It’s OK, I’m eating for two!

Published in the Little Book Windsor, Parenting Matters – Issue 2, Winter 2011, pgs 64-65

We’ve all heard the saying “eating for 2” in relation to pregnancy. After all, it’s the only time in your life you can justifiably indulge yourself a little, right?   Josie Wareing, specialising in Nutritional Therapy, sheds light on some of these misconceptions and offers some expert advice.

It still amazes me that for many women, pregnancy is a time when diet becomes neglected. On average a woman needs 2000 calories a day and in pregnancy this doesn’t change until the last trimester when you’ll need an additional 200 calories a day, increasing to 500 calories per day whilst you’re breast feeding.  Every calorie eaten whilst pregnant should be as nutrient rich as possible in order to support the baby’s development. There is growing evidence to support the theory that poor nutrition before and during pregnancy leads to babies that are more likely to have health problems later in life. The nutrients in our food are essential to the state of our health, our fertility and the health of our children.

When should I start?
The time to start is now! Regardless of whether you are trying to conceive, are pregnant or have no intention of having a baby, your diet and digestive system are the foundation to good health. The principles of a balanced diet are a good start, but individual differences mean nutritional needs vary. In theory, everyone should function in a similar way, but in reality the complex systems of the body have been influenced by genetic, environmental, medical, physical, financial and nutritional factors over time. For this reason, it is worth getting a Nutritional Therapist to assess your needs before starting to conceive.

The Fun Bit
Trying for a baby is an exciting time that hopefully leads to a life changing event. We think of conception as the beginning of life, but both men and women’s bodies have been working hard for 3 months to prepare the egg and sperm. Each month women depend on a nutrient rich diet to ripen 5-10 eggs and then mature 2 or 3 of them. It takes 3 months for men to manufacture a sperm and the overall health, mobility and quality is dependent on what is eaten. This stage in your life, more than any, is a time to review your nutritional needs, whilst also thinking about what not to eat and drink. Both men and women should consider a 3 month pre-conception programme to become optimally nourished and reduce exposure to substances detrimental to fertility such as alcohol, caffeine and tobacco. It is actually quite uniting to do this together and there’s nothing to stop you practising in the meantime!

The Trimester
About 1 in 4 pregnancies ends in miscarriage and up to 60% of these are due to defective sperm. A women’s nutritional status at time of conception and in the first weeks of pregnancy is a critical factor in the baby’s growth and development. This highlights the importance of a preconception plan. It is a good idea to take a pregnancy specific multi-vitamin as soon as you start trying or before, which will contain 400mcg of folic acid and various other vitamins and minerals to support the pregnancy. You may need additional supplements depending on your nutritional status including additional levels of vitamin D, as pregnancy increases your need.

Some women can feel quite nauseas and sick during this trimester and find eating can be difficult. Low blood sugar can contribute to this problem, so getting hungry makes it worse. Have lemon and ginger tea in the morning and try to eat breakfast soon after rising. Eat smaller amounts more frequently, every 2-3 hours. Choose foods that aren’t sugary and go for wholegrain carbohydrate choices. Hard as this may seem, it will help to maintain your blood sugar at a constant level which will improve energy levels and alleviate sickness. Morning sickness has also been linked to a sluggish liver, due to higher levels of circulating hormones and toxins that it can’t remove. Talk to your Nutritionist about re-balancing this.

The Happy Trimester
You finally made it to the good bit – where you start to actually look pregnant instead of podgy, your sickness has subsided (hopefully) and energy levels are starting to normalise. It should seem easier to keep up the good work that you’ve started and continue to nourish your growing baby with the nutrients it needs. If your diet contains too many processed and fast foods, saturated and trans fats, excess sugar, refined (white) carbohydrates and little fruit and veg, it is more likely that you could develop health problems during and after pregnancy. It is also possible that your baby could adapt its physiology and metabolism in the womb as a response, with research suggesting that this could lead to higher risk of degenerative disease later in life.

The Reality Sets in Trimester
Now you’re getting ready for the imminent arrival of your baby. This is a time of rapid foetal growth and hence the need for an additional 200 calories a day. However, this isn’t an excuse to chuck in a daily bag of maltesers. To give you an idea, 200 calories is the equivalent of an avocado, 3 small boiled eggs or 30g of mixed nuts. Either increase each meal slightly, or add in an additional healthy snack to your day. Two weeks before you are due, start to stock up on wholegrains and vegetables to provide extra energy and nutrients for labour. Diluted grape juice during labour can be helpful in supplying fruit sugar to boost your energy needs.

Once your baby is here the focus shifts considerably. It’s all been about you and now it’s not! But in terms of your diet it still should be. You need to maintain a healthy diet to support the demands of breastfeeding and also to sustain your energy levels at a time when sleep is disrupted. You’ll need 500 additional calories per day now you’re breastfeeding and these should be nutrient rich as the quality of your milk is only as good as your diet. It is important that you include adequate protein with each meal and lean sources such as white fish, eggs, chicken/turkey and pulses are best. Eat more often– you may need 3 meals and 3 snacks each day. Fluid intake is critical as your baby will take 1-2 pints of fluid from you which must be replaced as water. Breast feeding will burn up fat reserves, which is a result, however poor dietary choices will counter this benefit! You should consider reviewing your supplement plan with your Nutritionist at this time.

Josie Wareing has a BSc in Nutritional Therapy and runs a clinic in Windsor. She offers nutrition programmes tailored to the individual and has a down to earth approach.

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