As a mom-to-be, your body is doing the most amazing job in the world – creating a new life. Your growing child is reliant on you for everything they need to develop. That’s why the foods you eat, or don’t eat, during these nine months are more important than ever. In fact, research shows that the genes you pass onto your child are only one part of the story – the nutritional choices you make now can influence your child’s birth weight, as well as their wellbeing, for years to come.
Why your diet is important
Leading scientists agree that nutrition and environment during the first 1,000 days of life – from conception to a child’s second birthday – has an important impact on later health. “Effectively we are programming our children’s future risk of chronic conditions, such as obesity, diabetes, and cardiovascular disease,” explains Dr. Sanjeev Ganguly, paediatrician and Head of Medical Affairs at Nestlé Nutrition. “Eating well during pregnancy is about nourishing your body so you can provide all the nutrients your child needs to grow and develop healthily.”
While meeting all your child’s nutritional needs might sound like a huge responsibility, the good news is that it’s not complicated. And, while some pregnant women might find meeting nutritional recommendations challenging, many others only need to make a few small tweaks to their regular diet.
Eat nutrient-rich food
When you’re pregnant your nutritional needs change because you’re nourishing your growing child’s body as well as your own. “You need approximately 50% more of some important nutrients to create an environment that will best support your child’s growth and development,” explains Dr. Ganguly. “Several key nutrients, such as folic acid, zinc, and vitamins A and B12 help to support your child’s developing nervous system.”
Eating a well-balanced diet will help your changing body create a nourishing environment for your child. Crucially, it can also provide your little one with everything he needs for healthy growth and development. The right nutrients will support your child’s growing immune system, organs, bones, eyes, and more.
“With each mouthful of nutrient-rich food you eat, you’re feeding your growing child and setting them up for a healthier future,” says Dr. Ganguly. This doesn’t mean eating obscure, hard-to-find “health foods” – small changes can make a big difference. For example, a breakfast of eggs and fortified cereal provides zinc as well as protein. Zinc is a mineral that helps build a healthy immune system and protein is the building block for numerous essentials, from enzymes to antibodies. A glass of milk or a serving of yogurt will give you calcium, which, together with vitamin D, is the foundation for healthy bones and teeth. A slice or two of wholegrain toast provides fibre and carbohydrates, the primary fuel for you and your little one. Eating meat or cheese will further increase your protein intake.
Watch your weight
Contrary to the old saying that “you’re eating for two”, you don’t need to consume any extra calories during your first trimester. If you’re a healthy weight to start with, you only require around 340 extra calories per day during your second trimester and 450 during your third – that’s the approximate equivalent of a sandwich plus half a cup of milk and an apple. “Along with eating a nutrient-rich diet, gaining the appropriate weight during your pregnancy may be one of the most important nutrition-related issues you can address to promote the health of your child at birth, and even later in life,” explains Dr. Ganguly.
So, check your weight is within a healthy range and keep an eye on the scales while you’re pregnant. Body mass index (BMI) is often used by healthcare professionals because it takes into account your height as well as your weight. Calculate your BMI, and then check out the table below to see your recommended weight gain. Putting on the appropriate amount of weight while you’re pregnant may also reduce your chances of having a child who is too small (from gaining too little weight) or too large (from gaining too much weight).
“The dietary habits you put in place now can have a positive influence on your child’s health that can last into adulthood,” reiterates Dr. Ganguly. “So, be wise about your food choices and give your child the best possible start in life.”
5 simple ways to give your child a head-start towards a healthier life
- Get yourself healthy—stay active every day, manage your weight, avoid smoking and alcohol, and eat a balanced diet.
- Consider taking a supplement—ask your healthcare provider about taking a multivitamin and mineral supplement throughout your pregnancy.
- Don’t eat for two—if you’re a healthy weight to start with you won’t need extra calories during your first three months and will only require 340-450 extra calories per day during the last six months.
- Don’t overdo it—high amounts of caffeine may increase your risk of miscarriage so limit tea and coffee.
- Eat a nutrient-rich diet—think red meat, green leafy veg, and beans for an iron boost that can help your child’s spine, brain, and red blood cell development; eggs, meat, whole grains, and fortified cereals for zinc to support your child’s immune system; and milk and dairy products for bone-strengthening calcium.
IOM (Institute of Medicine) and NRC (National Research Council). Weight Gain During Pregnancy: Reexamining the Guidelines. Washington, D.C.: The National Academies Press, 2009.
Institute of Medicine Food & Nutrition Board 2006. Dietary Reference Intake: The Essential Guide to Nutrient Requirements. In: Otten, J.J., Hellwig, J.P. & Meyers, L.D. (eds.). Washington, D.C.: National Academy of Sciences.
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Last revised: August, 2016
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