The importance of good nutrition during pregnancy
Pregnant women need approximately 300 extra calories every day to maintain a healthy pregnancy. These calories should come from a balanced diet of protein, fruits, vegetables and whole grains, with sweets and fats kept to a minimum. A healthy, well-balanced diet during pregnancy can also help minimize some pregnancy symptoms, such as nausea and constipation.
The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics recommends the following key components of a healthy lifestyle during pregnancy:
- gaining an appropriate amount of weight
- eating a balanced diet
- exercising regularly
- taking appropriate vitamins and mineral supplements when and how prescribed by a health care provider
Fluid intake is also an important part of healthy pregnancy nutrition. Women can take in enough fluids by drinking several glasses of water each day, in addition to consuming fluids in juices and soups. An expectant mother should talk with her health care provider about restricting intake of caffeine and artificial sweeteners. All alcohol should be avoided in pregnancy.
Why is folic acid important?
The U.S. Public Health Service recommends that all women of childbearing age consume 400 micrograms (0.4 mg) of folic acid each day. Folic acid, a nutrient found in some green leafy vegetables; most berries, nuts, beans, citrus fruits and fortified breakfast cereals; and some vitamin supplements can help reduce the risk for birth defects of the brain and spinal cord (called neural tube defects). Neural tube defects can lead to varying degrees of paralysis and incontinence and sometimes intellectual disability.
Folic acid is most beneficial during the first 28 days after conception, when most neural tube defects occur. Unfortunately, many women do not realize they are pregnant before 28 days. Therefore, folic acid intake should begin prior to conception and throughout pregnancy. Your health care provider will recommend the appropriate amount of folic acid to meet your needs.
Most health care providers will prescribe a prenatal supplement before conception, or shortly afterward, to ensure that all of your nutritional needs are met. However, a prenatal supplement does not replace a healthy diet.