Eating Healthily During Pregnancy
When you’re pregnant, eating a healthy diet and making sure you get enough of the essential vitamins and minerals is important.
Certain vitamins and minerals become particularly important – calcium, folic acid, iron, vitamin C (which helps you absorb iron) and vitamin D, as well as Omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids.
Normally, we need three portions of calcium a day to be healthy, but in pregnancy, five portions of dairy foods are required like milk, cheese, yoghurt and fromage frais to support ourselves and our growing babies. Choose low-fat varieties where you can – they contain the same amount of calcium as full-fat products.
Remember to avoid soft ripened cheeses like Brie and blue-veined cheeses like Stilton and unpasteurised dairy products while pregnant because of the risk of listeria. If you don’t eat dairy products, choose calcium-enriched soya milks and products to make sure you get enough of this vital mineral.
This vitamin is known as the ‘sunshine vitamin’ and helps you to absorb calcium and is essential for your bone health and the bone development of your growing baby.
Oily fish will help you here, such as salmon, mackerel as well as a limited quantity of tuna. And there’s nothing better than a little sunlight – not in great supply in Ireland – but try to get outside at least once a day if you can. You’ll also find that certain brands of milk and cereal are fortified with vitamin D, so check the label. Research has shown that Irish women don’t get enough vitamin D, so taking a supplement is advised.
This B vitamin is essential to help you reduce the risk of your baby developing a neural tube defect (NTD), such as spina bifida, which can result in varying degrees of paralysis.
You can find folic acid in green vegetables such as broccoli, spinach and beans, but this won’t be a sufficient intake so it is recommended that you take a folic acid supplement to make sure you’re getting all the folic acid you need. Folic acid supplements are readily available in pharmacies and are recommended even if you’re thinking about becoming pregnant. You’ll need to take your supplement every day for up to two months before conception and then for 12 weeks after. If your pregnancy was unplanned, start taking your supplement now and talk to your healthcare provider at your first appointment for guidance.
Iron is very important in pregnancy because it keeps your blood healthy and supports your baby’s development. If you are a meat-eater, it’s easy to keep your iron levels healthy by eating red meats such as beef, lamb and pork, as well as chicken and fish. If you’re a vegetarian, dried fruit such as prunes, apricots, green vegetables such as broccoli and spinach, pulses such as beans and legumes, or eggs will provide you with iron. Vitamin C will help you to absorb iron in your diet, so eat plenty of fruit and veg, particularly oranges, kiwi fruits, tomatoes, berries, peppers and of course, green vegetables. Drink a class of orange juice with your meal to help you make the most of the iron in the food.
Omega 3 and Omega 6
These fatty acids are important for developing your baby’s brain and eyes, and can be found in oily fish such as herring, mackerel, salmon, sardines, trout and white fish, such as cod and whiting.
If you find fish hard to eat, meat and chicken also contain Omegas 3 and 6, as does wholegrain bread and breakfast cereals and seeds like pumpkin seeds. You’ll also find Omega 3 and 6 in some vegetable oils, such as rapeseed, flaxseed, linseed and walnut oil – but use sparingly in your cooking.
If you are concerned about not getting enough vitamins and minerals, speak to your midwife or doctor at your next appointment.