Nutritional Needs During Pregnancy 

In cases of undernutrition, which is more common in our country, problems are commonly encountered including anemia, vitamin D, and calcium deficiency. While protein deficiency leads to poor maternal health and low birth weight babies

By Dr. Anjoo Agarwal Prof Ob/Gyn, at King George Medical University Lucknow, Past President Lucknow Chapter ISOPARB 

Every woman dreams of a healthy pregnancy and a healthy baby and for this dream to come true nutritional status of the woman is very essential. Various complications are associated with a poor nutritional condition.

In cases of undernutrition, which is more common in our country, problems are commonly encountered including anemia, vitamin D, and calcium deficiency, while protein deficiency leads to poor maternal health and low birth weight babies.

On the other hand, overnutrition leads to obesity which is equally harmful as these women are more likely to develop gestational diabetes mellitus during pregnancy and they also have double the chances of having stillbirths and neonatal deaths as compared to mothers with normal weight.

So what and how a pregnant woman should eat to ensure a healthy pregnancy is important to understand. Ideally, nutrition care should be for the future because it affects the lives of all human beings at all stages of life.

All women planning a pregnancy should start taking folic acid supplements as folic acid has been found to prevent some congenital malformations, particularly related to the spine and brain in babies. Folic acid is found to be present in pulses or dals, and green leafy vegetables.

During the first three months of pregnancy, the baby is most sensitive to harmful medicines. So no medicines, even multivitamins, should be taken at this time without your obstetricians prescription or if there is any problem the doctor must know about your pregnancy so that medicines safe in pregnancy may be given.

After the first three months, nausea and vomiting of pregnancy usually subside and the woman feels better. Now she must concentrate on taking a good diet and iron and calcium supplements as prescribed.

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Some important food habits which a pregnant woman must develop include –
  • She must not fast or skip meals, she must eat breakfast, lunch, and dinner and have 2 or 3 light snacks.
  • Home-cooked food is safer and healthier and should be preferred at all times during pregnancy.
  • Her daily diet needs to be diversified with the inclusion of minimum 5 food groups from among the different 10 food groups like Dairy products Grains, white roots, and tubers, and plantains Pulses (beans, peas, and lentils), Dark green leafy vegetable Nuts and seeds Egg Meat, poultry and fish. 
  • Other vitamins A –rich fruits and vegetables, other vegetables. Other fruits.
  • Diet must include at least one glass of milk daily, and a bowl of curd with meals.
  • At least 2 bowls of dal or pulses must be taken daily. Bread and other bakery products are better avoided.
  • Whole cereals like whole wheat, bajra, ragi, soya bean, millets, daliya are preferred over refined flour.
  • Green leafy vegetables like methi, palak must also be included along with other vegetables. 
  • At least two bowls of fruits must be consumed daily.
  • It is always important to remember that rare fruits and vegetables are not recommended; whatever is freely available in season and cheap is good for health.
  • Women must drink plenty of water but soft drinks and packed fruit juices must be avoided. Eating fruits is healthier than drinking fruit juices.
  • Homemade drinks like mattha, coconut water, lemon water are good sources of nutrition. Intake of tea and coffee must be restricted.
  • Women who consume meat must include it in their diet and take fish also at least two to three times a week.
  • Small amounts of walnuts and almonds taken daily help in the brain development of the baby.
  • Taking some jaggery or gur and bhuna chana daily helps to combat anemia.

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So it has to be emphasized that the food taken must be homemade, comprises seasonal fruits and vegetables, has the food of all colors like green, red or orange (carrots, papaya) and yellow (mangoes when available, bananas). Citrus fruits like lemon, orange, amla must also be a part of dietary intake.

Besides this, the pregnant woman must also take the supplements prescribed. It is important to remember that iron and calcium tablets must not be taken together. Calcium tablets must be taken with meals while iron tablets should be taken at least one to two hours after meals preferably with a glass of lemon juice which improves the absorption of iron. Iron tablets must not be taken with milk or tea also.

Nutrition would be incomplete without exercise. Pregnant women need to do light exercises regularly. The exercise must be done safely avoiding falls. Walking is very good exercise during pregnancy. The woman must not overtire herself but if she exercises regularly gradually her stamina and health will improve.

Paying attention to diet and exercise during pregnancy goes a long way to avoiding complications and problems and having a healthy and happy outcome

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