What to Do When You’re Eating for Two

We've got the scoop on the essential vitamins and minerals you need during pregnancy

Illustration by Ekaterina Trukhan

Eating for two isn’t easy. Besides swearing off booze, soft cheeses and sushi, there’s the whole issue of eating healthy in spite of nausea and heartburn and those fast-food cravings. But the right vitamins and minerals are crucial for proper fetal development—and for keeping you hale and hearty, too. Here’s what you need to know.

The Big Four
“When we’re pregnant, we need to eat as much nutrient-dense food as possible. You really want lots of nutrients per mouthful,” says Toronto-based registered nutritionist, food coach and author Theresa Albert. Make every bite count by reaching for foods rich in the “big four” pregnancy nutrients:

  • Folic acid, or folate, helps prevent 80 to 90 percent of neural tube defects (including spina bifida and anencephaly) if taken appropriately preconceptually. Good sources include legumes, dark leafy greens, citrus fruits and enriched grain products.
  • Calcium and vitamin D build your baby’s skeleton and help maintain your own bone density during pregnancy and breastfeeding. Milk, other dairy products and fortified milk alternatives are great sources of calcium and vitamin D. Dark leafy greens and almonds also contain lots of calcium.
  • Iron prevents anemia, a common condition characterized by low energy levels. Our bodies absorb animal-based iron best, with liver, beef, shrimp and eggs being solid options. Vegetarian choices include legumes, tofu and enriched cereal.
  • Omega-3 fatty acids promote heart, joint and mental health and improved blood flow to the placenta. These good fats help reduce the risk of preterm delivery and support proper development of a baby’s brain and nervous system. Rich sources include cold-water fish like salmon, mackerel and trout; good sources are fortified eggs and seeds like flax, hemp and chia.

Nutrient-Load Early
“Surprisingly, many Canadian women are deficient in the essential vitamins for a healthy pregnancy,” particularly folic acid and iron, says Edmonton-based OB/GYN, Dr. Tom Corbett, chair of the Society of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists of Canada’s obstetrics guidelines committee. Dr. Corbett recommends women take a daily prenatal multivitamin at least three months before trying to conceive. “Most prenatal multivitamins are the same, whether brand name or generic, but some women find they may tolerate Brand X better than Brand Y,” says Dr. Corbett. “Just remember it should contain 0.4–0.5 milligrams of folic acid and at least 30 mg of elemental iron,” he says. Take your multi-vitamin with food to minimize any nausea.

Eating Through Nausea
Nausea and vomiting can make healthy eating difficult. “In the first trimester, I had no appetite and that really stressed me out—I was scared I’d starve my baby,” says Toronto’s Celine Kim. Kim also worried her baby would lose nutrients whenever she vomited after taking her morning vitamin so she forced herself to eat healthy foods. Kim regained her appetite, as well as a new, low-stress diet philosophy, explaining, “as long as I avoid the really bad stuff—like fast foods and highly processed foods—on a regular basis and eat a balanced diet with vitamins, I’m treating my baby right.”

After Baby Arrives
“I always advise my patients to finish their bottle of prenatal vitamins,” says Dr. Corbett. The extra iron can help if you lost a lot of blood during delivery. Then consult your doctor or midwife about your ongoing postpartum vitamin needs.

As for maximizing breast-milk production, Albert says it isn’t so much about specific nutrients as getting enough liquids. “Drink lots of water, and choose high-water fruits and vegetables like celery, cucumber and watermelon.”

One response to “What to Do When You’re Eating for Two”

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