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  • Denise Scott

How to Feed Your Baby Before Birth

Updated: Oct 27, 2023

Nutrient-rich foods for pregnancy

Did you realize that good nutrition starts for your child before birth? What you eat during pregnancy can promote a good start for your baby and its microbiome. Flavor preferences can also be passed to your baby through the amniotic fluid and influence your child’s taste preferences. A rich and varied diet during pregnancy can promote a preference for healthy foods early on.

You need about 350 extra calories daily during the second trimester and 450 extra a day during the third trimester. Too little weight gain or too few calories can put your baby at risk for preterm delivery or being small for gestational age (SGA). Too much weight gain increases the risk for gestational diabetes, high blood pressure, and being large for gestational age (LGA).

A recent study this year demonstrated an inverse relationship between ultra-processed food (UPF) consumption during pregnancy and verbal function scores of those children at ages 4-5. In other words, those mothers who consumed the highest amounts of UPFs during pregnancy had children who scored the lowest on standardized tests of verbal function compared to children of mother's who consumed minimal UPFs during pregnancy. This includes sugar-sweetened beverages. The suggestion is that UPFs consumption in high amounts (25% or more of total calories) during pregnancy can impact the development and function of the fetal brain.

Pregnant women need a balance of macronutrients (fats, carbohydrates, and protein) and micronutrients (vitamins and minerals). Listed below are some of the vital nutrients and some foods that contain each.

Of the fats, polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs) are best, especially Omega-3 fatty acids. These are required for fetal brain development, especially DHA and EPA. Check with your doctor to see if a supplement is needed. (See last week's post on omega-3s versus omega-6s).

Fatty fish - salmon, tuna, trout, cod, shellfish

Iron needs increase during pregnancy to 27 milligrams (mg) daily. This mineral is needed for fetal blood cells. Anemia in the mother increases the risk for an SGA baby.

Cooked spinach, lentils, beef, cashews, blackstrap molasses, fortified cereals

Iodine is critical for the mother's and baby's thyroid function. 220 mcg are recommended during pregnancy.

Seaweed, fish and shellfish, iodized table salt, dairy and eggs

Calcium is vital for a baby’s developing skeleton and enzyme processes. If a mother doesn’t get enough of this mineral, it will be taken from her bones, leading to osteoporosis later. 1000-2000 mg daily is needed.

Dairy, dark leafy greens, nuts, fish, legumes, soy, hard cheeses

—------- Gummy vitamins do not contain iron or calcium.-----------

Choline is needed for healthy brain development in the baby and the recommended dose is 450 mg/day.

Eggs, organ meat, beef, poultry, fish, shiitake mushrooms, soybeans, wheat germ, cruciferous vegetables

Zinc functions as a coenzyme in many reactions; the body does not store this, so it must be taken daily. For pregnant women, the recommendation is 60 mg/day. Vegetarians and vegans are at risk for zinc deficiency.

Lentils, pumpkin seeds, quinoa, wild rice, beef, crab

Most vitamins and minerals should be contained at the recommended dosages in your prenatal vitamins, but be sure to check the label and check with your physician.

Foods to Avoid During Pregnancy:

  • raw meat

  • undercooked poultry

  • deli meats

  • raw eggs

  • sushi/raw shellfish

  • unpasteurized dairy

  • imported soft cheeses (these are often made with unpasteurized milk)

----- the above are due to bacterial infections -----

  • alcohol (no amount is considered safe to the fetus)

Foods to Limit During Pregnancy:

  • caffeine (less than 300 mg/day)

  • large ocean fish such as shark, swordfish, king mackerel, canned white tuna, due to their mercury content

  • artificial sweeteners, especially saccharin

  • ultra-processed foods and sugar-sweetened beverages

A diet rich in whole foods with whole grains, vegetables, fruit, and dairy is essential for you and your developing baby. The Mediterranean diet is a healthy eating pattern for pregnancy and beyond. Maintaining a nutrient-rich and varied diet during pregnancy helps establish a preference in children for healthy foods from the beginning.

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