For the next nine months (and longer if you breast feed), your baby is totally dependent on you for every drop of water, every gram of protein, every milligram of vitamin C, every microgram of folic acid. Those nutrients come either from your diet today or nutrient stores you stockpiled prior to pregnancy. What you eat now is so important!
Calorie needs don’t budge an inch in the first trimester when your baby grows no longer than a green bean. After that, your daily calorie needs increase by only 300 calories a day. Your vitamin and mineral needs, however, have skyrocketed. For example, you need more than twice as much vitamin A and iron, and lots more of most other nutrients. That means focusing on healthy foods, such as colorful fruits and vegetables, whole grains, legumes, and nonfat milk, and it leaves only a little room for extra chocolate cake!
How do you maximize the nutrients your growing baby needs without adding unnecessary calories? Just follow the advice below, and don’t forget to enjoy food!
1) Load half of every plate with colorful fruits and vegetables: The antioxidant nutrients, such as vitamin C and beta carotene in colorful produce such as watermelon, protect you and your baby’s tissues from damage from highly reactive oxygen fragments called free radicals. For example, vitamin C helps support healthy cognitive and neurologic function and is important for collagen formation. Collagen is a part of connective tissue, the most abundant tissue in the body and the “glue” that holds all other tissues together. Vitamin C also plays an important role in the immune system, which helps protect against colds and infection. Watermelon is a source of the antioxidant beta carotene that also can be converted to vitamin A in the body. You and your baby need vitamin A for vision, immune function, formation and maintenance of healthy skin, and in bone formation. Ideas for including more watermelon in you diet include:
- Add chunks of watermelon to kebabs.
- Add a slice of watermelon to a sandwich instead of mayo.
- Add a bit of sweet to your spinach salad by tossing in some watermelon chunks.
- Blend watermelon alone or with other fruits for a refreshing beverage.
- Freeze watermelon juice in ice cube trays and use to sweeten your favorite beverages.
- Keep watermelon slices in the fridge for a quick and refreshing pick-me-up snack.
2) Make sure to get enough calcium: Add a few servings of calcium-rich milk products or calcium-fortified products, such as soymilk, to the daily diet. This mineral is important for building healthy bones.
3) Include two to three servings of lean protein: Cooked dried beans and lentils, tofu, skinless chicken breast, fish, shellfish, extra-lean red meats provide protein needed for building your baby’s tissues, as well as iron and B vitamins. For example, vitamin B6 and iron in protein-rich foods help the body make hemoglobin, which carries oxygen in red blood cells to tissues throughout your and your baby’s body.
4) Focus on 100% whole grains: Whole grains, such as oatmeal, whole wheat, or quinoa, are good sources of trace minerals, vitamins, and fiber. Fiber makes you feel full faster and therefore may help support a healthy, but not excessive, weight gain during pregnancy.
5) Stay hydrated: Getting enough nourishing fluid is important throughout pregnancy to provide for the expanding blood volume that carries oxygen and nutrients to both your tissues and to your developing baby. To restock this loss, drink water. Watermelon also is a great way to rehydrate, since it is 92% water. A large slice of watermelon is like drinking a cup of water!
In short, quality is the key when it comes to choosing foods during pregnancy. If you focus on a variety of minimally processed, wholesome foods, you can rest assured they’re providing your baby with the building blocks needed for healthy growth and development. (Of course, always discuss your diet and other concerns with your health provider.)