You’ve just found out you’re pregnant and you’re over the moon….that’s until you realise your Sunday breakfast of soft poached eggs, wholegrain toast and smoked salmon is off the menu for the next nine months (at least there’s still yummy avo rich in folate). That’s not the only bad news, your favourite lunch of sashimi and sushi are also gone, and you’ve been told that everything from prepared salads to coffee isn’t the best for you and bub either. So what should pregnant women really being eating? We’ve got the scoop on what you should be eating (and avoiding) when you’re expecting.
About our expert
Caitlin Reid is an Accredited Practising Dietitian, Accredited Exercise Physiologist, Yoga Teacher and Mum-to-be. With a keen interest in getting the most out of life, Caitlin’s passion lies in empowering people to achieve optimal health and wellbeing irrespective of lifestyle. Understanding the demands and distractions of life in the 21st century, Caitlin developed the healthy lifestyle business Health & the City to help people achieve get the most of out life. As a speaker and writer, Caitlin inspires many people and companies to optimise health and achieve better balance. She is also the dietitian for the South Sydney Rabbitohs and is expecting her first child later this year.
It seems everywhere I turn, someone’s pregnant – the Duchess of Cambridge, Kim Kardashian and of course, Offspring’s Nina Proudman. With the somewhat difficult part of conception out of the way (or as Offspring’s Billie put it “there’s a Patrick man-sapling in the Nina lady garden”), it should be all about planning for babymoons and decorating nurseries. In reality however, Nina calls it perfectly when she says she is “feeling more overwhelmed not less” with the whole pregnancy experience. What should be an enjoyable time is often met with uncertainty and confusion, particularly when it comes to what foods to eat and which ones to avoid when you’re expecting. Just like Nina, most women “want to do the best they can”, but with all the rules around which foods to eat, limit or avoid, it’s hard to know how to meet the nutrient needs of you and your unborn baby.
To help you enjoy the most important foods during pregnancy and optimise the health of you and your baby, write these tips on your post-it notes and stick them on your wall Nina-style:
Post-it – Cut down on the risk of listeria
Listeria are bacteria that can cause listeriosis, which results in flu-like symptoms. While no one is immune to listeriosis, pregnant women have a higher risk as the hormonal changes in their body lower the immune system, which can make it harder to fight off illness and infections. Listeriosis is transmitted to your unborn baby and it can lead to miscarriage, premature labour or stillbirth. You can reduce your risk of consuming listeria by following these food safety tips:
- Refrain from eating soft or semi-soft cheese (unless cooked thoroughly and eaten while hot), cold cooked chicken, pre-prepared cold salads, raw seafood, soft serve ice cream, unpasteurized dairy products and pate.
- Cook foods thoroughly.
- Eat only freshly cooked food and well washed, freshly prepared fruit and vegetables.
- Avoid any foods that may have been made more than a day in advance.
- Avoid foods that are past their ‘best before’ or ‘use-by date’.
Post-it – Track the mercury falling
Eating fish during pregnancy is a must, as it’s a valuable source of protein, vitamin B12, omega-3 fats and iodine. However, fish can also be a source of mercury, which can harm the baby’s developing nervous system. Mercury levels in fish differ from one species to the next, due to the factors such as the type of fish, size, location, diet, age and habitat. Fish that contain higher levels of mercury include shark, ray, swordfish, barramundi, gemfish, orange roughy, ling and southern bluefin tuna. Fish that have much lower mercury content include mackerel, silver warehou, Atlantic salmon, canner salmon and canned tuna in oil, herring and sardines. The good news is these types of fish are also good sources of omega-3 fats. The following fish consumption guidelines are recommended for pregnant women:
Post-it – Supplement wisely
Before you go diving into the supplements in a bid to up your nutrient intake, it’s important to consider whether you really need them or not. Excessive intakes, like getting too much vitamin A can lead to birth deformities, but when it comes to folic acid and iodine however, supplements are recommended. Pregnant women with low iron levels may also be recommended to take iron supplements, as the unborn baby draws enough iron from the pregnant women to last the first 5-6 months after birth.
Folic acid is a B vitamin that is needed for the growth and development of your baby. It is especially important in the month before falling pregnant and the first trimester of pregnancy, as it has been found to reduce the risk of your unborn baby developing neural tube defects such as spina bifida.
Iodine is also particularly important for pregnant and breastfeeding women, with mild to moderate iodine deficiency during pregnancy can result in the baby having learning difficulties and affects the development of motor skills and hearing. While most breads in Australia, with the exception of organic and no added salt breads, are fortified iodine, pregnant and breastfeeding women have higher requirements for iodine so a supplement is recommended.
Post-it – Combat cravings head on
When it comes to cravings during pregnancy, a South American research shows 84 per cent of women experience some form of food cravings. There are theories that cravings represent nutritional deficiencies and a craving is the body’s way of sourcing the nutrients it needs, but there isn’t any evidence to support this. There is some evidence that the cravings might be driven by the rise in the hormones oestrogen, progesterone and HCG and the effects these hormones have on the brain. The changes in these hormones can also alter a woman’s taste and smell, leading to a desire for certain foods and the aversion of others.
While you may want to give into your cravings, it’s important to indulge them wisely. If your cravings are replacing your intake of nutritious foods, you and your baby won’t be getting everything you need during this important time. If you’re craving hot chips, try popcorn with a dash of salt. For sweet cravings, try dark-chocolate dipped strawberries or a dried fruit and nut mix with a small amount of dark chocolate.
Also of concern is when pregnant women experience pica – the practice of craving substances with little or no nutritional value. Most pregnancy and pica related cravings involve non-food substances such as dirt or chalk. Eating non-food substances is potentially harmful to both you and your baby, as they may interfere with the nutrient absorption of healthy food substances and cause a deficiency. If you experience pica, it’s best that you contact your doctor or obstetrician.
Post-it – Be alcohol aware
Drinking alcohol during pregnancy can affect the unborn baby by damaging the development of the baby’s brain and slowing down physical growth. Babies affected by alcohol tend to have lower birth weights and may also have physical and behavioural problems at birth and during childhood. It is not currently known what level of alcohol is safe to drink during pregnancy, therefore the National Health and Medical Research Council recommends avoiding alcohol while pregnant.
Post-it – Take caution with caffeine
While you don’t have to give up your daily latte, you do need to limit your caffeine intake during pregnancy. Research shows that a high caffeine intake (greater than 300mg per day) is associated with negative effects on reproduction, spontaneous miscarriage and low birth weight. Caffeine is found in coffee, tea, chocolate, cola and energy drinks. During pregnancy, it is recommended to limit daily caffeine intake to 200mg, which is found in 1 regular espresso style coffee, or 3 instant coffee, or 4 cups of medium strength tea, or 4 cups of cocoa or hot chocolate. And best to give the cola and energy drinks a miss. I’m sure Nina is not a big fan of them anyway!
Thanks Caitlin and huge congratulations! This is such clear advice and I hope we can spread the word to all mums to be to have the right post-it-notes around while still enjoying food. Many of my girlfriends have popped champagne in the delivery suite and downed a long awaited sushi tray or creamy brie in celebration too. I wonder what Patrick will offer up? There wasn’t room in this article to go into other strategies like coping with morning sickness or more serious conditions like gestational diabetes. But we’d love to answer your questions lovely readers in our comments below. How did you eat while pregnant? What other advice do you have?