How often do pregnant women utter the words “Oh, but I’m eating for two!, while tucking into a large double cheese burger? While this may sound like the right thing to do, it’s not. Future mothers have to educate themselves about the myths and facts around pregnancy. Pregnancy Awareness week aims to do just that.
The Department of Health has declared 10 to 16 February as Pregnancy Awareness Week, during which time pregnancy education is reinforced. The aim of this week is to equip expectant mothers with the knowledge that will help them to ensure they make the right health decisions for themselves and their babies.
While many pregnant women may use “eating for two’ as an excuse to have huger meals, it’s best to know that overindulging might lead to some complications during pregnancy. “Pregnant women might be eating for two, but this does not mean you need to eat twice as much as you normally would. Overeating might lead to excessive weight gain for you, it also puts you at risk for other pregnancy complications”, Dr Nicola Rains, a general practitioner at NHC Health Centres (note to editors: please refer to company as indicated).
You may sometimes feel so hungry you could eat two horses. You should certainly be increasing the amount of certain nutrients, but you need about 300 more calories per day, if you are at a healthy weight. This will increase to about 450 more per day in your third trimester.
Dr Rains :“Gaining too much weight during pregnancy affects you physically, increasing pain in your legs and your back. It also increases your risk of developing gestational diabetes, heartburn, high blood pressure and may affect your baby’s weight”.
Gestational diabetes is when your body is not able to make or use insulin properly during pregnancy, leading to an increase in blood sugar levels. This type of diabetes can affect the developing baby during pregnancy as well as during delivery and for a short while therafter. Heartburn also becomes an issue, more especially if you’re further along your pregnancy. The baby crowds out the digestive tract and puts more pressure on your intestines and stomach. Eating more than normal only worsens the heartburn and indigestion.
Absorbing too many calories also affects your baby’s weight. When you gain too much weight, it’s likely that you will give birth to a larger baby. This can result in the need for an assisted vaginal delivery or a higher rate of caesarean section when there is disproportion and prolonged labour and/or foetal distress.
Sue Scharf, dietician at NHC :“Eating healthy is even more important when you’re pregnant, because what you put in your body feeds both you and your baby. Your baby is dependent on you for getting enough nutrition. There are things you can do to get all the necessary nutrients without eating a lot more calories”.
- Eat a variety of foods to meet your daily needs for protein, calories, carbohydrates, healthy fats, key vitamins and minerals. Try to look for different colours, types and textures in your food.
- Try to minimize foods that have more calories but few nutrients. Food like fizzy drinks, fried foods, or foods with extra fat and sugar. To get the healthy calories your baby needs, rather eat a few nutrition-packed snacks like low fat yoghurt, nuts, hard-boiled eggs, fresh fruit and salads such as baby carrots, celery stick; also low fat cracker breads + cottage cheese / hummus.
- Planning your daily meals gives structure to your eating habits, making it easier to follow a healthy pregnancy diet and help control weight gain.
- Foods that are close to their natural state are the best. Whole-grain bread or brown rice is better than white bread or rice, as well as fresh fruits rather than canned fruits in sugar syrup
- Be sure to choose healthier fats and oils (such as olive oil and canola oil; also avocado), eat sweets sparingly, and only following a healthy meal.
- Grab a bowl of home-made popcorn, a home-made fruit smoothie, mixed nuts, a serving of fruit or yoghurt if you feel that you are still not full after a meal.
- Drink LOTS of water throughout the day.
- Keep active as well – walk everyday; do a Pilates class (with a properly qualified instructor); join an ante-natal class.
“Remember that while pregnant, your baby’s health and growth are related to what you eat. When you are tempted to help yourself to another place of rice and chicken, remember that you are eating for a baby and not a full-size adult. It is all about quality over quantity” says Dr Rains.