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The Perfect Pregnancy Diet – Getting The Best Prenatal Nutrition

Okay, so the title here is a bit misleading.
There is no such thing as a ‘perfect pregnancy diet’. Every pregnancy is different, every mother has different nutritional needs in the first place, and every fetus will demand different things. However, there are a few rules of thumb which, if followed, can help you and your baby to get the very best start on your parenting journey!

Here’s what and what not to consume while you’re expecting.

DO EAT

Folate and Folic acid. Folate and folic acid are B vitamins which can help to prevent birth defects. Brain and spinal abnormalities in babies have been linked to maternal B vitamin deficiencies. Ideally, folic acid should be consumed if you’re trying to get pregnant, as well as during pregnancy. You’ll need about 800mcg each day during the conception period and during your pregnancy. Good sources of folate and folic acid include:
  • Cereal – some fortified cereals contain 100% of your recommended daily folate intake.
  • Beans
  • Spinach
  • Asparagus
  • Oranges
  • Peanuts
  • Multivitamins – But be sure that they’re made by a trusted supplier!
Calcium. Calcium is not only great for helping your baby’s bones to develop as they should. It also keeps your own circulatory, nervous, muscular and immune systems in great running order. You’ll want to get around 1000 mg of calcium a day during pregnancy, slightly more if you’re a younger mother. Good sources of calcium include:
  • Fortified cereals
  • Milk
  • Cheese
  • Yogurt
If you’re lactose intolerant or simply don’t eat dairy products, don’t despair! You can also get plenty of calcium from the following non-dairy sources:
  • Salmon
  • Spinach
  • Orange juice
  • Multivitamins or Calcium supplements
Vitamin D. Vitamin D helps your body to absorb calcium, which – as mentioned above – is great for helping your baby develop a nice, strong skeleton and good teeth. However, Vitamin D is also thought to have a role to play in our moods - people with a good amount of vitamin D tend to be happier, while people with a deficiency tend to feel depressed. Given that pregnancy can be a time of intense mood swings, anything which helps to balance your emotions has to be a bonus! Some scientists even believe that keeping your Vitamin D levels topped up can help reduce your risk of developing postpartum depression. Sources of vitamin D include:
  • Natural light – Vitamin D is most commonly absorbed through the skin in the form of sunlight. Thus you’re likely to absorb less Vitamin D in low light conditions (during the winter this sometimes leads to the "Winter Blues"), so it might be worth indulging in some of the following alternatives as well!
  • Salmon
  • Fortified juice
  • Fortified cereals
  • Milk
  • Eggs
  • Multivitamins
Protein. Protein is the substance by which our bodies and the bodies of our babies grow bodily tissue - not just muscle tissue. It’s particularly important during the second and third trimesters, when your baby’s body goes through a period of accelerated growth. You’ll want around 71 grams a day, from good, healthy sources (don’t max out on the protein shakes!). Here are a few ideas for getting your daily protein:
  • Peanut butter – healthy and delicious!
  • Cottage cheese
  • White meat – chicken breast is a great, healthy source of protein
  • Salmon
  • Lentils
  • Milk
  • Eggs
Iron. Iron will keep the blood which carries nutrients to your baby in great shape. It will also help your baby to develop a healthy heart, and give their circulatory system the best start it could possibly have. Low iron levels are also associated with feelings of sluggishness, low energy, irritability, and increased risk of infection. During pregnancy, your need for iron nearly doubles. Given that many of us are iron-deficient anyway without realizing it, it’s probably a good idea to pay considerable attention to the iron in your diet! Good sources of iron include:
  • Fortified cereals
  • Multivitamins
  • Kidney beans
  • Spinach
  • Lean red meat – lean beef is an excellent source of iron, but be careful not to be overenthusiastic with your red meat consumption! As we’ll explain in a moment, too much red meat during pregnancy can have unwanted side effects.
  • Dark turkey meat
DON’T EAT (OR DRINK!)

Soft And Mould-Ripened Cheeses. Sorry, soft-cheese addicts. Brie, Camembert, Gorgonzola, Danish blue, Roquefort…they’re all out while you’re pregnant. Why? Because the delicious mould in these cheeses may contain a bacteria known as ‘Listeria’ which can cause miscarriage and stillbirth. No after-dinner indulgence is worth that. Hard cheeses aren’t so dangerous, as they have less bacteria-harboring water within them. If you really do love your soft cheeses, then it should be safe to eat them if you cook them first.

Raw Eggs. Raw eggs, and foods containing raw eggs (mayonnaise for example) can pass on salmonella. This has the potential of seriously harming your baby. Avoid – it’s just not worth the risk!

Pate. Even vegetable pates can contain the aforementioned listeria bacteria. With soft cheese and pate off the list, the list of things to smear on crackers during pregnancy is disappointingly short. It’s worth forgoing your spread-based indulgences for nine months, though, for the sake of a healthy baby.

Vitamin A. Vitamin A is a valuable and healthy vitamin – but too much of it during pregnancy can cause liver toxicity and birth defects. While you do need Vitamin A in order to help your baby develop properly, going out of your way to seek it out could become problematic. Carotenoid-containing veg like carrots, kale, and so on will give you all the Vitamin A you need (and don’t worry about overdoing it with these!) Sources of Vitamin A to avoid include:
  • Liver
  • Multivitamins with a high concentration of Vitamin A
  • The prescription drug Isotretinoin, or Accutane.
  • Anything containing Retinol
Oily Fish. Some types of oily fish such as shark, marlin, tuna and swordfish contain high levels of mercury, which can cause problems with your baby’s developing nervous system.

Caffeine. You don't have to cut out caffeine altogether, but do try to limit how much of it you consume. High maternal caffeine consumption has been linked to low birth weights, and a growing body of evidence is linking serious coffee habits with miscarriage in early pregnancy. 

Alcohol. We all know by now that drinking during pregnancy can damage your baby’s developing body, and leave them with serious deformities. The liver is one of the last organs to develop, so fetuses have no real way of processing alcohol. A baby exposed to too much alcohol in the womb may grow up with learning difficulties and cognitive abnormalities. It’s best all round to have a sober nine months.

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