During pregnancy, it is important to make sure that your diet provides you with enough energy and nutrients for your baby to grow and develop. It is just as important to help keep you healthy and help your body to deal with all the changes taking place.
You are probably already wondering what you should and shouldn’t be eating now that you are pregnant. The good news is that there is not much to avoid and lots of things you enjoy already are good for you and your growing baby.
Eating a healthy diet will provide your baby with all she needs to develop as well as helping you to keep in the best of health during your pregnancy. Your body makes various adjustments during pregnancy and so you do not need to ‘eat for two’.
If you are overweight or obese when you become pregnant you are more at risk of complications during pregnancy and childbirth. Examples of these risks include developing high blood pressure, miscarriage, pre-eclampsia, diabetes and death. There are also risks to your baby from maternal obesity. Look at our dietary recommendations. See the section on weight gain and body changes for more information.
You should not go on a weight loss diet during pregnancy, speak to your midwife about any concerns you may have.
It’s essential to keep your fluid levels up by drinking plenty of water and fruit juices. Often we think we are hungry when in fact what we actually need is water. Some experts suggest that the reason we retain water (and get puffy and bloated) is because we are not drinking enough of it. Drinking lots of water can also help with constipation.
It is important that fruit juice is consumed only along with meals to prevent tooth decay. See Oral Health in Pregnancy for more information.
If you are a regular coffee or tea drinker it’s a good idea to try and cut back. High levels of caffeine can affect your baby’s birthweight. For this reason it is important not to have more than 200mg of caffeine a day.
To give you an idea:
- an average cup of instant coffee has 75mg of caffeine
- regular brewed coffee has 100mg caffeine
- regular tea has 50mg caffeine.
Cola and some ‘energy drinks’ also contain caffeine:
- 40mg caffeine in a regular can of cola
- up to 80mg in some energy drinks.
You can substitute these with decaffeinated tea or coffee and look for drinks that are caffeine free, such as fruit juices.
As there isn’t a lot of information about the safety of herbal products, it is best to limit these while you’re pregnant. During pregnancy it is recommended that women drink herbal or green teas in moderation – around four cups a day. As little is known about the effects of Ginseng and Echinacea, it is best to avoid these when pregnant and breastfeeding. Speak to your midwife if you are unsure about using any herbal products.
Caffeine can also reduce iron absorption. Eating vitamin C rich food with a meal increases iron absorption.
What to eat
Eating a balanced and varied diet is the best way to be healthy and also help your baby to grow and develop. This means eating a range of things from the different food groups including:
- lots of fruit and vegetables
- plenty of starches like potatoes, rice, pasta and wholegrain bread
- protein-rich food including at least two portions of fish and one portion of oily fish a week
- plenty of fibre which you’ll find in fruit and vegetables as well as rice and wholegrain bread; eating fibre-rich foods will help you deal with constipation
- dairy products like plain yoghurt, semi-skimmed milk and hard cheeses, which will help you get enough calcium.
If you feel sick there are various ways you can help to reduce your symptoms. You should take small, frequent healthy snacks and try to avoid large meals as these put a strain on your digestive system. You should not let your stomach remain empty for more than a couple of hours to keep your digestive system ticking over. A dry cracker or crisp bread may help. It is a good idea to keep these by your bed to snack on before you get up in the morning.
If you are eligible for Healthy Start you are entitled to vouchers for milk, fresh fruit and fresh vegetables. See the section on benefits or www.healthystart.nhs.uk (external link) for more information.