Top tips for Pregnancy & Breastfeeding Nutrition with Kirsty Williams
Top 10 nutrition tips during pregnancy and breastfeeding
Pregnancy is a magical time for most women as this tiny human grows and develops inside of you. Right from conception, your baby depends on you for development and survival and this doesn’t stop when you give birth. The period when you are breastfeeding your baby is almost as important nutritionally as when you are carrying the baby.
Whilst this is what our bodies are designed to do, it does add an extra strain and it is important to replace and top up with nutrients that are being passed to our baby. I’m sharing my top 10 tips on keeping you healthy during pregnancy and breastfeeding.
1. Balance your blood sugar
Blood sugar balance is important at any time of life but the metabolic needs of the developing foetus place extra demands on a mother’s blood sugar control as glucose transferred from maternal blood in the placenta is the main source of energy for the foetus. This means that it can be harder to balance your blood sugar during pregnancy. Protein is necessary for blood sugar balance and during pregnancy it is important to eat good quality, lean protein on a daily basis. Focus on lean sources such as chicken and fish as well as vegetarian sources, beans, pulses and eggs. Some red meat is fine too. Protein requirements increase by around 6g a day in pregnancy and it is essential for the growth and development of the baby.
2. Eat plenty of healthy fats
Fat can be much maligned but it is in fact very important, particularly the right kind of fat. Healthy fats help the body absorb calcium and are important for baby’s development, particularly brain and eyes. They will also work on helping mum’s brain function – think of that ‘baby brain’! Good sources include oily fish such as salmon, sardines, mackerel and anchovies, nuts and seeds, olive oil, coconut oil and avocadoes.
3. Vitamin D
Vitamin D is the vitamin of the moment and is such an important nutrient for all of us at every stage of life. It is essential for calcium absorption and it has been shown to have several benefits in pregnancy including lowering the risk of complications such as gestational diabetes and preeclampsia. By far the best way of absorbing vitamin D is through the skin from sun exposure. It’s of course important not to burn but try to expose your skin to the sun as much as possible. It may be worth considering a supplement if you do not feel you are getting sufficient vitamin D.
4. Folic acid – the pregnancy vitamin
Folic acid remains important in pregnancy for the prevention of neural tube defects. However, evidence is emerging about the form of folic acid and it is worth bearing this in mind. Folate is the naturally occurring form of folic acid, found in foods such as brewer’s yeast (Marmite), wheat germ and black-eyed peas, folic acid is the synthetic form found in supplements. Some people do not possess the gene required to metabolise folic acid properly and for this reason it is better to include folic acid in a more bioavailable form. Many good quality supplements now contain this form of folic acid, marked on labels as methylfolate or MTHFR.
5. Iron and calcium
Iron and calcium are two nutrients that are often mentioned as important during pregnancy. However, it is important to remember that intestinal absorption of iron increases from 10% to over 50% during pregnancy. Good sources of iron include red meat, green leafy veg such as spinach and pulses such as kidney beans.
The same rule applies to calcium as iron in that intestinal absorption increases during pregnancy. It is uncommon for calcium deficiency to occur in the Western world due to high levels in a typical Western diet. Good food sources are dairy but also foods such as almonds and leafy greens such as kale and collards.
6. Morning Sickness
Lots of ladies suffer with sickness during pregnancy to varying degrees. You may be sitting there thinking that it’s all very well this person recommending all these healthy foods if I can’t actually stomach anything! Spices such as ginger and black pepper can be helpful for nausea, also lemon or lime juice. Try chewing on some root ginger or adding it to hot water with a dash of black pepper. Lemon or lime juice works in either warm or cold water and you could add something like fresh mint or sip mint tea. The important thing is not to worry too much if you can’t get food down you. It will take quite extreme circumstances for your baby not to be nourished as our bodies are designed to keep nourishing it as much as possible.
7. Milk production
Once your baby is born, the hard work and nourishment is just beginning. If you have chosen to breast feed and are struggling with milk production, there are some good foods you can include in your diet to help with milk production. Fenugreek is a spice that has been used for a long time – add to curries or even try it in a bread or scone recipe for a warm, spicy taste. Brewer’s yeast is another good one, so add marmite to that toast. Fennel is also good for aiding milk production. Try fennel tea, add it raw to salads or roast it with other vegetables in the oven.
8. Balance those hormones
Ah, hormones. The wonderful ‘dance of the hormones’ that follows us through every stage of our lives. At no time is this more relevant than during pregnancy and after giving birth. Hormones can be very powerful and can either make us feel great or completely rubbish. This goes back to making sure your blood sugar is balanced and you are getting good amounts of the healthy fats.
9. Nutrient depletion
It is quite common for a woman to be and certainly feel quite depleted after giving birth. Passing all these nutrients to the baby is great but it’s important that you are replacing everything as this all puts an extra strain on your body. Ensure that you are eating a healthy balanced diet, choosing from a rainbow of fruit and vegetables every day and opting for healthy protein and fats. Aim for 8-10 portions of fruit and vegetables each day and ensure that you are drinking around 2 litres of water a day.
10. Manage stress
Pregnancy and motherhood is a wonderful and exciting time for most women but it can also be stressful. Stress affects us all and it is important to recognise the signs of too much stress and help yourself manage this. Keep in mind everything that I have already discussed as this is all important in helping your body to deal with stress. Try to take some time for yourself. This can be hard with a new baby but introduce some practical things like using the time while baby is napping. Even just fitting in 10 minutes of yoga or meditation can do wonders.
Kirsty is a Nutritional Therapist based at Treat – Norwich. If you would like more specific support for pregnancy or post-partum, contact Kirsty directly at Kirsty Williams Nutrition