Optimising nutrition before, during and after pregnancy is vital. If it’s not something you’ve thought about before, here are just some of the reasons why you reviewing your diet may help you:
- Increased fertility
- Fewer complications during pregnancy, such as anaemia, gestational diabetes, excessive or insufficient weight gain and high blood pressure
- Short term foetal outcomes such as gestational weight
- Long term foetal outcomes such as lowering the risk of obesity, cardiovascular disease and diabetes
- Better post-natal recovery
With the vast amount of information on nutrition provided by in the media, it can become very difficult for most of us to know what really constitutes a healthy, balanced diet. Well-balanced eating incorporates many factors:
- It optimises our nutritional intake; this includes macronutrients and micronutrients.
- It allows a healthy relationship with food which is not restrictive or limiting. Food is needed for living, however as humans, we are lucky to enjoy an emotional and social connection with food (e.g. we celebrate birthdays with birthday cake).
- It does not view foods as bad/ good/ clean etc. All foods are just that: food. However, healthy eating requires that we feed our body with primarily nutrient-rich foods from the five food groups, whilst enjoying other less nutritious foods (such as cake, alcohol and ice cream) in small amounts and less frequently.
- It focuses on many health outcomes, rather then purely on weight management or an aesthetic focus. Genetically, we are all different shapes – and often quite different to the “ideal” set by society. As long as we are our own healthy ideal, not defined by the scale, but by our lifestyle habits (healthy diet, exercise, not smoking, limited alcohol intake, less stress), then that’s what is most important.
- It can decrease the risk of chronic diseases such as diabetes, cardiovascular disease, cancers, osteoporosis, and acute risks such as anaemia and fatigue.
- It can, and should be individualized. This is why so many mainstream diets don’t work long term; because diet “experts” are only able to provide generalized nutritional advice, which may be unbalanced and unsustainable. Dietitians and appropriately trained nutritionists can help you ensure your individual diet and lifestyle is nutritionally adequate, whether you are vegetarian, vegan, fasting for cultural reasons, allergic or intolerant to foods, or have a medical condition.
The Australian Dietary Guidelines give sound advice to optimizing nutrition both during pregnancy and while breastfeeding. Our nutritional demands change due to the supplies that need to go to the baby, the placenta, our blood volume, fat stores, milk production, etc, and so our diets can change accordingly.
It is advised that women trying to conceive take a folic acid supplement with iodine, or a general pregnancy multivitamin. During the first trimester, it’s advisable to take folic acid to decrease the risk of developing foetal neural tube defects. An iodine supplement during pregnancy prevents a range of diseases in babies collectively termed iodine deficiency disorders. Many women choose to take a pregnancy multivitamin to cover all bases, however, it’s important to remember that a good multivitamin is no substitute for a well-balanced diet.
For mothers-to-be who experience nausea or morning sickness, it is perfectly normal to have food aversions. If you are concerned about your nutritional intake being compromised because of these forced changes to your diet, that’s when seeking professional help is advised. Seek out your local Accredited Practicing Dietitian.
Here are some reputable links to source information on healthy eating, morning sickness and food safety.
- Eat For Health – Australian Healthy Eating Guidelines
- Healthy Eating & Food Safety (Queensland Government)
- Pregnancy & Healthy Eating (Food Standards Australia)
- Pregnancy & Iodine (Food Standards Australia)
- Videos on pregnancy and listeria, folic acid, mercury & iodine (Food Standards Australia)
- Healthy Eating & Food Safety (Food Authority – NSW Government)
- Managing Morning Sickness (Queensland Government)
- Vegetarian Eating & Pregnancy, Breastfeeding (Queensland Government)
- Weight Management During Pregnancy (Queensland Government)