Nutrition during pregnancy

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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.

Healthy and balanced diet

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 unborn child. Your body changes during pregnancy and so does its needs. All at once it needs more vitamins, minerals and energy – but probably much less than you may think. The idea of «eating for two» is outdated, at least as far as calories are concerned. Some weight gain during pregnancy is needed, but it should be within a healthy range. For your guidance: women of normal weight should gain between 11kg and 16kg.

Studies prove: expectant mothers lay the foundation for a healthy start in life

What you eat during pregnancy affects your child's health, extending into adulthood. Epigenetics is the name of the field concerned with these processes. Study results are increasingly indicating that foetal nutrition quality can influence the child’s gene expression. For this reason, what you eat during pregnancy has numerous and long-term effects on the health of your baby, i.e. on its genetic predisposition to develop diseases or obesity. In other words, expectant mothers lay the foundation for a healthy start in life during pregnancy.

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

Nutrition in the 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. The vitamin folic acid is of particular importance during pregnancy.

Folic acid prevents malfor­mations

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.

Eat small meals throughout the day

The hormonal changes your body is going through often lead to nausea and vomiting. This doesn't necessarily make healthy eating any easier. Tip: 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.

Nutrition in the 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 250kcals 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.

Omega-3 fatty acids are now essential

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 one pot of natural yoghurt or 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.

Nutrition in the 3rd tri­mester: iron during pregnancy

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

Double intake of iron

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.

Heartburn and constipation are not uncommon

The growing child starts to press against various organs, including the stomach, which often leads to the mother experiencing heartburn. Tip: 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.

What should I not eat 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.

Alcohol and nicotine should be taboo

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

List of foods for pregnancy: what pregnant women should avoid

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.