This concept can range from something as simple as prepping your food the night before so that you don’t have to take time to do so in the morning, to something more impactful such as preparing your body and mind for pregnancy. Whether you are interested in becoming pregnant in the near future or not, understanding how your current lifestyle influences your ability to carry out a healthy pregnancy and ultimately delivering a healthy baby is of utmost importance. Additionally, if you are leading a healthy lifestyle before and during your pregnancy, you are setting yourself up for success in the post-partum period both physically and mentally.
Normal gestation and normal birth weight
Normal gestation consists of 40 weeks which are split into 3 trimesters. The 1st trimester is from weeks 0-12, the 2nd trimester is from weeks 13-28 and the 3rd trimester is from weeks 29-40. Each of these trimesters will demand nutritional protocol to go along with appropriate weight gain, physical activity and supplementation. Ideally, we want the baby to fall within the 5.5-8.8 lb. range, as this is what is considered “normal birth weight”.
Weight gain during pregnancy
A common misconception is that women will undoubtably gain a significant amount of weight during pregnancy due to cravings, reduced physical activity, etc. The reality is, however, that there are specific amounts of weight that are deemed appropriate for each trimester based off a woman’s BMI prior to pregnancy, none of which go over a 40 lb. weight gain. The following are the weight gain recommendations for each BMI category:
- Underweight (BMI < 18.5) = 28-40 lb. total (1.0 lb. per week during 2nd and 3rd trimester)
- Normal weight (BMI 18.5-24.9) = 25-35 lb. total (1.0 lb. per week during 2nd and 3rd trimester)
- Overweight (BMI 25.0-29.9) = 15-25 lb. total (0.6 lb. per week during 2nd and 3rd trimester)
- Obese (BMI >/ = 30.0) = 11- 20 lb. total (0.5 lb. per week during 2nd and 3rd trimester)
If a woman is underweight prior to pregnancy it can lead to complications including but not limited to a preterm baby, very low or low birth weight baby, trouble with feeding and lactation, higher risk for infection, and developmental delays. If the mother is obese prior to pregnancy it can lead to complications including but not limited to a large for gestational baby, macrosomia, increased risk of experiencing trauma during birth (vaginal and C-section), and higher risk of childhood obesity/metabolic abnormalities. If you are interested in becoming pregnant, falling within the “normal” BMI range would be the ideal scenario as it has the least amount of risk factors for the mother and baby. For a lot of our competitor population, this may mean taking the required time off from dieting in order to regulate the menstrual cycle as well as to add on any necessary weight in order to support pregnancy.
Energy needs during pregnancy
I would now like to debunk the myth that women who are pregnant need to eat double the number of calories because they are “eating for two”. During the first trimester, energy needs to do not change from prior to pregnancy. Once a woman hits the 2nd trimester, she requires an extra 340 kcals/day and in the 3rd trimester that increases to 452 kcals/day. In the grand scheme of things, an extra 340-452 kcals/day through weeks 13-40 is not a whole lot. Think about it, that could be an apple with peanut butter and some vegetables with hummus.
Macronutrient and fluid requirements:
- Protein requirements during pregnancy are set at a baseline level of 1.1g/kg but may need to be increased depending on the activity level of the woman.
- Carbohydrate intake should be no lower than 175g/day.
- Fats do not have a specific gram recommendation, but fats chosen should contain mostly Omega-3 fatty acids (650 mg) with a minimum of 200 mg DHA.
- Fluids: Aim for about 3L per day in order to support amniotic fluid, increased plasma volume and to help reduce the risk of experiencing constipation or a UTI. Women should consume no more than 200 mg caffeine per day (whomp whomp)
Making sure that you are eating getting adequate amounts of protein, carbohydrates, omega-3’s and fluids are all things that you can implement prior to pregnancy in order to make a smooth transition into pregnancy.
Foods to avoid and/or limit
There are some foods that are deemed as harmful to consume during pregnancy. Women who are pregnant should avoid unpasteurized cheese and milk, cold lunch meat, any hot dogs, eggs, or poultry that are not cooked to the appropriate temperature, and fish with high mercury content such as tilefish, shark, swordfish and king mackerel. It is important to note, however, that low mercury containing seafood consumption is encouraged (8-12oz per week) due to the omega-3/DHA content. If you are going to consume tuna, limit that to about 6 oz per week. Again, if you are someone who is interested in becoming pregnant, it would be a good idea to start implementing these diet changes (if applicable) prior so that there is no transition necessary.
Vitamin and mineral requirements
There is an increase in the recommended intake of most vitamins and minerals during pregnancy. Below are the recommended intakes (total between both food and supplements each day) for vitamins and minerals that should be increased during pregnancy:
- Vitamin A: 770 micrograms/day
- Vitamin B12: 2.6 mcg/day
- Vitamin C: 85 mg/day
- Folate: 600 mcg/day
- Iodine: 27 mg/day
- Zinc: 11 mg/day
If you are consuming a diet that is high in whole grains, there is a possibility that you may be lacking calcium due to the phytates present in whole grains. Discuss with your doctor if a supplement may be needed, or it may be that you need to reduce the consumption of whole grains.
Nearly all of the above-mentioned suggestions and requirements are things that can be implemented today that will have a profound impact on the health of mother and baby. For the requirements in the 2nd and 3rdtrimester that may not be applicable yet, it is still important to be educated so that when that times comes the necessary adjustments can be made to make sure that the mother and the baby are supported throughout the entire term. Following these recommendations should not only aid in making the pregnancy and birth go as safely as possible but will hopefully make the transition into the post-partum period much smoother.