By Marina Vuckov (BHSc. Clinical Nutritionist)
The journey of pregnancy is an exciting time of your life - but did you know it’s also a critical period where nutrition plays a vital role in your and your baby’s health? Your unborn baby relies completely on your nutrient intake to grow and develop, which makes what you eat during pregnancy so crucial.
Wondering exactly how what you eat helps baby and you in pregnancy? Here are 5 key ways:
- Your diet affects your baby’s growth and development
Studies have shown that a woman’s diet prior to and during pregnancy impacts not only the health of her newborn baby, but also as her child grows, and even in adulthood – which means you have an amazing opportunity to give to your child the best health possible.
Eating well in pregnancy means that your baby receives all the essential nutrients for proper growth and development.
As well as maintaining an overall balanced diet, there are particular nutrients which are crucial during this time. For example, iron, calcium, folic acid/folate, vitamin C and protein, support the growth of the baby's bones, organs and tissues. Magnesium and zinc have many benefits for mother and baby during pregnancy, such as helping lessen risk of pre-eclampsia and pre-term birth.
- Your pregnancy diet can reduce the risk of birth complications
Research has found that healthy nutrition during pregnancy can help decrease the risk of birth defects.
For example, folate or folic acid (the artificial form of folate) is one of the B vitamins, and a key nutrient for the development of the baby’s neural tube, which forms their spinal cord and brain. Taking folate or folic acid before you conceive and during pregnancy has been shown to significantly decrease the risk of neural tube defects, such as spina bifida.
Just a note - folic acid is not as easy to break down (metabolise) as the natural form of folate, so it may not be as well absorbed by the body.
Another important nutrient, vitamin D is crucial for bone development in babies, while zinc deficiency in the mother to be pregnancy may increase risk of low birth weight, congenital malformations and delayed immune system development.
(photo: example of a balanced meal with a variety of vegetables, salmon, avocado and brown rice)
- Improves the mother’s health in pregnancy and beyond
There are many changes happening in our body during pregnancy, and when you stop to think about it, how amazing is it that we can grow a human being within us?
Some of the big changes happening are an increase in blood volume, changes to your immune system (as your immune system is under increased load, you are at greater risk of developing a respiratory infection or virus). And of course, let’s not forget about the hormonal changes - welcome mood swings and crying at random television commercials!
Eating well during pregnancy helps to support your own health during pregnancy. Nutrition has been found to affect the risk of complications such as high blood pressure, preeclampsia, gestational diabetes, and anaemia (iron deficiency), as well as strengthening your immune function.
- Helps achieve a healthy weight gain in pregnancy
Gaining weight during pregnancy is completely normal and important for the baby's growth and development. Unfortunately, gaining too much weight can increase your risk of complications such as pre-term birth (the baby being born too early), high blood pressure and gestational diabetes.
The recommended amount of weight gain varies based on your weight before getting pregnant and is something you may wish to talk to your obstetrician or nutritionist about.
The important thing to know is, that what you eat while you are pregnant plays an significant role in determining just how much weight you gain during pregnancy, and can help prevent these complications.
It’s likely you’ve heard that we should be ‘eating for two’ – but that’s actually not the case. For example, in the first trimester, no additional calories are actually needed. In the second and third trimesters you do need additional energy, but it’s probably less than you imagine. If fact, one or two additional balanced snacks a day should get you there.
Important note: Rather than focusing on calorie intake and how much you are eating, it’s always best to focus on what you are eating – and really upping the nutrients in your diet. Choose nutrient dense foods rather than sugary or processed foods and your baby and body will thrive!
- Improved long-term health outcomes for your baby and you
Eating well during pregnancy can have long-term health benefits for both the mother and baby.
Research has found that what a woman eats leading up to and during pregnancy can help decrease your baby’s risk of developing chronic diseases such as obesity, type 2 diabetes, and heart disease later in life.
Photo: almonds. High in magnesium, helping strengthen the baby’s bones, they also help stabilise blood glucose levels and keep you full.
So you can see how what you eat during pregnancy is so important for both you and your baby's health.
Making sure you get plenty of essential nutrients helps your baby grow and develop, reduces the chances of birth defects, keeps you well, and improves long-term health outcomes for your child.
By making your nutrition a top priority during your pregnancy, you're supporting the health of your baby and laying the groundwork for a bright future.
A quick note on pregnancy supplements
Studies indicate that taking specific nutrient supplements can enhance pregnancy outcomes for women, particularly when dietary intake is inadequate. However, considering that nutrient need differ from woman to woman, it is recommended to consult with a qualified practitioner, such as a Clinical Nutritionist for personalised guidance.
If you are pregnant or trying to conceive and looking for guidance on the best diet for you, I’d love to help support you. I offer a free 10-minute call where we can chat about your health concerns and whether personalised diet and lifestyle support could help you and your baby. You can book that here
Marina is a degree-qualified, Clinical Nutritionist and Physiotherapist, with more than 12 years in the health field. She works with women, 1:1 specialising in hormonal health, digestive health, fertility, pregnancy and perimenopause. She considers the whole individual and provides personalised, nutrition and lifestyle support and strives to empower her clients so they can thrive again and live their best life.
Marina is based in Adelaide, South Australia but consults online and sees women from all over Australia and New Zealand.
You can also follow Marina on Instagram at @marinavuckov_nutrition for more on women’s health.
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