Healthy Eating During Pregnancy by Estelle (Midwife)

10/11/2009 09:21

Eating healthy is one of the first parental challenges that the expectant mother faces. Not only is it important to hit all the right nutritional notes, there's also the question of how much weight to gain. Eating for two is often misinterpreted as a license to overeat, but gaining too many kilos raises the risk of serious complications. Although one may be sorely tempted to eat twice as much, there is no medical reason to do so. The woman's body becomes more efficient during pregnancy and is able to absorb more of the nutrients one eats. So consuming twice as much doesn't double the chances of having a healthy baby - instead, it's likely to mean excessive weight gain, which can put mother at risk for pregnancy complication both for herself and for the baby. If the baby grows too much there is a higher tendency for a caesarean section, ventouse or forceps delivery apart from the extra strain on the woman’s spine and legs due to carrying a heavy baby in the womb.

In fact, a pregnant mother needs only 300 or so extra calories a day, fewer during the first trimester. So instead of helping oneself to extra servings at mealtime, one can think in terms of a smart snack, such as a glass of orange juice and a couple of slices of whole-wheat toast, to boost the calories during the pregnancy.

A woman carrying twins needs more calories than a woman carrying just one baby. One rule of thumb is to add 300 calories a day for each of the babies. So if a mother is carrying twins, she should add roughly 600 calories to the normal load, which would probably take her to about 2,800 calories a day. If she is carrying triplets, she should aim for an extra 900 calories a day, pushing the total daily total to about 3,100 calories. Whether she is carrying twins, triplets, or more, she should plan to eat at least five times a day (three meals and two substantial snacks), even if she does not feel especially hungry.



Folate is an important vitamin during pregnancy. It helps reduce the risk of neural tube defects like spina bifida. Health authorities advise women to take a folic acid supplement (0.5 mg/day) if they are planning pregnancy, and for the first three months of pregnancy. Fruit, green vegetables, legumes and breakfast cereals with folate added are all good sources of dietary folate.


Your body needs more iron during pregnancy. Lean red meat is the best source of iron, followed by chicken and fish. Grains, legumes, nuts and vegetables also contain iron, but it is harder for the body to absorb the iron in these foods. Vitamin C-rich foods help your body take up iron.  Improve your iron levels by eating foods high in vitamin C in the same meal as foods containing iron. Eat vegetables or salads with meat. Have citrus, berry or tropical fruit with your meal. Some women need iron tablets during pregnancy. Your doctor will advise if you need iron supplements.


Your body has higher calcium needs during pregnancy. Calcium is important for your own needs, as well as building your baby’s bones and teeth. Choose milk, cheese and yogurt, as they are good sources of calcium. If you drink soy or rice milk, make sure it has calcium added.



What about morning sickness?

Some women have nausea and vomiting in the early stages of pregnancy. It is not always in the morning. It usually gets better after the first trimester.

It may help to:

• Eat small amounts more often

• Try dry foods (eg. bread or crackers)

• Eat before you get out of bed

• Avoid strong cooking smells

• Eat cold, plain or bland foods

• Avoid drinks with meals

• Ask someone else to cook



It is normal to feel tired in the early stages of pregnancy. Make sure you rest and eat well. With the busy lifestyle pregnant mums tend to rest less than they need to.


Constipation is common during pregnancy and may be due to:

• Hormonal changes

• Increased pressure on the bowel from the growing baby

• Iron supplements

• Not enough dietary fibre

• Not enough fluids

• Lack of exercise

Make sure you are eating high-fibre foods like wholemeal breads and cereals, fresh fruit, vegetables and dried fruit and nuts.

Drink plenty of water and be as active as you can.

If the problem persists, talk to your doctor.



This may be a problem later in pregnancy as the baby presses on your stomach.

It may help to:

• Avoid caffeine containing drinks (coffee, tea, cocoa,

Cola and energy drinks)

• Avoid spicy or fatty foods

• Eat small amounts more often

• Sit or stand upright after eating

You have cravings

Some women have cravings for particular foods when they are pregnant. These cravings are not linked to special dietary needs. If you are eating the foods you crave, make sure your overall diet includes a variety of nutritious foods. Alcohol is not recommended for pregnant women or women planning a pregnancy.

During pregnancy, limit caffeine-containing drinks (coffee, tea, cocoa and cola).

Smoking can affect your baby’s growth and development so you are advised not to smoke during pregnancy. Be aware of the dangers of passive smoking.


All prescription drugs and over the counter medicines should be checked with your doctor or pharmacist before taking them. Marijuana and other mood altering drugs should not be used by pregnant women or women planning a pregnancy, as they can affect the baby apart from harming the mothers themselves.

Estelle can be contacted on 21632359 / 79040671 or email on