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Pregnancy and diet: All your questions answered

Pregnancy and diet: All your questions answered

Learn how much you should eat, the foods you should avoid and what nutrients are essential
Pregnant woman having a healthy meal.
A pregnant woman’s nutrition is the cornerstone of pre-natal care | Photo By Anantha Subramanyam K

You went in for a pregnancy test and got the positive result. And now you have started the countdown for the next 40 or so weeks. One of the top questions on your mind would be what to eat and exactly how much.

Every pregnant woman goes through a lot of changes during the 40-week period. Providing all possible nutrients is one of the best things parents could give their unborn child for this is the child’s foundation for a healthy life. 

A pregnant woman’s nutrition is the cornerstone of pre-natal care of the baby. Do ask your doctor for a customised counselling for your nutritional needs depending on your BMI, access to food and the like. Meanwhile, here are some commonly asked questions about pregnancy and nutrition.  

Should I eat for two? 

We always hear that a pregnant woman should eat for two. But it is not true. Lakshmi Nallan Chakravartula, senior dietician, Kamineni Hospitals, Hyderabad, says an expectant mother should not eat twice as much as she normally does, because in the first trimester, she will not need additional calories. An average adult woman needs 1,900 calories per day. The prospective mother should instead make sure that she gets a nutritious diet.
Chakravartula adds that a pregnant woman should aim to intake an extra 300 calories in her second trimester, and 500 more calories in her third trimester over her own needs. 

Which nutrients to take? 

Chakravartula says pregnant women need folic acid, iron, calcium, choline, omega-3 fatty acids, vitamins B, C and D in the diet and as supplements. This is to ensure that the child is born healthy. 

Recommended nutrient intake for expecting mothers

Vitamin A   800µg 
Vitamin B1  1.4mg  
Vitamin B2  1.4mg 
Vitamin B3  18mg 
Vitamin B6  1.9mg  
Vitamin B12  2.6µg 
Vitamin C  55mg  
Vitamin D  5µg 
Vitamin E  15mg 
Folic Acid  600µg 
Iron   27mg 
Zinc   10mg 
Copper   1.15mg 
Selenium  30 µg 
Iodine   250 µg  
Calcium  1.5-2g 

Note: These are the general dietary guidelines from the WHO. We would recommend that you consult your doctor first for your specific requirements of diet and supplements.  

Why is folic acid important? 

Folic acid is one of the vitamins in the B complex and can help in the proper development of brain and spinal cord of your child. A 2011 study found that folic acid supplementation protects against fetal structural anomalies, including neural tube and congenital heart defects. 

Which foods should I avoid? 

Apart from putting only nutritious foods on your plate when you are expecting, it is equally important to avoid a few things. Main amongst them being some seafood, undercooked meats, unpasteurised foods and alcohol. 

The reason why seafood should be avoided is because large predatory fish such as sharks, swordfish, king mackerel and tilefish can all contain high levels of mercury, says Dr Poonam Duneja, a clinical nutritionist and dietician based in Delhi. 

A diet of such fish can cause accumulation of mercury in the bloodstream of both the mother and the unborn child. This could damage the fetus’ brain and nervous system. 

Will I gain a lot of weight during pregnancy? 

It is natural to gain weight during pregnancy. There are even helpful guidelines for weight gain among pregnant women based on their body mass index (BMI), according to Dr Duneja. 

  • Women who are underweight with a BMI lesser than 18.5 should gain 13-18 kg. 
  • Those in the normal weight range with a BMI of 18.5-24.9 should gain 11-16 kg. 
  • Women who are overweight with a BMI between 25 and 29.9 should gain 7-11 kg. 

Women should add an extra 300-500 calories per day to their diets (depending on the trimester and post-pregnancy lactation). However, this shouldn’t come from high-fat or carbohydrate meals as it can result in high blood pressure and gestational diabetes, which can result in complications during the pregnancy. 

Can excess or low weight cause problems to my child? 

If overweight, discuss it with your doctor. A personalised approach towards weight management during pregnancy is the best way to go ahead. Your nutritionist will suggest a diet best suited to you to manage your weight. 

Ishi Khosla, clinical nutritionist and founder of the Celiac Society of India, says that excess weight during pregnancy can cause complications for the mother and the child. High blood pressure, gestational diabetes, premature birth, and stillbirth are some of the difficulties one can face. 

And what if the expectant mother is underweight? Dr Khosla says that if the woman’s BMI is low then she is more likely to face anemia in herself besides a premature baby or a baby born with low birth weight. 

To prevent this, an expecting mother needs to consult her nutritionist or dietician and plan healthy eating to gradually gain weight. Eating a variety of foods would be a good start. 

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