Nutrition During Pregnancy
The importance of good nutrition during pregnancy
According to the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA), about 300 extra calories are needed daily to maintain a healthy singleton pregnancy. Multiple gestations require 500 extra calories per day. These calories should come from a balanced diet of protein, fruits, vegetables, and whole grains with sweets and fats kept to a minimum. A healthy, well-balanced diet during pregnancy can also help to minimize some pregnancy symptoms such as nausea and constipation.
Nutrition is a primary factor in your health and that of your baby. The following daily food portions are recommended by the March of Dimes for pregnant women:
- 6 to 11 servings of bread and whole grains
- 3 to 5 servings of vegetables
- 2 to 4 servings of fruit
- 4 to 6 servings of milk and milk products
- 3 to 4 servings of meat and protein foods
- 6 to 8 glasses of water
You should talk with your physician about restricting your intake of caffeine and artificial sweeteners.
In addition, taking certain nutrients as supplementation to the diet can help ensure all nutritional needs are met. Important nutrients include folic acid, calcium (which helps maintain bone density), and iron (which is necessary for blood to carry oxygen).
Why is folic acid important?
The US Public Health Service recommends that all women of childbearing age consume 400 micrograms (0.4 mg) of folic acid each day. The March of Dimes recommends 1 mg of folic acid per day prior to conception and through the first month postconception that is found in a prescription prenatal vitamin. Folic acid, a nutrient found in some green, leafy vegetables, most berries, nuts, beans, citrus fruits, fortified breakfast cereals, and some vitamin supplements can help reduce the risk of birth defects of the brain and spinal cord (called neural tube defects). The most common neural tube defect is spina bifida (in which the vertebrae do not fuse together properly, causing the spinal cord to be exposed) which can lead to varying degrees of paralysis, incontinence, and, sometimes, mental retardation.
Folic acid is most beneficial during the first 28 days after conception, when most neural tube defects occur. Unfortunately, many women do not realize they are pregnant before 28 days. Therefore, folic acid intake should begin prior to conception.
Most physicians will prescribe a prenatal supplement before conception, or shortly afterward, to ensure all of your nutritional needs are met. However, a prenatal supplement does not replace a healthy diet.