Diet, Nutrition, & Exercise
How Does My Diet Affect My Baby and Me?
When you're pregnant you can eat whatever you want and however much you want, right? Wrong. What you eat and how much you eat has a direct impact on you and your baby. Having a healthy diet during pregnancy can prevent your baby from being born premature, having a low birth weight, being born with brain damage or lower intelligence, and easily getting sick as a child. Eating healthy can help your baby grow and develop properly and can prevent you from having pregnancy complications like high blood pressure and diabetes. In fact, the healthier you are before pregnancy, including having a healthy diet before pregnancy, can help you have a healthier pregnancy and a healthier baby.
Do I Need to Take a Vitamin?
Every woman should get 400-800 mcg of folic acid, either through her diet or from a vitamin, before she gets pregnant. Even if a woman is not planning on becoming pregnant, it is still recommended that she get enough folic acid, because nearly half of all pregnancies are unplanned, and it helps with the growth and repair of cells and helps prevent birth defects. Once you become pregnant your doctor will probably prescribe you a prenatal vitamin that contains between 400 and 800 micrograms of folic acid. Other vitamins may have too high dosages that can be toxic to the baby. While prenatal vitamins help you meet your nutritional needs to support the development of a baby, it's important to know that a vitamin cannot replace a healthy diet.
What Should I Eat if I'm Pregnant or Breastfeeding?
If you're pregnant or breastfeeding you should eat a variety of foods from each food group, including fresh fruits and vegetables, grains, calcium, and protein. A well-balanced diet contributes to your and your baby's health. You should also be sure to drink plenty of fluids, like water and milk to help prevent preterm labor, constipation, swelling, and bladder infections during pregnancy. While drinking water if you're breastfeeding won't increase your milk supply, it is a key component to breast milk and will keep you from becoming dehydrated. Your doctor may have you continue to take a prenatal vitamin while breastfeeding, and while it is best for your health to have a healthy diet, the quality of your milk will not be affected by a poor diet. Choosemyplate.gov has more information on nutrition while pregnant and breastfeeding.
How do I Prepare Food Safely?
Wash your hands and cooking surfaces often. Be sure to wash your hands before preparing food and before eating. Keep raw meat away from raw fruit and vegetables and cooked meat, and cook your food until it is steaming hot. Use a food thermometer to make sure meats aren't undercooked. Keep uneaten food cold or frozen.
How Much Should I Eat if I'm Pregnant or Breastfeeding?
Eating for two doesn't mean eating twice as much. A normal weight woman doesn't need to change her caloric intake during the first three months of pregnancy and only needs an additional 300 calories a day during the last six months of pregnancy. This can be attained by eating one cup of fat-free yogurt and a medium apple or one piece of whole wheat toast with two tablespoons of peanutbutter. Being underweight, overweight, or pregnant with multiple babies may increase or decrease your calorie needs. You should discuss this with your doctor.
How Much Weight Should I Gain During Pregnancy?
A normal weight woman should gain between 25 and 35 pounds throughout her pregnancy. An overweight or underweight woman will have different weight gain recommendations, and this should be discussed with your healthcare provider. Gaining too much or too little weight can lead to pregancy complications and can affect the growth and developmental outcomes of the baby. You should never try to diet or lose weight during pregnancy.
Are There Foods That I Should Avoid?
No amount of alcohol is considered safe during pregnancy, so if you're pregnant or planning to become pregnant, you should not consume alcohol. Some foods can be harmful to your baby because of the bacteria they contain. You should not eat raw or undercooked meats or fish high in mercury (shark, swordfish, king mackerel, and tilefish). Limit the amount of seafood you eat to 12 ounces per week. Shrimp, canned tuna, salmon, pollock, and catfish have low levels of mercury. Don't eat soft cheeses that are unpasteurized, and processed meats like hot dogs and deli meats should be heated to steaming to help kill the bacteria listeria. You should also not consume unpasteurized foods like eggs and drinks like juices. It is recommended that caffeine intake be limited to 150 mg a day (about 1-2 cups of coffee) because it can increase the fetus's heart rate, and some studies show that it can cause preterm labor and miscarriage, among other adverse health affects.
Should I Exercise During and After Pregnancy?
Once again, the healthier you are before pregnancy, including getting adequate amounts of physical activity, will increase your chances of having a healthier pregnancy and baby. Once you become pregnant, it's still important to exercise. In fact, exercise during pregnancy can have many benefits, including helping you and your baby gain proper amounts of weight, reduce pregnancy discomforts, reduce your risk for gestational diabetes, improve your mood and energy level, help you sleep better, help you have an easier and shorter labor, and help you recover from delivery and lose weight faster.
If you were active before pregnancy or not, you should discuss safe levels and types of exercise with your healthcare provider. You should be sure to get plenty of fluids and avoid overheating. You should avoid high-impact activites like football and avoid activities that involve jumping, like basketball or tennis. Also avoid activities that can lead to you falling.
After pregnancy you should slowly get back to your routine of regular, moderate-intensity physical activity once your healthcare provider says it's safe. If you're breastfeeding, this will not affect your milk supply. Lose weight gradually, no more than one pound per week.
What Should My Baby Eat?
It is widely recommended that exclusively breastfeeding until your baby is six months old is optimal for his health, and has benefits for mom too. Further, it is recommened best to continue breastfeeding up to one year of age. For more information on breastfeeding, visit our breastfeeding page.
You will know if your baby is ready to begin eating solids if he has good head and neck control, if he shows an interest in food by staring at or reaching for foods you're eating, and if the baby's tongue-thrust reflex is gone or diminished. You should start gradually introducing solids around six months of age (look for signs that your baby is ready). You should introduce no more than one new food every few days to identify what foods your baby may be allergic to. Keep in mind that it may take several tries for a baby to like a food as they are getting used to new tastes and textures. If you try a food, and your baby doesn't want to eat it, wait a few days or a week before trying it again.
More Information & Resources
Nutrition, Exercise, & Weight Gain
For more information on nutrition needs, exercise, and proper weight gain during pregnancy and breastfeeding visit choosemyplate.gov.
Visit http://massbreastfeeding.org/faq/ for diet and exercise information while breastfeeding.
Nutrition & Exercise
For more information on nutrition and exercise visit americanpregnancy.org.
Feeding Your Baby
For information on breastfeeding and introducing solid foods to your baby as well as what foods to avoid visit kishealth.org.
Introducing Solids Foods to Your Baby
For more information on introducing solids to your baby and on feeding him from 6 months to 3 years old visit freshfromfloridakids.com. This website also provides recipes and videos and teaches you how to make your own baby foods.