Good nutrition for women especially before, during and after pregnancy

Good nutrition should always be the number one on the priority list of women and most especially when trying to have a baby. During this time, it is vital to adhere to good healthy habits to ensure you’re getting all the nutrients your body needs as this will give children a healthy start as well as protect the health and nutritional wellbeing of women.

Whether you’re pregnant or planning to get pregnant, here are some healthy lifestyle guidelines for you.

Before pregnancy

It is ideal for every woman to be healthy before becoming pregnant. Pre-conception nutrition is a vital part for preparing for pregnancy.

  1. Know your Body Mass Index (BMI)before getting pregnant. Studies have shown that increased body weight and fat content is related to delayed conception. If you’re overweight or obese, lose some weight to gain a normal BMI before becoming pregnant to protect your health and your baby’s well-being. Being underweight increases your chances of giving birth to a low birth weight baby or a pre-term baby. A healthy weight reduces your risk of complications like pre-eclampsia or gestational diabetes – “diabetes that starts or is first diagnosed during pregnancy”. Gestational diabetes, which causes macrosomia (big baby) can lead to injury during birth and increase a mother’s chances of a Caesarean delivery.
  2. Quit smoking and drinking before becoming pregnant. Lifestyles such as smoking and drinking can have negative effects on your baby’s health and development, hence should be stopped once a woman decides to have babies. If you smoke during pregnancy you limit supply of oxygen and nutrients to your baby due to exposure to carbon monoxide, increasing risk of ectopic pregnancy, premature birth and a higher chance of a low birth weight baby. When you drink alcohol whilst pregnant, it travels through your bloodstream, crosses the placenta and reaches your baby. As little as one drink a day can cause you to have a miscarriage, give birth to a stillborn baby or cause your child to develop problems with speech and learning.
  3. Take folic acid prior to conception and continue through pregnancy. See your health professional for a folic acid prescription as it is recommended that all women of child bearing age take folic acid each day. It is especially important for women who are trying to get pregnant, as folic acid can help to prevent birth defects of the brain and spinal cord including anencephaly and spinabifida. You can obtain folate (the natural form of folic acid) through green leafy vegetables such as spinach, broccoli and cocoyam leaves (kontomire). Other food sources include beans, peas, lentils, citrus fruits like orange and fortified breakfast cereals.It is difficult to get the amount of folate recommended for pregnancy from food alone since folate is labile when cooked or stored for longer periods. Hence, it is important to take a folic acid supplement hence the need to see your health professional.

During pregnancy

A healthy diet is important during pregnancy as women require a good nutritional status, and adequate supply of nutrients for optimal growth and development of the foetus.

  1. Avoid high doses of Vitamin A as this can harm your unborn baby by causing birth defects. If you are pregnant or thinking about having a baby avoid eating foods high in vitamin A such as liver or liver products, and do not take any supplements containing vitamin A unless your doctor advices you to do so.
  2. Proteins are needed to build and repair various parts of the body especially the brain, muscle and blood. Consume adequate amounts of protein during pregnancy, to lower your baby’s risk of neonatal deaths and birth defects. Proteins will also keep you full for a longer period and lessen your need to eat extra, empty calories. Good sources of protein-rich foods include eggs, beans, tofu, soy products, lean meat and poultry.
  3. Iron is an essential part of red blood cells which carry oxygen throughout the blood. Incorporate more iron-rich foods in your diet during pregnancy as it ensures you and your baby have enough oxygen supply. The amount of blood in your body increases during pregnancy and iron is required for blood formation. If you become deficient in iron whilst pregnant, you increase your chances of a pre-term birth or a perinatal infant. Dietary sources of iron include meat, poultry, fish, green leafy vegetables, legumes and nuts.
  4. Calcium is required during pregnancy to help your baby develop strong bones and teeth, grow a healthy heart, nerves and muscle, and assist with blood clotting abilities. If you don’t obtain enough calcium from your diet during pregnancy, your baby will draw it from your bones and this may cause health complications for you later on in life. Naturally enriched sources of calcium include milk, cheese, yoghurt and salmon.
  5. Vitamin D is necessary to maintain proper levels of calcium and phosphorus for strong bones and teeth. If you’re lacking vitamin D during pregnancy your baby could develop rickets as a toddler which can lead to fractures and deformity. Oily fish, eggs, fortified milk and cereal products are examples of dietary sources of the vitamin.
  6. Stay active by walking for least 30 minutes a day and get enough rest.

After pregnancy

You don’t need to be on a special diet when breastfeeding but it is ideal to ensure that everything you’re eating is healthy and nutritious to help with your milk production.

  1. Drink plenty of fluids as it is important for you and your baby to stay hydrated. Always have a glass of water or other liquids close by so you can be drinking frequently, even before you feel thirsty. Dehydration leads to post-partum fatigue, and you don’t need that during this period as breastfeeding itself can be stressful. Be mindful however of the juices and sugary drinks as too much sugar contributes to weight gain. A lot of caffeine during lactation can be dangerous as caffeine in your breast milk might disturb your baby’s sleep.
  2. Choose a variety of foods each day as this changes the flavour of your breast milk and exposes your baby to different tastes, which can help him or her to easily accept different solid foods during weaning. Include more fruits and vegetables in your diet as they are rich in vitamins, minerals and fibre which can help to prevent constipation, a common problem in most pregnant and lactating mothers.
  3. Eat small meals and snacks in between as it will give you energy and strength to keep you going through the day even as you breastfeed. Be sure to have bits of fresh fruits, yoghurt, milkshake, fruit smoothie, a vegetable or cheese sandwich in your stroller bag or close to your nursing chair so you can snack as you move around with baby or when breastfeeding. Snacking will help to keep your hunger in check and keep your energy levels high.

Related articles: How to support new mothers to breastfeed, Oral hygiene in pregnancy

Last page review: 22/03/2016
Next page review: 22/03/2018


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