Eating for baby — do’s and don’ts

2012-02-09 00:00

FOR the next few weeks we are going to take a closer look at how good nutrition during pregnancy is critical for long-term health for both the mom and child. Pregnancy Week this year is from Sunday until February­ 18 and the Association for Dietetics in South Africa (ADSA) is using the week to raise awareness of the importance of adopting healthy eating patterns to ensure optimal pregnancy outcomes.

Many women don’t realise that nutrition­ during pregnancy has short and long-term effects on the health of their baby and on their own health too. Dietary quality from the first weeks of pregnancy exerts a strong influence on the development of the baby and the placenta. This in turn has an impact on the growth of the baby and on maternal wellbeing.

In the short term, poor quality eating puts mother and baby at risk for complications during delivery, excessive bleeding, weaker immune systems and poor post-natal recovery. Long-term, inadequate nutrient balance during pregnancy, as a result of poor eating plans, can affect the health and development of the child for the rest of its life.

From conception to two years of age is a vital window period during which the foundation for long-term health can be laid. Undernutrition during pregnancy increases the risk of chronic diseases later in the child’s life. I have noticed in my practice that many women start making dietary changes when they realise the life of another is dependent on their choices. Focusing on what they should eat rather than entirely on what they should avoid is the most effective way to ensure long-term success both individually and for the whole family.

Pregnant women don’t need to be eating for two in terms of the amount of food, but they do need to be eating more nutrient-dense foods. This means that what they do eat must be carefully chosen to contain as many micronutrients as possible. Many micronutrients are critical for healthy embryo development in the initial days and weeks of pregnancy before a woman even realises she is pregnant. Eating a healthy diet prior to conception is key to ensuring a good start for the next generation and a speedy recovery to full health after pregnancy for the mom.

The micronutrients that are most commonly lacking are folic acid and iron. Folic acid is critical in the first six weeks to ensure a healthy neural tube develops. It also works together with iron in the mother to prevent anaemia.

A woman’s blood volume increases by 50% during pregnancy and this production of extra red blood cells places a large demand on her iron stores. Preventing anaemia is often a challenge and is even more difficult if the woman is anaemic before falling pregnant. Anaemia can retard the foetal growth and cause a number of complications, including premature delivery.

Some good sources of iron are red meat, spinach and lentils, while iron-fortified breakfast cereals often provide­ the most iron in a single serving. Folic acid is also found in lentils and fortified cereals. Achieving adequate intake of these micronutrients however, often demands a supplement.

A number of other micronutrients such as calcium, vitamin D and magnesium are also needed in higher quantities during pregnancy. Complications associated with pregnancy such as nausea, constipation and tiredness often hamper optimal nutritional intake. Women who are pregnant or who are planning to fall pregnant should consult a registered dietitian for advice and eating plans tailored to their needs.

Next time we’ll address the topic of weight gain before and during pregnancy and look at the role it plays in a successful pregnancy.


• For more trusted information, visit with compliments from ADSA.

• Sharon Hultzer is a consulting dietitian. She can be reached at


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