As soon as I knew that I was pregnant, one of the first areas of my life that I wanted to focus on was my physical and mental health. I recognised that what I fed my mind and body was paramount; my baby’s healthy growth depended on it as did my own.
So began my journey into researching and discovering the most nutritious plan for me. I sought out “my best fit” in terms of doctors, nutritionists and mental wellbeing therapists whose working style, thought process and ethos deeply resonated with me.
I have discovered a lot along the way and would LOVE to share all of it with you. By doing so, my hope is to be a starting point or provide any help (big or small) to help you navigate your pregnancy journey and wellbeing.
(I’ve divided up all the information into a question-answer format, so you can read through all or just go down to the question that you most want answered)
HOW MUCH WEIGHT WOULD I GAIN & HOW WOULD IT BE DISTRIBUTED?
The Institute of Medicine (IOM) guidelines for total weight gain during a full-term pregnancy recommend that:
•Underweight women, who have a Body Mass Index (BMI) below 18.5, should gain 28 to 40 lbs. (12.7 to 18 kilograms).
•Normal weight women, who have a BMI of 18.5 to 24.9, should gain 25 to 35 lbs. (11.3 kg).
•Overweight women, who have a BMI of 25.0 to 29.9, should gain 15 to 25 lbs. (6.8 to 11.3 kg).
•Obese women, who have a BMI of 30.0 and above, should gain 11 to 20 lbs. (5 to 9 kg).
As I was neither underweight nor overweight according to my height and structure, at the time of conception, I knew I fell in the second category. I also asked my doctor what the weight gain should look like and I was told in general, the gain would be about 2 to 4 pounds during the first three months of pregnancy and 1 pound a week during the rest of my pregnancy. If you are expecting twins you should gain 35 to 45 pounds during your pregnancy. This would be an average of 1 ½ pounds per week after the usual weight gain in the first three months.
How is this weight distributed?
•Baby: 8 pounds
•Placenta: 2-3 pounds
•Amniotic fluid: 2-3 pounds
•Breast tissue: 2-3 pounds
•Blood supply: 4 pounds
•Stored fat for delivery and breastfeeding: 5-9 pounds
•Larger uterus: 2-5 pound
•Total: 25-35 pounds
WHAT IS NUTRITIOUS FOR MY BODY? WHAT SHOULD I FOCUS ON EATING?
A pregnant woman needs more calcium, folic acid iron and protein than a non-expecting woman. The explanation is simple: your body is feeding the baby with as many nutrients as it needs to thrive which means you may be left with zero, or in the worst-case scenario – none.
This leads to hormonal imbalances which can contribute to postpartum depression. The loss of minerals and essential vitamins can result in weight fluctuation, troublesome skin, hair fall and so on.
In order to avoid and/or lessen these host of issues make sure you eat:
Essential Nutrients: For a healthy pregnancy, you need to include protein-rich foods, foods high in calcium, vitamin C, vitamin D, folic acid, iron in your diet! Some essentials in your diet should be an array of vegetables and fruits, whole grains and legumes, iron-rich foods, the right amount of fats and salty foods, water and other fluids, along with prenatal vitamin supplements.
Calcium: This is the mineral that would be used to build the baby’s bone and teeth and protecting your own. If the calcium in a pregnant woman’s body is lower the mineral will be drawn from the mother’s stores and given to the baby, which can lead to aches and pains during the pregnancy whilst contributing to osteoporosis and many other teeth and bone complications long term. Great food sources for calcium include milk, cheese, sardines or salmon, leafy greens, legumes, dried fruit & various foods fortified with calcium.
Vitamin D: Another vitamin that works well with calcium to develop a baby’s bones and teeth is Vitamin D so make sure to aid with supplementation other than foods fortified with Vitamin D.
Folic Acid: Folic acid, also known as folate, is a B vitamin that is crucial in preventing birth defects in the baby’s brain and spinal cord. It may be hard to get the recommended amount of folic acid from diet alone hence a daily supplement is needed. I took folic acid when we decided to get pregnant and continue to take it during this pregnancy. Some main food sources of folic acid are: leafy green vegetables, asparagus, beets, eggs, fortified or enriched cereals, breads and pastas, beans, citrus fruits.
Iron: Iron is next in line as an essential nutrient during pregnancy. Pregnant women need double the amount of iron a day, compared to women who are not expecting. Additional amounts of the mineral are needed to increase blood production to supply the baby with oxygen. Getting too little iron during pregnancy can lead to anemia, a condition resulting in fatigue and an increased risk of infections. To increase the absorption of iron, include a good source of vitamin C at the same meal when eating iron-rich foods. For example, have a glass of orange juice with a steak and a side of broccoli & spinach. Food sources of iron include red meat, poultry, fish, dried beans/legumes and peas, spinach, silverbeet, broccoli, pumpkin seeds, quinoa & iron-fortified cereal.
Protein: Protein is also needed in abundance during pregnancy as it’s a builder nutrient and it helps to build important organs for the baby such as the brain & heart. Food sources include lean meat, poultry, fish, dried beans/legumes and peas, eggs, seeds, nuts & dairy products.
HOW WOULD THIS TRANSLATE INTO CALORIES THAT I NEEDED TO CONSUME?
With all this information under my belt I was adamant to gain weight via a healthy diet and wholesome delicious home cooked meals that would support me throughout this journey. My plan for the first trimester was to focus on keeping my diet full of vibrant nutritious foods that would help with my baby’s development and keep my energy up without adding more calories than I was consuming in general. I was to add 300 – 350 calories to my daily diet in the second trimester (which can be done by adding a bowl of porridge made in full fat milk with fruit on top or a home-made chicken/vegetable sandwich in whole wheat bread). And in the third trimester when the baby gains most of its weight I was to add an extra 500 calories to my daily diet.
HOW MANY SERVINGS OF EACH FOOD GROUP SHOULD I HAVE IN A DAY TO MEET MY PREGNANCY NUTRITION NEEDS?
This nutrition chart clearly breaks down what food groups I needed to tick everyday & also lists the amount of servings I needed to have from each food group to meet all pregnancy nutritional requirements. The chart helped me stay on track & monitor what I ate.
HOW DO I ADAPT THIS TO MY REGIONAL DIET?
I am a big believer in eating as much local produce as possible. So, during travelling I gorged on exotic fruits and vegetables like avocados, brussel sprouts, quinoa & pumpkin seeds but when here in Pakistan (which is where I pre-dominantly reside), my diet mainly consisted of our absolutely delicious local “sabzis”, “phal” & “roti/ chawal.”
I made sure that I was sourcing the most organic produce I could get my hands on as I knew that would be the most nutritious and beneficial.
Some of my favorite vegetables during my pregnancy have been:
•Bhindi (It has a high fiber content and aids in digestion)
•Tori (It is low in saturated fat, cholesterol and calories that aid in weight loss)
•Palak (It is an insoluble fiber that aids in digestion)
•Chukandar (Helps improve blood production and reduces risk of anaemia)
•Aloo (Helps build bone structure) matar (Helpful for preventing high blood pressure)
•Karela (Contains iron, magnesium, potassium, vitamin C and is an excellent source of fibre.)
These vegetables are all packed with Vitamin-C, zinc, iron, magnesium and a host of other vitamins & minerals.
Some of my favorite fruits to have during this time have been:
•Sapota (Chikoo) (It is good for bones, is packed with antioxidants, helps in digestion and controls blood pressure)
•Mangoes (They contain a high level of vitamin C, fibre and pectin making it a perfect fruit that helps in controlling high cholesterol level)
•Watermelon (Helps hydrate the body and prevents muscle soreness)
•Pomegranate (Helps lower blood pressure and has anti-inflammatory effects)
•Apples (They are extremely rich in important antioxidants, flavanoids, and dietary fibre. The antioxidants in apples may help reduce the risk of developing cancer, hypertension, diabetes, and heart disease)
•Bananas (They are good for heart health and blood pressure, can aid in digestion and help beat gastrointestinal issues)
•Oranges (keeps blood pressure, cholestrol and sugar level in check).
I made sure I had these fruits in the seasons they were available as opposed to having any frozen or canned fruit to get maximum nutrition & taste.
Where grains were concerned other than my whole wheat toast, I had both Bajray (It is rich in magnesium, which helps keep the heart healthy and potassium, which dilates blood vessels and thus helps reduce overall blood pressure.) & Jawar ki Roti (it is high in fibre and packed with vitamins and minerals), and had the best sourced brown & white rice.
For my dairy intake, I had fresh cow’s milk every day, and used that to make yogurt or paneer at home as that has many benefits & is the easiest on the stomach. My desi ghee, that I liberally put in everything from my daal to on top of my rotis was made by a family friend at their farm & hence was not only brimming with nutrition but could not be compared to the store-bought variety when it came to taste & it smelled divine.
When it came to protein, I only had desi eggs, desi chicken & sourced other kinds of organic and fresh meats from the local farmers markets!
WHAT WERE SOME OF MY FAVORITE FOOD COMBINATIONS TO BOOST MY PREGNANCY DIET?
1. Dairy + Canned Sardines= Strong Baby Bones
2. Dry Toast + Apple + Ginger Tea
3. Chicken + Yogurt + Nuts= Cell Growth & Repair
4. Fish + Avocados = Baby Brain Boost
5. Lentils + Fortified Grains = Birth Defect Prevention
6. Strawberries + Red Peppers = Preterm Delivery Prevention
7. Lean Red Meat + Spinach = Red Blood Cells Production
8. Whole Gains + Water = Regularity
9. (Chaqandar + Anaar + Orange) Juice = Red Blood cells production
10. Bajray ki roti + aloo matar = Helps Maintain A Healthy Blood Pressure
11. Akhrot + homemade dahi = Improved Brain Function (you can add banana slices for instant energy
12. Palak + Brown Rice = Improved Digestion
13. Desi chicken + fish = Improved Development of Bones, Organs and Cells of the baby
14. (Green apple+ Cucumber + Palak) Juice = Improved Digestion and Red Blood Cell Production
WHAT IS THE RIGHT AMOUNT OF FLUID INTAKE DURING PREGNANCY?
When you’re pregnant, you need more water than the average person in order to form amniotic fluid, produce extra blood, build new tissue, carry nutrients, enhance digestion, and flush out wastes and toxins. It’s recommended that you drink 8-12 glasses of water a day, or 2.3 liters.
Other ways to keep your body hydrated:
1. Add fruits such as lemons, limes, and frozen raspberries to your water.
2. Avoid caffeine.
3. Increase your fruit and vegetable intake (particularly green vegetables like cucumber and citrus fruits have a high-water content)
4. Milk, juice, sparkling water, tea, and soups all count as water or fluid intake.
5. Stay out of the heat. Exercise indoors or early or late in the day.
WHAT VITAMINS WERE I TO HAVE DURING MY PREGNANT?
Another staple part of your diet should be vitamins! While many of the fruits and vegetables like bananas and oranges are packed with vitamins, you’ll need higher levels of vitamin supplementation during pregnancy.
I took Folic Acid as soon as I decided to get pregnant as it would allow time to build it in my body & it would help prevent birth defects of the baby’s brain and spinal cord.
I had Femibion 1 pregnancy multivitamin for the first three months of my pregnancy & switched to Femibion 2 (Pregnancy + Lactation) in my fourth month which I am meant to continue until I stop breastfeeding. The multivitamin includes Vitamin B1 (thiamine), Vitamin B3 (nicotinamide), Vitamin B5 (pantothenic acid), Vitamin B6, Vitamin B7 (biotin), Vitamin B9 (folic acid), Vitamin B 12, L – methylfolate ( the active form of folic acid), Vitamin E, Vitamin C & Iodine (for people with thyroid issues they do a version without iodine). Alongside I took Vitamin D as that improves maternal Vitamin D and may reduce risk of pre- eclampsia, low birthweight and preterm birth.
WHAT WERE SOME DON’TS IN MY PREGNANCY DIET?
1. High-Mercury Fish
Mercury is a toxic metal, commonly found in polluted waters. Since it’s found in polluted seas, large marine fish can accumulate high amounts of mercury. Exposure to it in higher amounts can be toxic to the nervous system, immune system and kidneys. It may also cause serious developmental problems in children. Therefore, pregnant women are advised to limit their consumption of high mercury fish to no more than 1–2 servings per month. Some basic examples of high-mercury fish include:
•Tuna (especially albacore tuna)
However, it’s important to note that not all fish are high in mercury. Consuming low-mercury fish during pregnancy is very healthy, and these fish can be eaten up to twice a week. Fatty fish is high in omega-3 fatty acids, which are very important for your baby.
In fact, you should talk to your nutritionist and gynaecologist and make fish oil supplements a staple part of your daily intake as they have multiple health benefits!
2. Undercooked or Raw Fish
Raw fish, especially shellfish, can cause several infections. Some of these infections only affect the mother, leaving her dehydrated and weak. While, other infections like listeria can be passed to an unborn baby through the placenta, even if the mother is not showing any signs of illness. This can lead to premature delivery, miscarriage, stillbirth and other serious health problems Pregnant women are therefore advised to avoid raw fish and shellfish. This includes many sushi dishes.
3. Undercooked, Raw and Processed Meat
Eating undercooked or raw meat increases your risk of infection from several bacteria or parasites. Bacteria may threaten the health of your unborn baby, possibly leading to stillbirth or severe neurological illnesses, including intellectual disability, blindness and epilepsy. While most bacteria are found on the surface of whole pieces of meat, other bacteria may linger inside the muscle fibers. Cut meat, including meat patties, burgers, minced meat, pork and poultry, should never be consumed raw or undercooked. Hot dogs, lunch meat and deli meat are also of concern. These types of meat may become infected with various bacteria during processing or storage. Pregnant women should not eat processed meat products unless they’ve been reheated until steaming hot.
4. Raw Eggs
Raw eggs can be contaminated with Salmonella. Often only the mother experiences symptoms from this like fever, nausea, vomiting, stomach cramps and diarrhea. However, in rare cases, the infection may cause cramps in the uterus, leading to premature birth or stillbirth Foods that commonly contain raw eggs include:
•Lightly scrambled eggs
•Homemade ice cream
Most commercial products that contain raw eggs are made with pasteurized eggs and are safe to consume. However, it is best to read labels. Pregnant women should always cook eggs thoroughly or use pasteurized eggs.
5. Organ Meat
Organ meat is packed with iron, vitamin B12, vitamin A and copper — all of which are good for an expectant mother and her child. However, eating too much animal-based vitamin A (preformed vitamin A) is not recommended during pregnancy. It may cause vitamin A toxicity, as well as abnormally high copper levels, which can result in birth defects and liver toxicity. Therefore, pregnant women should not eat organ meat more than once a week.
Pregnant women are generally advised to limit their caffeine intake to less than 200 mg per day or about 2-3 cups of coffee. Caffeine is absorbed quickly and passes easily into the placenta and fetus. Because unborn babies and their placentas don’t have the main enzyme needed to metabolize caffeine, high levels can build up and restrict fetal growth and result in low birth weight which is associated with increased risk of infant death and chronic diseases as the kid grows into adulthood.
7. Raw Sprouts
Raw sprouts, including alfalfa, clover, radish and mung bean sprouts, may be contaminated with Salmonella. The humid environment required by seeds to start sprouting is ideal for these kinds of bacteria, and they’re almost impossible to wash off. For this reason, pregnant women are advised to avoid raw sprouts altogether. However, sprouts are safe to consume after they have been cooked and so pregnant women should only have them when they’re properly cooked.
8. Unwashed Produce
The surface of unwashed or unpeeled fruits and vegetables may be contaminated with several bacteria and parasites Bacteria can harm both the mother and her unborn baby. One very dangerous parasite that may linger on fruits and vegetables is called Toxoplasma. The majority of people who get Toxoplasmosis have no symptoms, while others may feel like they have the flu for a month or more. Most infants who are infected with Toxoplasma can suffer from blindness or intellectual disabilities later in life.
9. Unpasteurized Milk, Cheese and Fruit Juice
Raw milk and unpasteurized cheese can contain an array of harmful bacteria, including Listeria, Salmonella, E. coli and Campylobacter. Unpasteurized juice is also prone to bacterial contamination. These infections can all have life-threatening consequences for an unborn baby. The bacteria can be naturally occurring or caused by contamination during collection or storage. Pasteurization is the most effective way to kill any harmful bacteria, without changing the nutritional value of the products. To minimize the risk of infections, pregnant women are advised to consume only pasteurized milk, cheese and fruit juice. Unpasteurized foods increase the risk of bacterial infections, miscarriage, stillbirth and fetal alcohol syndrome.
11. Processed Junk Foods
Pregnancy is a time of rapid growth. As a result, pregnant women need increased amounts of many essential nutrients, including protein, folate and iron. Yet even though you’re essentially eating for two, you don’t need twice the calories — about 350–500 extra calories per day during the second and third trimesters should be enough. Processed junk food is generally low in nutrients and high in calories, sugar and added fats and can cause increased risk of developing several diseases, including type 2 diabetes and heart disease. Excessive intake of junk food can also cause gestational diabetes, as well as pregnancy or birth complications. It can also increase your risk of having an overweight child and this can cause problems for them later in life.
LAST BUT NOT THE LEAST:
It’s important to remember that you, your body and your pregnancy are extremely unique and at the end of the day your body will let you know what it needs and your heart and mind will align to carve out your own pregnancy adventure.
Here’s wishing you lots of love and joy through it. You’ve got this, Mama!