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Your diet is always an important factor of a healthy lifestyle, but during your pregnancy, it becomes even more important because you are taking care of both yourself and your baby, so you should not forget that you are eating for two now.

Each woman should know that she is the only source of nutrition for her unborn baby. Her eating habits will affect her baby’s health and well-being.

In order to cope with the increased demands, the body needs a sufficient amount of nutrition. Poor eating habits can adversely affect your pregnancy and result in conditions like anemia, pre-eclampsia, mood swings, fatigue, or leg cramps.

A deficiency of certain minerals, such as zinc, is responsible for initiating premature labor in some cases.

How does mother's diet during pregnancy affect the baby?

As long as there is no family history of medical diseases, eating the right kind of food will ensure a healthy baby and pregnancy. A study was conducted on how a baby’s health at birth is directly related to the mother’s diet during her pregnancy. 95% of the women which are on an excellent diet, have healthy babies. Whereas, only 8% of the women thriving on junk food had healthy babies, and 65% had premature, malnourished, or functionally immature babies.

Every bite counts, so whatever an expectant mother eats or does not eat, affects her child. Lack of folic acid in the first trimester increases the risk of spinal tube defects and lip and palate deformities. Lack of protein and calories in the last trimester could affect the development of the baby’s brain. If you want your baby to grow up healthy, you need a well-balanced diet including vitamins, minerals, proteins, and substantial calories for its all-round development.

How many calories does an expectant mother require?

In the early months of pregnancy, a pregnant woman does not need to change her diet. However, as the pregnancy advances, she might need to increase calorific intake by 500 additional calories a day. This normally happens in the second and third trimesters, but if you eat more than this amount, you will gain unnecessary weight.
You should avoid junk foods like burgers, fries, or cookies, as these constitute empty calories. What you need is a sufficient amount of proteins, carbohydrates, minerals, and vitamins. However, your pregnancy does not entitle you to eat for two. In fact, if you do eat for two, you will gain too much weight. In this case, you will not only be inviting unnecessary complications, but you might also have difficulty in shedding your excess weight after pregnancy. A recent study has shown that in addition to a normal diet of 1,500-2,000 calories, a pregnant woman needs to take only 300 additional calories per day. That is as many calories as one additional bottle or can of coke. Keep in mind that you are trying to feed only a tiny fetus whose entire weight gain in 9 months is 6-8 pounds.

Are vitamin supplements necessary?

Due to morning sickness and food aversions, it is not possible to maintain a nutritious diet completely. Although vitamins can not take the place of a good antenatal diet, they are more like insurance for you and your baby. Researches have shown that women who take vitamins before pregnancy and during the first month greatly reduce the risk of neural tube defects in their babies.

Which dietary supplements does a woman need during pregnancy?

Studies have shown that a lack of folic acid in the first trimester can increase the risk of some defects in the baby. Vitamins, iron, and calcium are essential in a pregnant woman’s diet. In fact, most doctors also recommend daily supplements of folic acid and vitamin B12 starting from the first month of pregnancy. Iron and calcium should be included into the diet after the first trimester, especially iron-fortified multivitamin supplements formulated for pregnancy and lactation. Although most supplements are over-the counter medicines, you should make sure that you discuss them with your doctor first.

Whether a woman is pregnant is not, a healthy diet includes proteins, carbohydrates, fats, vitamins, minerals, and plenty of water. Doctors have published a number of dietary guidelines that can help you determine how many servings of each kind of food to eat every day. Eating a variety of food in the proportions indicated is a good step toward both you and your baby staying healthy.

 Here are some of the most common nutrients and the food types that contain them.

    * Protein: cell growth and blood production; lean meat, fish, poultry, egg whites, beans, peanut butter, and tofu.
    * Carbohydrates: daily energy production; breads, cereals, rice, potatoes, pasta, fruits, and vegetables.
    * Calcium: strong bones and teeth, muscle contraction, nerve function; milk, cheese, yogurt, sardines or salmon, and spinach.
    * Iron: red blood cell production, to prevent anemia; lean red meat, spinach, iron-fortified whole-grain breads and cereals.
    * Vitamin A: healthy skin, good eyesight, growing bones; carrots, dark leafy greens, and sweet potatoes.
    * Vitamin C: healthy gums, teeth, and bones, as well as assistance with iron absorption; citrus fruit, broccoli, and tomatoes.
    * Vitamin B6: red blood cell formation; effective use of protein, fat, and carbohydrates; pork, ham, whole-grain cereals, and bananas.
    * Vitamin B12: formation of red blood cells, and maintaining nervous system health; meat, fish, poultry, and milk.
    * Vitamin D: healthy bones and teeth and aids absorption of calcium; fortified milk, dairy products, cereals, and breads.
    * Folic acid: blood and protein production and effective enzyme function; green leafy vegetables, dark yellow fruits and vegetables, beans, peas, and nuts.
    * Fat: body energy stores; meat, whole-milk dairy products, nuts, peanut butter, margarine, or vegetable oils.

Calcium is another important nutrient for pregnant women because your growing baby's calcium demands are high. Increasing your calcium consumption to prevent a loss of calcium from your own bones is highly recommended. The best food sources of calcium are milk and other dairy products, but if you dislike these, you might ask your doctor about other calcium supplements. There are also other calcium-rich foods, which include sardines or salmon with bones, tofu, broccoli, spinach, and calcium-fortified juices and foods. Evidence of low calcium is muscular cramping especially in the lower legs, most commonly experienced in the third trimester. During this time the baby’s bones are becoming rapidly denser, so the symptoms most commonly occur at this time.

What about vegetarians?

It is true that doctors usually do not recommend starting a strict vegan diet while pregnant. However, if you’re already following a vegetarian diet, you may continue with it during your pregnancy, but you need to be very careful. You have to be sure your doctor knows about your diet because it is challenging to get the nutrition you need if you do not eat fish and chicken, or milk, cheese, or eggs. You will probably need supplemental protein and may also need to take vitamin B12 and D supplements. To ensure that you and your baby receive adequate nutrition, consult a registered dietitian for help with planning meals and avoiding unwanted consequences.

Which food should you avoid during pregnancy?

Generally you should avoid alcohol, because no level of alcohol consumption is considered safe during pregnancy. You should also check with your doctor before you take any vitamins or herbal products, because some of these can be harmful to the developing fetus. Many doctors feel that one or two 6- to 8-ounce cups per day of coffee, tea, or soda with caffeine will not harm your baby, but it may still be wise to avoid it during your pregnancy. High caffeine consumption has been linked to an increased risk of miscarriage, so you might consider switching to decaffeinated products.

While pregnant, it is particularly important to avoid food-borne illnesses such as listeriosis and toxoplasmosis. Those diseases can be life-threatening to an unborn baby and may cause birth defects or miscarriage.

Food you should steer clear of also includes soft, unpasteurized cheeses, such as feta, goat, Brie, Camembert, and blue cheese, as well as unpasteurized milk, juices, apple cider, raw eggs (including mousse and tiramisu). This group of food also includes raw or undercooked meat, fish, or shellfish, and processed meat such as hot dogs and deli meat.

If you have eaten such food at some point during your pregnancy, try not to worry too much about it now; just avoid it in the future. You will also want to avoid eating shark, swordfish, king mackerel, or tilefish, as well as limit the amount of other kinds of fish that you normally eat. Although fish and shellfish can be an extremely healthy part of your pregnancy diet, these types of fish may contain high levels of mercury, which can cause damage to the developing brain of a fetus.

Read More: Nutrition During Pregnancy for Vegetarians

Avoiding some common problems during pregnancy

Because iron in prenatal vitamins and other factors may cause constipation during pregnancy, it is definitely a good idea to eat more fiber than you did before, ideally about 20-30 grams every day. The best sources of fiber are fresh fruit and vegetable, as well as whole-grain breads, cereals, or muffins. If constipation is a problem for you, ask your doctor to prescribe a stool softener. Be sure to drink plenty of fluid, especially water, when increasing fiber intake. If you forget to, you can make your constipation worse. One of the best ways to avoid constipation is to get more exercise and drink plenty of water between meals.

Some pregnant women find that broccoli, spinach, cauliflower, and fried foods give them heartburn or gas so you might want to avoid these.
If you're frequently nauseated, eat small amounts of bland food, like toast or crackers. The main goal is to use different food groups in approximately the recommended proportions. If nausea or lack of appetite causes you to eat less at times, do not worry. This is unlikely to cause fetal harm because your baby gets first crack at the nutrients you consume. It is generally recommended that a woman of normal weight gains approximately 25-35 pounds during pregnancy. Although most women gain 4-6 pounds during the first trimester and 1 pound a week during the 2nd and 3rd trimesters, so do not fixate on the scale. Instead, focus on eating a good variety and balance of nutritious food to keep both you and your baby healthy, which is the only important thing.