Congratulations! You’re pregnant
Your body is working double time now not only keeping you healthy but also in the process of forming your newest addition to the family. It is therefore very important that you eat healthy to ensure that both you and baby receive the essential nutrients required for growth and development. When you do not receive enough of these nutrients, the baby is at risk of suffering from a host of defects. Nutritional deficiencies can also result in complications during your pregnancy. Here is a list of your daily nutritional requirements and how they help baby to develop as well as helping you keep up with the changes in your body.
Folic Acid: This is vital for neural tube development which is the development of the brain and spinal. Folic Acid also helps prevent neural tube defects which occur within the first 3-4 weeks of pregnancy if the fetus does not receive adequate folic acid. Spinach and citrus fruits are common sources of folic acid and during the first trimester you are required to have 600micrograms a day. That is about ½ cup of spinach and 125ml of pure orange juice. Add spinach to your omelet and drink freshly squeezed orange juice for breakfast or have spinach with cream as a side dish for lunch/dinner. Folic acid can also be found in certain breakfast cereals which indicate that they have been fortified with the nutrient so the next time you go shopping, check if your favorite cereal is contributing to the development of your baby’s brain. Now that’s purposeful eating!
Protein: Protein is required for muscle growth as well as for generating energy. During the first trimester, pregnant women require about 60-70g of protein a day in addition to their regular protein intake which is 1g per body kg per day. So if you weighed 70kgs before you were pregnant, in your first trimester you will need 70g plus an additional 60-70g making it 140g per day of protein. Lack of adequate protein leads to inadequate muscle development and growth as well as protein-energy malnutrition (PEM) in the mother. PEM causes low birth weight and according to the Barkers Hypothesis, babies born with low birth weight will be more susceptible to diseases such as Diabetes, High Blood Pressure, Cancer and Obesity as adults than babies born within the range of normal weight. Healthy protein sources include nuts (if you are not allergic), beans and lean beef as well as poultry. Nuts are a good on-the-go snack. You can also throw them into your bowl of cereal with some fruit for a wholesome, crunchy breakfast. Make sure all meat is cooked through and is eaten hot as raw or cold meat carries salmonella which causes diarrhea. The loss of fluids in this case would be harmful for both you and the baby. So no more underdone steaks for the next little bit and if you’re craving something juicy, have beef or chicken stew instead.
Calcium and vitamin D: These nutrients are required for baby’s bone development which starts around the 8th week of pregnancy. The nose and jaw are developing rapidly at this stage. Dairy products such as whole milk and yogurt are good sources of calcium and vitamin D. Calcium is required at about 1 000mg/day which is the equivalent of 2cups of regular yoghurt or drink between 700-900mls of milk per day. Vitamin D is required at around 200 IU (International Units)/day which is the equivalent of 15 minutes of sunshine per day. Slap on some sunscreen if you’re of fairer skin otherwise grab a book and a glass of juice and sit outside for a short while. Zimbabwe is very blessed to have sunshine pretty much all year round!
Iron: Iron is needed for the formation of red blood cells and a deficiency in iron can lead to a low blood cell count which results in not enough oxygen circulating around the body. Broccoli, dark green leafy vegetables such as colored greens and spinach, beetroot as well as chicken and red meat are very high in iron. About 27mg of iron is required per day which is the equivalent of 1 cup of spinach+ chicken livers+ a bowl of lean beef and kidney bean stew. Add broccoli to your chicken or beef stir fry and beetroot will make for a colorful but more importantly, very nutritious side dish.
Fibre: Your digestive system will go through a lot of changes in the first trimester and who can blame it? Your body is doing a lot of work providing nutrients for you and your baby, in the right amounts and at the right time. It will need a bit of help with getting rid of the unwanted remains and that is where fibre comes in. it reduces the likelihood of constipation and hemorrhoids. Whole grains such as brown rice, whole wheat pasta, whole wheat bread, maize and apples are good sources of fibre. They also provide essential carbohydrates which provide energy. You will need about 6 servings of grains each day which is between 25-35g a day. You can have foods that contain fibre throughout the day for example, 2/3 cup of cereal flakes which is 30g for breakfast, 1 small banana 3 grams as a midmorning snack, ½ cup cooked sugar beans which is 7 grams with your lunch or dinner and 1 small apple 5 grams as an afternoon snack.
Remember, small frequent meals are encouraged as opposed to large and infrequent ones. It is also very important that you stay hydrated during pregnancy. Drink about 2litres of water a day. You may find that you are suffering from morning sickness or that your appetite and food preference is changing. Find the foods you do enjoy and moderate them with foods you are not particularly liking but need because of nutritional requirements. It will be a process of trial and error and it may not be the same foods that you enjoyed yesterday, today. Be positive, be patient and be strong. You are also encouraged to speak to your healthcare provider about taking a vitamin supplement. A miracle is growing on the inside of you. Happy first trimester!