Lifestyle and Dietary Changes

Lifestyle & Dietary Changes

A healthy baby starts with a healthy mum. This means preparing your body for pregnancy and motherhood as early as possible - ideally before you even conceive.

What to eat during pregnancy:

Good nutrition will increase your chances of enjoying good health during pregnancy and help to give your baby the best possible start in life.

You don't need to go on a special diet during pregnancy but it is important to eat a balanced diet. This should include lots of fresh fruit and vegetables, protein, carbohydrates, fats, vitamins and minerals. Refined sugars, white flour, fried foods, processed foods, and chemical additives should be avoided.

You will also need to take some additional supplements.

The medical profession and the Government's Chief Medical Officer recommend that you take a 400 microgram (µg) folic acid supplement every day when trying to conceive right through until the 12th week of pregnancy. This supplement can help prevent birth defects such as spina bifida.

It's also a good idea to eat food rich in natural folic acid which is found in green leafy vegetables, fortified breakfast cereals, wholemeal bread and brown rice.

Pregnant women and women who are breastfeeding are also advised to take vitamin D supplements of 10 mg a day. Vitamin D helps your body to absorb calcium from food. The best natural source of Vitamin D is from sunlight but in the UK the sun is not always sufficient for our needs. Vitamin D is also found in a few foods including oily fish and eggs.

During your antenatal check-ups you'll be tested for anaemia. Many women start pregnancy low in iron and require supplements. Good natural sources of iron include: red meat, kidney, fortified breakfast cereals, bread, pulses, eggs and green vegetables.

A balanced diet should include plenty of fruit and vegetables to provide you with vitamin C essential for keeping the body's cells healthy. Good sources include broccoli, citrus fruits, blackcurrants, tomatoes and peppers.

Calcium is vital for your baby's bones and teeth. You can find this in dairy products and fish with edible bones such as sardines. Some cereals are fortified with extra calcium, and green leafy vegetables are another good source.

What to avoid during pregnancy

There are some foods and drinks that you'll be advised to avoid during pregnancy.

It's best to pass on coffee and other caffeine-rich items during pregnancy. A recent study led by the Norwegian Institute of Public Health suggests drinking even a single mug of coffee a day can reduce a baby's birthweight. While coffee was the main source of caffeine for most women in the study, other culprits including tea and chocolate. The Food Standards Agency in Britain advises pregnant women to limit caffeine intake to no more than 200mg per day (a mug of filter coffee contains around 140mgs).

Women are also often told to give-up alcohol during pregnancy. This is a tricky one as the research is mixed. The International Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology recently reported that light drinking during pregnancy (up to 2 units of alcohol a week) does not increase the risk of children developing behavioural or cognitive problems.

However, drinking too much alcohol during pregnancy increases the risk of your baby being born with fetal alcohol syndrome - a condition that causes heart problems and learning and behavioural difficulties.

Current government guidelines advise women to quit drinking altogether during pregnancy. For those who don't want to do this, it's advisable to cut-down to 1or 2 units once or twice a week (a unit = 10g of alcohol - half a 175ml glass of wine or half a pint of weak beer).

Some foods that are normally harmless, should be avoided during pregnancy as they carry a greater risk of making you or your baby ill. These include: raw eggs, undercooked meats, shellfish and unpasteurised products (including unpasteurised milk).

Soft cheeses such as brie and blue-veined cheese such as gorgonzola and all types of pâté should be avoided as these all carry the risk of infection from listeria. While undercooked eggs can put you at risk of salmonella food poisoning and raw or undercooked meats can carry E coli, toxoplasmosis and other infections.

Raw shellfish similarly can contain harmful bacteria that can cause food poisoning, while oily fish, such as fresh tuna, should be limited to two portions a week, as these can contain high levels of mercury.

You should also wash all fruit, vegetables and salad leaves and removal traces of soil to avoid risk of infection.

Your baby will be exposed to anything you ingest - so avoid toxic substances such as cigarettes or drugs and consult your doctor if you are taking any medications. Cigarette smoking during pregnancy causes lower birth weights and smaller-sized newborns. The rate of miscarriage in smokers is twice as high as that in nonsmokers, and babies born to mothers who smoke have more than twice the risk of dying from sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS). You should ask your GP or pharmacist about local smoking cessation services.

Exercising during pregnancy

After a positive pregnancy test, maintaining good health is vital. Exercising will tone and strengthen muscles, making it easier to carry the baby but vigorous exercise should be avoided. During pregnancy your body produces a hormone called relaxin which makes your ligaments more stretchy than normal (in preparation for childbirth). This can make you less stable than normal so it's important not to overdo it. For those who exercise regularly you should switch to a maintenance programme and avoid contact sports. For those who don't normally exercise, then pregnancy is a good time to start. The Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists recommends starting with 15 minutes of continuous exercise three times a week increasing gradually to 30 minute sessions from four times a week to daily. You should exercise at moderate intensity which means inducing an increase in your heart and breathing while still being able to hold a conversation.

You can ask your health provider about local classes for pregnant women such as antenatal yoga or aqua aerobics for pregnancy.

Weight loss programmes are not generally recommended during pregnancy but being overweight or obese carries a greater risk of complications. If you are planning to get pregnant but are already heavier than you should be, it is worth consulting your GP for advice on losing weight. There are many private and some NHS weight loss groups. These focus on a reduction of food energy intake (usually by about 600 calories a day) which works best in combination with exercise.

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