Pregnancy is a period of great physiological stress for the woman as she is nurturing a growing fetus in her body. It is time of increased nutritional needs, both to support the rapidly growing fetus and to allow for the changes occurring in the body. Throughout pregnancy, recommended intakes of many vitamins and minerals are higher than those recommended prior to pregnancy.
Fetal development is accompanied by many physiological, biochemical and hormonal changes occurring in the mother’s body, which influence the need for various nutrients and the efficiency with which the body uses them. These changes include:
- Increased basal metabolic rate: Due to fetal growth and development there is an increase in the metabolic rate by about 5% in the first trimester reaching to as high as 12% during later stages of pregnancy, which in turn calls for increased caloric requirement.
- Gastric changes: There is altered gastric function during pregnancy. Nausea, vomiting and constipation are very common during pregnancy.
- Hormonal changes: There is increased secretion of certain hormones like aldosterone, thyroxin, growth hormone and parathyroid hormone.
- Altered kidney function: There is an increased production of various waste materials like creatinine, urea and other waste products.
Choose food wisely
Since there is an increased requirement of all the nutrients during pregnancy, it is suggested to consume a well balanced diet. A woman's need for calories, protein, vitamins, minerals, and water all increase during pregnancy. With the exception of iron for many women, a careful selection of food can and should provide the additional calories and nutrients required. For healthy women, no special dietary supplements or foods are needed to ensure adequate nutrition. Your daily meals should consist of various food products from the different food groups, such as:
- Milk and milk products: Dairy products provide numerous nutrients and are especially high in calcium and proteins. Calcium is essential in the formation of bones and teeth. If your intake isn’t sufficient, your baby can withdraw calcium from your bones, making you more at risk of developing osteoporosis later in life. If you don’t like to drink milk, try flavouring it with chocolate or a drop of vanilla or serving it chilled. The other ways to enhance milk intake is to take milk products in place of milk as such, which include curd, cheese, butter, etc. One cup of curd contains the same amount of calcium as a cup of milk, so include it with snacks and meals or substitute plain curd for some of the mayonnaise in salad dressings. Another way to add milk to your diet is to choose pudding desserts.
- Cereals/grains, dals and other pulses: Protein, a major nutrient in this group, is necessary for growth of new cells and replacement of old ones.
- Vegetables: These provide vitamins A and C among other vitamins, minerals and fibre, which can help relieve constipation. Foods rich in Vitamin C are citrus fruits, cabbage, potatoes, spinach, green beans and tomatoes. Eating foods rich in Vitamin C helps the body absorb the iron in foods. The body does not store Vitamin C, so these foods are needed daily.
- Fruits: Oranges, grapefruit, melons and berries are the best sources of Vitamin C. Deep yellow fruits like papaya and mango are good sources of Vitamin A. It is easy to eat three or more servings of fruit a day; juice or fresh fruit for breakfast, fresh or dried fruit for a snack, a fruit salad with lunch and a fruit dessert with dinner.
- Meat, fish and poultry: This food group like cereals and pulses provide with proteins necessary for growth and development of the baby.
Recommended dietary allowances of various nutrients during pregnancy:
The nutrient needs are increased in view of the development of maternal organs such as uterus, placenta, breast tissue and to build up body reserves to be utilised at the time of delivery and subsequently during lactation.
However, an increased nutrient intake has been suggested mainly in the second and third trimesters of pregnancy. The recommended levels of nutrient intake for women during the 2nd and 3rd trimesters of pregnancy are given in the table below: