The do’s and don’ts of pregnancy nutrition

By Liz Wilkes, My Midwives

Most women in Australia are lucky enough that pregnancy may be the first time in their life that they really need to engage with the health system. It is potentially the very first time in life that they start to focus on what they put into their body. This is a good start for both mother and baby as growing a baby is an important process.

You should aim to indulge in the best food you can find and afford, making sure that it is fresh and in season. It is also important to aim to prepare and eat food which has a minimum of additives. Having said that there are a few pregnancy specific do’s and don’ts that need to be considered.

Do’s

Basic dietary requirements do change as research develops and updated information is provided on government websites.To start, all women planning a pregnancy should consider their folate needs and should examine the various ways to obtain and absorb folate through the first trimester of pregnancy. Critically women who have previously had a baby with a neural tube defect should seek medical advice as they may have additional needs. Depending on their diet, women may need to consider vitamin and mineral supplements as there is an increased need for iodine, iron, calcium and magnesium.

Depending on their starting BMI, women should aim for 5-6 small meals per day (breakfast, lunch and dinner and 2 or 3 snacks). Eating protein at each meals assists to balance blood sugar levels and provides sufficient reserves for a growing baby. The idea of having smaller meals and snacks also aids with the digestive issues in pregnancy such as heartburn, nausea and indigestion.

As all women are different, women with additional challenges such as ill health and multiple pregnancy need additional planning and will potentially needs a specific plan.  Those who have allergies or pre-existing dietary needs would also benefit from directly consulting a midwife, dietician or a GP with interests in nutrition.  Fluid intake, particularly of water, is essential. 8 glasses of water should be sufficient in normal areas, although in very hot regions more water may be appropriate.

Don’ts

There are concerns around a range of bacteria present in food that may contribute to ill health for mother or baby. In the most severe situations, baby can be impacted seriously. Listeria and salmonella are two very significant food borne bacteria. To avoid being infected with these recommendations exists suggesting pregnant women avoid soft cheeses, processed meat, soft serve ice-cream, pre-made salads, take away that may have been rewarmed, uncooked egg yolks, products that contain uncooked egg, unwashed vegetables and fruits, meat that is not well cooked and pre-cooked chicken. Again, government websites generally contain a very comprehensive list of foods that can be problematic and women should exercise caution when eating food prepared outside the home.

Other factors to be considered include heavy metal contamination of some fish – with women being recommended to only consume large fish, such as tuna, no more than 1 serve per week.

There is no ‘safe’ level of alcohol consumption so it is best to avoid all alcohol where possible. 

Having a diet that is based in good nutritious food is far more sensible than watching your weight, however women who have started pregnancy with a high BMI may want to speak to someone about staying on track and not gaining large amounts of weight. Pregnancy is a great time to focus on yourself and to really enjoy what you do with your health. Sit and work through with your care provider any specific issues and work out how to make your eating plan work for you.

Note: The views and advice expressed on this blog post are those of the author and are not representative of the Pregnancy Babies & Children's Expo.

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