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Diet in Pregnancy

According to the Recommended Dietary Allowances established by the National Academy of
Sciences, pregnant women require considerably more protein than non-pregnant women. Women
who normally consume about 45 grams of protein a day are advised to increase their daily
intake by 30 grams during pregnancy–the amount of protein in four cups of milk (whole or
skimmed) or yogurt or four ounces of natural cheese, canned tuna or chicken. A 25-to 50-percent
increase in most vitamins and minerals is also recommended. To meet these nutritional
requirements, pregnant women should eat a varied diet, including the daily consumption of foods
from each of four basic food groups–high-protein foods, such as meat, poultry, fish and
legumes; dairy products, such as milk, cheese and yogurt; grain products, such as breads,
cereals and rice; and fruits and vegetables.

Because a woman’s blood volume doubles during pregnancy, extra iron is essential to produce
healthy red blood cells. Since sufficient quantities of iron to meet this need are not obtained
in an average diet, doctors usually prescribe iron supplements during pregnancy in doses of 30
to 60 milligrams a day. Without supplementation, the woman risks becoming anemic, which increases
susceptibility to infection and illness. In fact, most doctors advise expectant mothers to take
multi-vitamin and mineral supplements during pregnancy to ensure an adequate supply of nutrients.
The supplements generally include folic acid, and, in the last trimester, calcium. In some women,
special vitamin and mineral supplementation may be necessary. Vegetarians, for example, may
require supplementary zinc, chromium and vitamin B12.

Like drugs, vitamin and mineral supplements should not be taken without consulting a doctor.
Similarly, pregnant women should not limit their consumption of specific foods, such as salt or
fluids, unless so directed by their doctors.

Substances to Avoid

All drugs consumed by an expectant mother are carried to the fetus to some degree. Because many
of them are known to be potentially harmful to an unborn child, and others may be risky,
self-medicating should be completely avoided. This means that any drug, prescription or non-prescription,
should be taken only under a doctor’s supervision as soon as pregnancy seems likely; the chances
of a drug’s damaging a fetus are greatest in the first 10 weeks.

Among the currently available prescription drugs that have been found to be potentially harmful to
the fetus are the steroidal hormones, estrogen and progestin (which were once used to prevent
miscarriages), and barbiturates, amphetamines and tranquilizers. Non-prescription drugs that may
cause problems in expectant mothers and/or their babies include aspirin and drugs containing iodine.
These drugs are contained in many over-the-counter products, including cold and cough remedies, sleeping
aids and medications that control nausea and vomiting. Many of these drugs also contain alcohol and
caffeine, substances that can create adverse effects when large amounts are consumed during pregnancy.

Alcohol has been linked to physical deformities, brain damage and growth problems among babies born
to women who drink as little as two alcoholic beverages a day. For this reason, the National Institute
on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism advises pregnant women to avoid alcohol completely.

The consumption of excessive quantities of caffeine, which is present in coffee, tea, cola and chocolate,
may be associated with increased risk to the fetus. It is wise, therefore, to limit its use during pregnancy.

Although studies of the effects of smoking during pregnancy have focused on only a few of the 4,000
substances contained in cigarette smoke, smoking has been clearly linked to low birth weights and increased
rates of infant death. Smoking also increases the risk of miscarriage and other complications. Women who
smoke should, therefore, seriously consider stopping or, at least, cutting down during pregnancy. Smoking
marijuana during pregnancy has not been extensively studied. The substance does, however, have proven effects
on a number of body systems and therefore may present risks to the fetus.

Common Problems

A number of minor digestive problems may also occur during pregnancy. Often, simple modifications in diet
can relieve them. Morning sickness, the nausea that frequently occurs during the early months of pregnancy,
may be controlled by eating hard candy or crackers when arising or eating frequent small meals throughout the
day. Constipation may be relieved by eating more fresh fruits and vegetables and drinking more fluids;
diarrhea, an unusual complaint, may be aided by eating more binding foods, such as rice and dry toast. Hearburn,
which occurs during the later states of pregnancy, drinking milk before eating and sleeping with the head of the
bed elevated. When symptoms are severe or persistent, the doctor should be consulted. If medications are
prescribed, they should be taken only as directed.

Summing Up

Diet plays an important role in the health of pregnant women and their babies. To meet the increased demand
for protein, vitamins and minerals, most expectant mothers should eat an additional 200 to 300 calories of
nutritious foods a day. Most doctors recommend a weight gain of at least 25 pounds by term. Vitamin and mineral
supplements, particularly iron and folic acid, are commonly prescribed to help ensure satisfying the pregnant
woman’s increased nutritional needs. Pregnant women should avoid excessive smoking, regular use of alcohol and
excessive amounts of caffeine. Self-medicating should be avoided completely; instead medical problems should be
brought to the attention of a doctorArticle Submission, whose directions regarding medications should be followed carefully.

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