During pregnancy it is important to continue to eat a healthy balanced diet. For women with a normal pre-pregnancy weight, a weight gain of 11-16 kg over the pregnancy is normal and an extra 200 calories per day in the last three months of pregnancy is advised. No extra calories are needed until that point.
Aim to eat a healthy diet (which everyone should be eating, not just pregnant women). This should include a variety of foods including:
- Starch-based foods (such as bread, cereals, potatoes, rice, and pasta).
- Fruit and vegetables (wash them well)
- Plenty of fibre, which can be found in wholegrain breads as well as fruit and vegetables.
- Protein foods such as meat, fish, pulses, chicken, etc, every day. Choose lean meat, cut the fat off red meat and the skin off chicken.
- Dairy foods, such as yoghurt, milk and cheese.
Try to avoid adding fat and sugar.
Include foods with plenty of iron, calcium and folic acid – a growing baby needs these nutrients right from the start of the pregnancy. Iron is mainly found in red meat, pulses, dried fruit, green vegetables and fortified cereals. Dairy contains a lot of calcium, such as milk, cheese and yoghurt. (Low-fat milk, cheeses and yoghurts usually contain just as much calcium as the full-fat varieties.).
Try to drink 1,5 – 2 liters of water a day and avoid drinking more than 1 or 2 cups of coffee (with caffeine) a day. Smoothies are healthy but also contain a lot of (natural) sugars, one glass a day is advised.
Avoid raw red meat as this can contain toxoplasmosis. This parasite can cause complications in your pregnancy. It can be found in raw meat and on the droppings of young cats. So, only eat your meat cooked properly/’well-done’ and wear gloves when working in the garden or when cleaning the cat litter.
Listeria is a germ which does not usually cause problems in people who are not pregnant. However, pregnant women are more likely to become infected with listeria and it sometimes causes miscarriage, stillbirth or infections in the baby after birth. Foods which are most at risk of carrying listeria are:
- Undercooked meats. This may occur in some pre-cooked meats and pre-prepared meals. Make sure all meat foods are cooked until piping hot.
- Some mould-ripened and soft cheeses such as Brie, Camembert and blue-veined cheeses, it will say “au-lair-cru” of “rauwe melk” on the ingredients list. (Hard cheeses and processed cottage cheese are safe.)
- Pâtés – including vegetable pâtés.
- Vacuum packed salmon or other prepackaged fish. If you get your fish from the fish shop its fresh and you can eat it.
- Unpasteurised milk. Note: goat’s milk is often unpasteurised, and goat’s milk products such as cheeses are often made from unpasteurised milk.
- Raw vegetable and fruit salads should only be eaten when fresh and well refrigerated.
You need a small amount of vitamin A to keep healthy. However, large amounts can harm an unborn baby. So, avoid liver and liver products such as liver pâté and cod liver oil supplements.
In general, fish is a good source of protein and other nutrients. Aim to eat at least two portions of fish per week, with at least one portion being oily fish (mackerel, salmon or haring). Make sure you buy your fish fresh (at a fish shop instead of the super market), so it’s not prepackaged of vacuum packed. You can eat sushi and sashimi if bought at a sushi shop prepared that day.
Are you a vegetarian? make sure you eat enough products containing vitamin B and iron, e.g. wholegrain products, potatoes, beans, eggs and dairy.
Ideally take folic acid tablets from at least one month before you get pregnant, and continue taking them until at least the end of the 12th week of pregnancy – even if you are healthy and have a good diet. Folic acid is a naturally occurring vitamin found in spinach, sprouts, broccoli, green beans and potatoes. Some breads and breakfast cereals are fortified with folic acid. Because of the substantial benefits of folic acid, some countries routinely fortify staple foods, such as wheat, corn flour or rice, with folic acid. You need a good supply of folic acid when you are pregnant to help with the development of the baby. If you take folic acid tablets in early pregnancy you reduce the risk of having a baby born with a spinal cord problem such as spina bifida. You can buy folic acid tablets from pharmacies.
Vitamin D is needed for growth and supplements are recommended for all pregnant women, breast-feeding women and breast-fed babies. The dose if you are pregnant or breast-feeding is 400 units (10 micrograms) daily. Some experts think that women who get little or no sunshine on their skin need a higher dose, such as 800 units (20 micrograms) daily. This is because most of the vitamin D that we get is made in the skin with the help of sunlight.
Avoid taking vitamine A tablets, as too much vitamine A can be harmful for the health of your unborn baby.