
  • Eat plenty of iron rich foods (increased to 3.5 serves a day)
  • Consume plenty of calcium rich foods or calcium-enriched alternatives (aim for reduced fat)
  • Drink plenty of water, aiming for 2.3 L/day (about 9 cups) each day
  • Limit foods and drinks high in saturated fat, added sugar and salt

Increased kilojoule requirements during pregnancy:

Contrary to popular belief, eating for two is unnecessary during pregnancy. Indeed, no additional kilojoules are required during the first trimester. If you were consuming roughly the correct amount of kilojoules before you were pregnant, you will need to consume extra kilojoules in your second and third trimesters.

Second trimester: An additional 1400kJ (1.4 MJ/day) a day is required during the second trimester. This equates to two slices of wholemeal toast with avocado and a piece of fruit, or a fruit smoothie with yoghurt.

Third trimester: During the third trimester the additional kilojoule requirement increases by another 500kj a day (1900 kjs or 1.9 MJ/day in total). A 500kj snack is equivalent to a small muesli bar or half a cup of yoghurt with half a cup of berries/fruit.

Increased food group requirements: 

Pregnant women are advised to increase their intake of grain foods (an extra 2 ½ serves per day or 8.5 serves in total), and lean meats and alternatives (one extra serve per day, totalling 3.5 serves) each day.

Great meal options to meet these additional needs include a wholegrain salad sandwich with lean meat, egg or tinned fish, a small bowl of pasta with lean meat or bean sauce, or a small bowl of stir-fried rice with tofu and vegetables.

 Key nutrients during pregnancy:

Pregnancy creates extra demands for certain nutrients including folate, iron and iodine.

Folate:

Folate, a B-group vitamin (known as folic acid when added to foods or in supplement form), is a particularly important nutrient for pregnant woman and those planning to conceive. Folate helps protect against neural tube defects in the developing foetus such as spina bifida.

Food Standards Australia New Zealand recommends that women planning a pregnancy start taking a daily folic acid supplement (with at least 400 micrograms of folic acid) and continue to take the supplement throughout the first 12 weeks of pregnancy. Foods naturally rich in folate or fortified with folic acid should also be consumed during this period.

In Australia, all wheat flour used in breadmaking must contain folic acid (with the exception of flour used in ‘organic’ bread). Three slices of fortified bread (100 g) contains an average of 120 micrograms of folic acid.

Other excellent sources of folate include asparagus, bran flakes, broccoli, brussels sprouts, chick peas, dried beans, lentils, spinach.

Iron:

During pregnancy and breastfeeding a woman’s requirement for iron increases. This is because the developing foetus draws iron from the mother to last through the first  six months after birth. The recommended daily intake (RDI) of iron increases from 18mg to 27 mg a day during pregnancy.

If this increased requirement isn’t met, a deficiency can quickly occur and iron supplementation may be necessary. However, iron in large amounts can result in toxicity; so don’t take iron supplements unless advised by your Obstetrician.

To meet the increased iron requirements, pregnant and breastfeeding women must consume plenty of iron-rich foods every day. Wholegrain cereals, meat, poultry and fish are good sources of dietary iron. While liver is an especially rich source of iron, pregnant women should avoid this source because of its high content of vitamin A, which may cause birth deformities.

Vegetarians may require twice as much dietary iron each day as non-vegetarians. Good sources include dark green leafy vegetables, prunes, dried apricots, raisins, nuts, seeds, dried beans and peas, and iron-fortified cereals, breads and pastas.

Iron absorption can be increased when iron rich foods are consumed in conjunction with foods high in vitamin C (such as oranges, strawberries, spinach). Tea and coffee can interfere with iron absorption as the tannins in tea and coffee bind to the iron and interfere with absorption. For best absorption, only consume these drinks between meals.

Iodine:

Pregnant and breastfeeding women have increased iodine requirements. Iodine is an essential mineral necessary for a growing baby’s brain development and thyroid function. Inadequate iodine intake during pregnancy increases the risk of mental impairment and cretinism in the newborn baby. As a result, women planning a pregnancy, throughout pregnancy and while breastfeeding are advised to take a daily supplement of 150 micrograms per day.

In Australia, iodised salt is now added to all commercially sold bread, with the exception of organic bread. Other good sources of iodine include seafood and seaweed, eggs, meat and dairy products.

What about calcium?

Until 2006, Australian dietary guidelines recommended an increased calcium intake during pregnancy and breastfeeding. This advice has since been revised and a pregnant woman’s requirement now remains at 1,000 mg a day (the same RDI as non-pregnant women).

Although the baby has a high requirement for calcium during the third trimester of pregnancy, a mother’s increased capacity to absorb dietary calcium during this time means there is no additional dietary requirement.

A final thought:

Pregnant woman should focus on boosting their nutrient intake, rather than kilojoule intake. To maintain appropriate weight gain and obtain the nutrients required during pregnancy it is important to enjoy a wide variety of foods, listen to your body, eat when hungry and most importantly, enjoy this very special experience!

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