Pregnancy and Nutrition

This Pregnancy Week a reminder that good nutrition before and during pregnancy may influence the pregnancy, the delivery and the health of mother and child later on. What you eat now will help your baby to grow healthily and give them the best start in life and help you to feel your best. We asked registered dietitians and ADSA (Association for Dietetics in South Africa) spokespeople to provide their top tips for healthy eating during pregnancy.

Does eating for two mean doubling up your portions?

“Additional energy is needed during pregnancy to support the growth demands of your baby, however the saying ‘eating for two’ has been taken out of context,” says Cath Day, Registered Dietitian. “During the first trimester, you don’t need any additional energy. This means that if you were maintaining a healthy weight before you became pregnant, you can continue eating the same amount. It is only in your second and third trimester that you need to eat a little more.”

But, how much more?

The professional advice from a dietitian is that an expectant mom who is at a healthy weight should take in an extra 350 kCal / 1470 kJ per day in her second trimester. This would be the equivalent to eating an extra half a cup of fruit or one tennis ball-sized fruit, a 175 ml of plain low fat yoghurt, two wholewheat crackers, two teaspoons peanut butter without added sugar and salt, and a 30 gram portion of a medium fat cheese.

In the third trimester, the recommended additional intake rises to just 460 kCal / 1930 kJ per day, and that would be equivalent to eating an extra one cup of fruit or two tennis ball-sized fruits, 175 ml plain low fat yoghurt, four wholewheat crackers with the same two teaspoons peanut butter without added sugar and salt, and a 30 gram portion of a medium fat cheese.

What should you do if you are overweight and pregnant?

Overweight and obesity can present health challenges during pregnancy, so health professionals do advise that women should get to a healthy weight before they fall pregnant. However, in South Africa where women’s rates of overweight and obesity are high, less than ideal conditions for pregnancy need to be managed.

“Pregnancy is not the time to think about dieting and weight loss,” says ADSA spokesperson and Registered Dietitian, Nazeeia Sayed, “An overweight pregnant woman should focus on the healthy eating of a variety of nutritious foods, and her weight gain needs to be monitored at her ante-natal check-ups. She should also focus on light exercise such as walking.”

Day also points out that: “Overweight and obese pregnant women would benefit from seeing a registered dietitian who can assist them with an eating plan which will support baby’s growth and ensure that they gain weight within healthy parameters.”

How can you eat healthily on a budget?

Day has some sensible tips:

  • Eat fruits and vegetables which are in season and more affordable
  • Get your family members and neighbours to shop with you for bulk fruits and vegetables that are more cost-effective
  • Start a vegetable garden using water-saving ideas at home or in your community. NGOs such as Soil for Life and many more help households and communities to sustainably increase their access to fruits and vegetables
  • Spend less money on fizzy cold drinks, junk food and take-aways, and use what you save to buy seasonal fruits and vegetables instead
  • You can save money by reducing your meat intake by half and instead use beans, split peas and lentils to bulk up your favourite meat dishes. These legumes are a more affordable, healthy vegetable protein source that also include the B-vitamins and folic acid
  • Buy frozen vegetables when they are on promotion – they contain as much or even more nutrients than vegetables which have been on the shelf for an extended period of time

What can pregnant women who can’t afford supplements eat to get the micro-nutrients important to pregnancy?

Pregnant women and those planning on falling pregnant should take a supplement of iron and folic acid, as these are essential nutrients needed for a healthy pregnancy.

Sayed points out that it is important for all pregnant women to know that they have access to the State ante-natal services because supplements such as folic acid, iron and calcium are included in their free healthcare.

Day also adds that there are many affordable food sources that provide these nutrients that are vital to a baby’s healthy development. “For instance,” she says “Green leafy vegetables such as spinach, morogo and legumes such as beans, split peas and lentils are good sources of folic acid and iron. You can also find staples such as maize meal and brown bread that are fortified with folic acid and iron. Amasi and milk provide calcium. Tinned sardines and pilchards provide calcium and iron, and chicken livers are another good source of iron.”

How can you use your pregnancy to develop healthier habits?

Pregnancy is a time when your health and the health of your developing baby is an absolute priority.   Day says that it is not only what you consume but also what you do not consume that counts. “Don’t drink alcohol when you are pregnant. All forms of alcohol could be harmful to your baby and the safest choice for your unborn baby is not to drink any alcohol at all when you are pregnant.”

Sayed concludes: “Pregnancy is not a state of ill health but a time to be enjoyed, and it can help you to develop life-long healthy eating patterns that you sustain as you become a role model for the new addition to your family!”

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