Nutrition during pregnancy: the key points at a glance

Ernährung in der Schwangerschaft: Das wichtigste auf einen Blick Ernährung in der Schwangerschaft: Das wichtigste auf einen Blick

Pregnant women are bombarded with so many suggestions and nutrition tips that it can be hard for them to keep track of the do's and don'ts. But it's important to remember: you don't need to turn your life upside down.

The child's health

A healthy, balanced diet makes sense at any time of life, but even more so during pregnancy. Suddenly it's no longer just about you yourself, but also about the health of your child. Your body changes and so does its needs. It suddenly needs more vitamins, minerals and energy – but much less than you think. The idea of "eating for two" is outdated, at least as far as calories are concerned. Putting on weight is desirable, but should remain within healthy limits. For your guidance: women of normal weight should gain between 11kg and 16kg.

What you need in each trimester

Let's take a closer look at what the body needs in each trimester:

1st trimester: folic acid is absolutely essential.

The first three months of pregnancy are the most critical. The embryo and placenta start to form and the first heartbeat can be heard. Once you're sure that you are pregnant, however, only tiny adjustments have to be made to your life. For the time being, your energy requirements remain the same, just like your weight. The only things you need more of are vitamins and minerals, which are important for the baby's development. So a colourful and varied diet, supplemented with a prescribed vitamin or mineral preparation, is key.

Most gynaecologists will prescribe folic acid tablets the first time you visit, if you haven't already been taking them prophylactically while trying to get pregnant. They prevent a deficiency in the first trimester and protect against spina bifida and other malformations. Leafy green vegetables, pulses and eggs are also a good source of folates that help the central nervous system to develop healthily.

The hormonal changes your body is going through often lead to nausea and vomiting. This doesn't necessarily make healthy eating any easier. It often helps to ditch large meals in favour of smaller amounts eaten more frequently, regularly air rooms if you are sensitive to odours, drink ginger tea for nausea and enjoy a small breakfast in bed before you start the day.

2nd trimester: now your energy requirements start to increase.

The second stage of pregnancy is one of growth and is probably the most exciting for the expectant parents. Your stomach will grow and you'll feel baby's first movements. That calls for energy and proteins. You'll need an extra 250 kcals of energy per day. There's no need to "eat for two", though. The additional requirement is equivalent to eating a slice of wholegrain bread with cheese or a small muesli with fruit.

You'll need to increase your protein intake from 3 to 4 portions a day to help the foetus grow properly. One portion is equivalent to a natural yoghurt, quark or 150g of fish, chicken or a vegetarian alternative in the form of tofu, pulses and cereals. From now on, fish should be on the menu twice a week thanks to its omega-3 fatty acids. In addition to protein, iron, calcium, magnesium, vitamin C and D play an essential role during this period. A wholefood diet becomes even more important, and you should serve up milk products, vegetables, whole grains and nuts every day.

3rd trimester: iron is king.

In the third trimester, you're in the homestretch. The baby will gain another 3,300 to 3,500 grams before it's born. So, strength is required. This means consuming an extra 500 kcals per day. Many pregnant women also experience cravings and hunger.

The body needs almost twice as much iron now as it did before the pregnancy. It uses the additional iron intake to produce extra blood to carry oxygen to both mum and baby. That's why many gynaecologists prescribe an iron supplement at this stage. You can also get iron by consuming meat, pulses and other iron-rich foods more often.

The growing child starts to press against various organs, including the stomach, which often leads to the mother experiencing heartburn. Here too, taking smaller meals more frequently can help. These should be low in fat and not too spicy. Going for a short walk afterwards will make you feel better. 

Constipation is another frequent complaint and is often triggered by the iron tablets. Exercise, drinking plenty of fluids and getting fibre from seeds, nuts, whole grains and vegetables can alleviate the symptoms.

Food safety during pregnancy

To avoid food-borne infections such as listeriosis or toxoplasmosis, pregnant women are advised to enjoy certain foodstuffs with caution. In general, care should be taken to ensure proper kitchen hygiene. Always wash fruit and vegetables thoroughly and avoid pre-packed salads or open buffets, for example.

There is unanimous evidence that alcohol and nicotine should be avoided entirely. Caffeine is different. According to the Schweizerische Gesellschaft für Ernährung (Swiss Nutrition Society), 1-2 cups of coffee or 3-4 cups of black or green tea a day are fine.

You should avoid these foodstuffs

Products Description
Dairy products Raw milk and related products such as Camembert and blue cheese.
Meat and sausage meat Raw or undercooked meat such as tartare. Raw sausages such as salami, air-dried ham or Landjäger.
Fish and fish products Raw and undercooked fish such as sushi. Smoked fish or merlin and swordfish due to high levels of mercury.
Other Raw egg dishes such as tiramisu or raw eggs.

The influence of nutrition during pregnancy

What you eat during pregnancy affects your child's health, extending into adulthood. Epigenetics is the name of the field concerned with these processes. An increasing number of studies indicate that nutritional exposures during pregnancy can influence the foetus's gene expression and have numerous long-term effects on the health of the child and its genetic predisposition to developing diseases or obesity. In other words, expectant mothers lay the foundation for a healthy start in life during pregnancy.

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