A baby growing inside the fetus needs all the essential nutrients for its growth, development and proper functioning of organs, just like an infant needs to grow up into a healthy kid. In order to produce a healthy baby, the body requires extra fluids in the form of water, blood and amniotic fluid, which contain and supply all the required nutrients to the baby. When the baby is in the womb it gets the essential nutrients from the mother’s body, from what she eats. It is therefore not how much you eat, but what you eat is more important during pregnancy. There are certain nutrients which are essential for the healthy development of the fetus. Pregnant women should plan their diet in such a way as to get all the essential nutrients.
The most important nutrients required during pregnancy are-
- Carbohydrates- Required for the extra energy you need when pregnant. Carbohydrates also help in checking excess stomach acid produced for digestion, which may otherwise cause problems like heart burn/acidity, during pregnancy.
- Protein- Essential for the baby’s development, especially the brain.
- Calcium- For healthy bones and teeth of the baby.
- Iron- Essential to maintain a sufficient level of blood supply to the growing baby and the placenta.
- Folate/folic acid- Folate is required to support the increasing maternal blood volume.
- Fat- Fat in moderate amount (about two tablespoon) is required for absorbing fat soluble vitamins like (A,D,E and K) and for stretchable skin. Fat is also required for the development of baby’s brain.
- Fiber and water- These help to clean the system and keep away constipation.
The general rule should be to include a variety of food items from each of the different food group, to ensure supply of all the nutrients. The basic foods are divided into eight groups, each group being a good source of two or more nutrients. Here is a list of the eight food groups and the food items-
1. Cereals- Cereals like wheat, rice, jwar, ragi etc. are the main source of carbohydrates in our diet. Wheat contains more protein and fiber than other cereals, although rice has better digestibility. Rice is light on the stomach, therefore good for pregnant women. But the fiber and protein in wheat is also needed. Thus both should be included in the diet.
3. Roots and tubers- Potatoes, sweet potato, carrot, and radish are examples of roots and tubers. These are rich in carbohydrates and certain vitamins and minerals. Sweet potato has good amount of Vitamin A, C and fiber content.
4. Green vegetables- Green leafy and non leafy vegetables are no doubt the richest sources of vitamins and minerals and fiber. Green leafy vegetables are particularly rich in vitamins, folic acid and iron.
5. Fresh and dried fruits- Fresh fruits are again very good sources of minerals and vitamins, especially vitamin C. Juicy fruits also keep the body hydrated. A study has even shown that apples reduced the incidence of asthma in children when mothers ate four or more apples a week, during pregnancy. Dried fruits like raisins, fig, apricot etc. are rich in sugars and minerals, especially iron.
6. Fats and sugars- These are derived from cooking oil, milk fat (butter, ghee), sugar, jaggery, honey etc. Fat and sugar provide energy to the body. Fats are also needed by the body to absorb fat soluble vitamins.
7. Milk and milk products- Milk and milk products are rich in protein, vitamin and calcium, all important requirements during pregnancy. For vegetarians, this is the only source of good quality protein and vitamin B12.
8. Flesh, fish, eggs- The non vegetarian food items are rich in high quality protein and vitamin B complex.
Normally, a typical Indian meal is quiet balanced as it contains food items from each food group. Indian meals include rice, chapatti, pulses (dal), vegetables, some sweet, salad and non vegetarian food. If you follow the normal Indian meal pattern, not much change is needed. Apart from the regular meals you need to essentially add daily servings of fresh and dried fruits and milk and milk products to ensure sufficient intake of all essential nutrients in the required quantity.
The calorie and nutritional requirement of a pregnant woman is higher as she is also providing for the baby growing inside her. Although the food requirement of the body is higher during pregnancy, you should never force yourself to eat. Eat comfortable amount. Some may find eating small portions at frequent intervals more comfortable. This is because when the baby occupies space inside the body, the stomach feels full soon. Eating too much will cause discomfort. Over eating and fatty food like junk food also cause heartburn during pregnancy. These remain in the body longer and increase the work load of the stomach. The body has to secrete more acid to digest these food, leading to heartburn. Sometimes due to morning sickness/nausea, the body is deprived of essential nutrients. In such cases try bland food like pop corn or food which has less aroma. Avoid highly seasoned, spicy dishes. Eight to ten glasses of water is a must during pregnancy, to prevent dehydration and constipation.
Eat food which is nutritious and easy to digest. Good food and happy mood will surely make your baby a healthy, happy bundle of joy for you!