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Nutritional Pitfalls During Pregnancy

As the circle of life unfolds, you may be at the stage where building your own family is uppermost in your plans.  If you have already started on this road, you may be experiencing the many changes involved with pregnancy.  Hopefully, you are one of those who blossom with pregnancy and seem to breeze through cheerfully like just another day in your life.   

If however, you are in the early stages of pregnancy and questioning your decision of having gotten pregnant, then you should stop and take stock of your nutritional practices.   Others like to plan ahead to make sure that they do not fall prey to the many negative symptoms they often hear about – heartburn and gas, bloating, ugly stretch marks and skin blemishes, stressful labour. Either way, nutritional health should be a primary goal to meet the challenges of pregnancy with confidence and to achieve successful child birth.

Eating for two

This is the first fallacy.  If you eat for two you will gain too much fat weight.  In the first three or so months, the fertilized egg is developing its true form and is a far way from growing rapidly in size let alone to have comparable energy needs of an adult.  Additional calorie needs in the first trimester of pregnancy is only about 150 calories per day, easily achieved with an extra spoon or two of rice and peas. 

Weight gain in the first twenty (20) weeks or so should be hardly noticeable and should average about 3.5 kg (8 lbs) for normal pregnancies. If you are already looking like 5-6 months pregnant when you are only 5-6 weeks, you have gained too much weight.  For an average size baby of about 7½ lbs (3.4kg), your total weight gain would be around 28-30 lbs at delivery.  Most of this weight gain will take place in the later weeks of pregnancy. From weeks 20-40 for a full term pregnancy, an average gain of about 1lb per week until term is normal. If you are already overweight, this is not the time to go on a restrictive reducing diet.  Controlling the rate of gain is more appropriate.  This is also the strategy for those who develop diabetes and high blood pressure during pregnancy. 

Unusual cravings and discomforts

Another fallacy is that it is normal to have cravings even for non-food items (called pica) such as chalk, ice, or sweets and to always be ‘letting it out at both ends’.  Such abnormalities usually indicate nutritional inadequacies in the diet and/or poor eating habits.  Satisfying increased nutritional needs is challenging enough without a new life to think about.  Nutrients especially of significance are protein, calcium, iron, zinc, folic acid, vitamins A, C, E and water.  Adequate fibre rich foods will keep clear bowels and avoid the frequent haemorrhoidal consequencies of pregnancy.  Don’t suffer in ignorance when you can seek the proper advice and support needed at this very critical time. Making food choices that are nourishing but which you also enjoy, in the correct quantities and combinations, is a skill that ought to be learnt.  There are no special foods other than those which are already classified in the six food groups.

Healthy eating during and after pregnancy

There are also many fallacies surrounding labour, breastfeeding and regaining your youthful shape after birth. There is no need for your body to fall apart simply because of a natural state such as pregnancy.  With the proper nutritional advice and exercise regime, you should be able to sail through this time with ease. Healthy eating is based on getting the correct amount and ratio of food from all six food groups which we use in the Caribbean. These are Staple Foods; Foods from Animals; Legumes (pulses and nuts); Fruits, Vegetables; Fats and Oils. 

Especially important at this time are foods high in calcium such as milk and dairy such as cheese, canned bony fish like sardines and mackerel; pulses; dark green leafy vegetables (DGLV) like pakchoi and callaloo. Iron is also critical since the baby must be born with enough iron in store to last for six months. Cow’s milk has no iron and neither does green banana nor beetroot.  Iron is found in some foods in common with high calcium such as DGLV, pulses like baked beans and bony canned fish. Fresh fish has neither calcium nor iron.  However red meat and offals like beef liver are good sources of iron. A qualified nutrition professional should be consulted on managing weight gain during pregnancy and eating healthily.  This will vary from person to person based on individualized nutritional needs. 

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