Eating right during your pregnancy prepares you for the rigors of labor, delivery, and, ultimately, motherhood, while also helping your baby develop during nine months of enormous change. "Even with all the diagnostic tests and fancy equipment now available, good nutrition is still the most important factor in giving your baby a healthy start in life," says Bridget Swinney, M.S., R.D., author of Eating Expectantly: A Practical and Tasty Guide to Prenatal Nutrition.
You're ahead of the game if you started eating well from the beginning of your pregnancy, but don't worry if you didn't mainline vegetables right after conception. What's important is that you focus on creating healthy eating habits as soon as you can.
Food for Tot
Experts advise that you see a nutritionist during your pregnancy if you are significantly over- or underweight, a teenager, pregnant with multiples, or nursing while pregnant, because you may have special nutritional needs that can best be met by following a custom diet. "Strict vegetarians should also consult with a dietitian," says Brenda Danner, R.D., C.D., outpatient dietitian at St. Francis Hospital and Health Center in Indianapolis, IN. "Those who don't eat eggs or milk may lack vitamin B12 -- which is found only in animal products -- as well as iron, calcium, and other nutrients."
For the majority of women, however, professional advice isn't necessary -- you just need to rethink your usual eating habits. Start by changing your definition of a meal. "If you're used to a glass of juice as a morning meal," says Glade B. Curtis, M.D., a board certified ob-gyn who practices in Salt Lake City, UT, and author of Your Pregnancy Week by Week, "make an effort to eat a real breakfast every day." According to Dr. Curtis, a balanced diet of four or five small meals throughout the day is the best way to nourish your baby and maintain a high level of energy. (It will also help counter morning sickness; see next page.) It might sound like a lot of food, but you need the extra calories: The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists recommends pregnant women take in an additional 300 calories each day.
But that doesn't mean chowing down on every high-calorie, high-fat treat in sight. To get the best results, go easy on fats, oils, and sweets, and stick to lean, low-fat, nutrition-packed foods. If you're unsure of just what to eat every day, here's a guideline:
- 9 slices of bread or 9 ounces of grains (a major source of thiamin, iron, niacin, and zinc)
- 4 cups of raw or 2 cups of cooked vegetables (provides vitamins A and C, folic acid)
- 3 medium pieces of fruit (provides vitamins A and C, folic acid)
- 3 to 4 8-ounce cups of milk or other dairy products (for protein, calcium, riboflavin, B12 and D)
- 2 3-ounce servings of lean meat (for protein, iron, thiamin, B6 and B12, folic acid, and zinc).
Read ahead for pregnancy weight concerns