By Dr. Meghan van Drimmelen, ND
"Pregnancy provides a golden opportunity for us as women to focus on nurturing ourselves with good food and health habits." ~Dr. Meghan van Drimmelen | Naturopath Victoria
This empowers us – the better we eat, the better we feel, and what results is health and happiness – two key elements that optimize a better pregnancy, birth, and postpartum period. Good habits learned during pregnancy could also lead to lifelong habits and good health!
Weight gain in our society has negative connotations and for many women diet and the thought of weight gain can be emotionally charged. The healthiest babies are born to women who allow themselves natural weight gain during pregnancy. Maternal weight gain is a critical factor in determining an infant’s birth weight.
A pregnant women, regardless of her weight before conception, must have additional calories to support an increase in her own body metabolism and tissue production, plus the growth of her baby. During the first three months, weight gain is often minimal (~ 5 pounds). From the beginning of the fourth month the average weight gain for a pregnant woman is approximately 1 pound per week – or 28 pounds overall. In general, normal weight gain ranges from 25-35 pounds and underweight women should probably gain 28-40 pounds. While these are average figures, your total weight gain can be quite different.
During the first through sixth month, most of this weight will reflect an increase in blood volume, enlargement of breasts, uterus and associated tissue and fluid, and deposit of maternal fat – temporary gain during pregnancy. In the last three months the weight gain is primarily that of the infant. Thus, intentional calorie deprivation in the last trimester will place the greatest stress on the baby.
As a naturopath and women's health expert, I recommend focusing on the following pregnancy specific nutrients:
- Your baby’s body is being built, and protein is the material of choice.
- Your body does not store protein for later use. Extra protein is broken down and stored as fat. If your baby is going to get the protein she/he needs to grow, you have to eat it.
- Aim for 3-4 servings per day (60-100g of protein). A serving of protein is about the size of a deck of cards for meat or ½ cup of legumes, one egg, 2-3 tablespoons of nut butter.
Fish or fish oils (Omega 3 – DHA & EPA)
- Important for maintaining healthy pregnancy and for the brain development of your baby while you are pregnant and breastfeeding.
- Reduces incidence of postpartum depression.
- May reduce occurrence of pre-term labor, pre-eclampsia and fetal growth restriction.
- Reduces risk of atopic disease in infant (allergies, eczema, asthma).
- Eat low mercury fish such as wild salmon, rainbow trout, Atlantic mackerel, or sole. See Health Link BC at https://www.healthlinkbc.ca/healthlinkbc-files/mercury-fish for more information on mercury content in fish.
- Consider taking an omega 3 supplement.
- Calcium is the main component of bones and teeth and has been correlated in maintaining healthy blood pressure and preventing preeclampsia in pregnancy. Calcium combined with magnesium helps to decrease leg cramps in the third trimester.
- Calcium as a supplement is best absorbed in a 2:1 ratio with Magnesium.
- Calcium rich foods - dairy (milk, yogurt, cheese), soy milk, fortified almond, rice or coconut milk, tofu, dark leafy greens, beans, tahini, almonds.
- Consider taking a calcium supplement if your diet lacks calcium rich foods.
- Needed for the absorption of calcium.
- Vitamin D may block cancer cell proliferation, and improve mood and immune function.
- Gestational deficiencies are linked with osteoporosis , asthma and autism in children, gestational diabetes, low birth weight, and increased C-section rates.
- Often included in prenatal vitamin. If blood work determines you are deficient, you may have to take an additional vitamin D supplement.
- Deficiency associated with maternal anemia, neural tube defects, prematurity, congenital heart defects, cleft pallet, miscarriage and low birth weight.
- Higher doses are recommended for women who are at risk for neural rube defects, and women who have higher BMIs, epilepsy, and/or blood sugar abnormalities.
- Included in prenatal vitamin.
- Folic acid rich foods - dark green vegetables, legumes, beans and lentils.
- Deficiency associated with low birth weight, pre-term labour, C section delivery and postpartum depression.
- Low dosage included in prenatal vitamin.
- Iron rich foods - beef, chicken, pork, turkey, lamb, bison, beans, lentils, tofu, peas.
- Iron deficiency is incredibly common in pregnancy. If you are found to be deficient on blood work, an additional iron supplement may be recommended.
- Prevents atopic disease in infant (allergies, eczema, allergies).
- Boosts immune function – prevents colds/flus and urinary tract infections in pregnancy.
- Promotes healthy digestion.
- Prevents postpartum depression and anxiety.
- Food sources - yogurt, kefir
- Consider probiotic supplementation.
Talk with you local naturopath about pregnancy specific vitamin/mineral dosing.
To optimize your nutrition in pregnancy, try to incorporate foods from all of the food groups when you plan your daily menu.
Optimally you should be eating three meals and two snacks daily. Going without breakfast is like fasting! Fasting can increase the release of your body’s stress hormones and has been associated with complications in pregnancy including preterm labour. On average aim for ~1900 calories per day in the first trimester and ~2200 calories per day in the second and third trimesters.