A healthy pregnancy means a healthy baby: we show you how

Here’s what to eat and what to avoid to deliver a healthy baby – and keep yourself in excellent condition as well. 

12 September 2017
4 minute read

This blog is part of our Weaving Wisdom series aimed at informing expectant parents about birth choices and encouraging proactive management of both the pregnancy and birth periods. 

Byline: Louïne van der Vyver and Karin Steyn

“The first 1 000 days in a baby’s life set the foundation for a baby’s healthy development
in utero and its future as an adult,” says Maryke Gallagher, a registered dietician in Cape Town and also the president of the association of Diabetics in South Africa.

She says from a nutrition point of view these first 1 000 days – which include the time the baby spends in the womb – set the stage for healthy brain development, growth and appropriate weight gain, a strong immune system and the avoidance of chronic disease like diabetes, heart disease and high blood pressure later in life.

“What the mother eats in the first 1 000 days can also influence the development of a baby’s taste preferences. This time offers a golden opportunity for a mother to invest in her child’s life,” Maryke says. 

On the other hand, a poor maternal diet can result in:

  • stunted growth and development,
  • impaired neurological development,
  • a low-birth-weight baby, and
  • the development of chronic disease later in life.

Pregnancy is not a time for weight loss or restriction. Healthy weight gain in pregnancy is more or less 2-3kg in the first trimester, and thereafter 0.5kg per week. A total weight gain of around 12kg is normal.

During pregnancy a mother’s nutritional needs increase:

  1. Energy needs: Increase in the second and third trimester, but this does not mean you should “eat for two”. It means increasing the energy intake by 800-200kj per day, the equivalent of a small meal snack, like yoghurt, fruit and nuts, or a slice of rye bread with nut butter and a fruit.
  2. Protein needs increase: Focus on eating more safe proteins, at least twice per week. Generally considered safe options include trout, salmon, herring, Pilchards and mackerel. Plant proteins are mostly incomplete proteins, and legumes like lentils, chickpeas and butterbeans need to be combined with grains such as brown rice, quinoa or barley to form complete proteins. Soya beans and tofu are some of the only complete plant proteins. It is generally believed that it is safe to be vegetarian while you are pregnant if you plan carefully to eat sufficient proteins to meet the body’s demands.
  3. Omega 3 Fatty Acids: These essential fats are important in pregnancy for healthy brain development in the baby. They reduce the risk of preterm birth and plays a role in the visual acuity of the baby. Later in life, they play a role in the IQ and behaviour. They also play a role in regulating the mood of the mother. Fish is a good source of Omega 3 fatty acids. Food is always the best source before considering taking supplements.
  4. Total fat intake: Every cell in the body is made up of fats, and cell membranes consist of phospholipids that influence how well cells communicate with each other within the body. Plant fats are particularly valuable and include nuts and seeds, avocado, olives, olive oil, flaxseeds and flaxseed oil.
  5. Micronutrients: These are essential vitamins, minerals and phytochemicals and in pregnancy important ones are Folic Acid, Iron, Calcium, Vitamin D, B12 and Choline. Choline plays a role in the first trimester development of the baby, in particular the brain development and formation of neural pathways. Choline is found in animal-protein-rich foods such as eggs and beef. Haricot beans, soya protein, pulses and dairy products (like milk and yoghurt) are good sources of Choline. Folic acid is found in fruits and vegetables such as leafy dark green vegetables, liver, legumes and fortified cereals.

Dealing with pregnancy cravingsEven if you have cravings when you are pregnant, you should still limit the amount of treat-foods you consume. Consider healthier alternatives. The body needs nutrients and not empty calories. For example, chocolate cravings might be a bodily craving for more calcium and fat, and you may consider blending avocado with xylitol and cacao as a healthy chocolate mousse that meets the body’s needs. Eating small, regular meals also suppresses cravings that result from low blood sugar.

Food and substances to avoid in pregnancy and during breastfeeding include:

  • Foods that are high in sugar, salt, and that are highly refined.
  • Raw fish (like sushi), predator fish (like tuna or swordfish), smoked fish, and fish that may contain heavy metals.
  • Foods that are more susceptible to salmonella or listeria contamination that could cause food poisoning and food borne illnesses, such as soft cheese, undercooked eggs, meat or chicken, deli meats or smoked or raw fish.
  • Herbs: peppermint and ginger may reduce breast milk and interfere with lactation. Fenugreek and fennel are also not recommended during breastfeeding.
  • Smoking decreases oxygen flow to the baby. Smoking also exposes the baby to over 4 000 different, harmful chemicals.
  • Alcohol: Foetal alcohol syndrome is a well-known outcome of alcohol abuse in pregnancy. Smoking and alcohol have also been linked to still births.
  • Drink only two to three cups of normal tea or coffee per day to limit caffeine intake. Remember, there is also caffeine in green tea and jasmine tea. Rooibos is caffeine free and a healthy alternative to other teas.

“A healthy body fosters a healthy spirit and mind. When the mother feels that she is providing for all of the baby’s needs, she feels good about her efforts, and a happier mom will also help to birth a happier baby,” concludes Maryke.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of 1Life or its employees.

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