Pregnancy brings both psychological and physical changes to a woman and her partner. Changes are necessary to allow a woman to be able to provide oxygen and nutrients for her growing fetus, as well as extra nutrients for her own increased metabolism during the pregnancy. Although a healthy pregnancy diet cannot guarantee a good pregnancy outcome, it makes an important contribution. The nutritional state that a woman brings into pregnancy and her nutrition during pregnancy have a direct bearing on her health and on her fetal growth and development.
The old saying that a pregnant woman must “eat for two” is not a myth. Instead, it is a scientific fact. However, this does not necessarily mean that a woman needs to eat enough for two adults, just enough to provide nutrients for the growing fetus.
The dietary reference intake (DRI) of calories for women is increased to 2,500 calories from the original DRI of calories for women of childbearing age which is 2,200 calories. This extra 300 calories not only supply energy for the fetus and the placenta, but also provide calories to sustain an elevated metabolic rate from increased thyroid function and an increased workload from the extra weight a woman must carry.
During pregnancy, the protein needs of a woman increases to 60 grams daily. Extra protein is best supplied by meat, poultry, fish, yogurt, eggs, and milk. The protein in these forms contains all nine essential amino acids, thus, it is also called complete protein.
Women must also be sure to consume a source of linoleic acid, an essential fatty acid necessary for new cell growth, during pregnancy. Vegetable oils are a good source.
Although vitamin needs do increase during pregnancy, most of the vitamin intake requirements can be met by eating a healthy pregnancy diet that is composed of a variety of fruits and vegetables. Folic acid, which is necessary for red blood cell formation, prevents the development of neural tube defects.
Minerals are necessary for new cell building in a fetus. It is important that pregnant women consume enough of the following minerals: calcium, phosphorus, iodine, iron, fluoride, sodium, and zinc. Calcium and phosphorus play major roles in skeleton and tooth formation. Iodine is essential for the formation of thyroxine, and, therefore, for the proper functioning of the thyroid gland. Iron builds an increased red cell volume for the pregnant woman and protects her from loss of iron in the blood during delivery. Fluoride also aids in the formation of sound teeth. Sodium acts to maintain fluid in the body. Zinc is necessary for the synthesis of DNA and RNA.
Extra amounts of water are needed during pregnancy to promote kidney function. Two glasses of fluid daily over and above a daily quart of milk is recommended.
Lastly, eating fiber-rich foods can help prevent constipation which is common in pregnancy.