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The ultimate nutritional guide during pregnancy

 Other than the food, a pregnant woman also needs folic acid, iron, calcium and vitamin D (Photo: iStock)

To deliver a healthy baby, the mother-to-be must have good nutrition - eating a healthy, and balanced diet so that her body gets the nutrients that it needs for the baby to grow.

Sister Winfred Nkanya, a medical lab graduate and social worker, lists the following as essentials for the growth of a healthy baby.

Good nutrients include carbohydrates, fats, proteins, vitamins, minerals, and water. These will give the baby what it needs to develop. It will also help make ensure that you and your baby gain the proper amount of weight. A pregnant mother also needs more folic acid, iron, calcium, and vitamin D.

Folic acid is a B vitamin that may help prevent certain birth defects. Before pregnancy, you need 400 mcg (microgrammes) per day.

During pregnancy and when breastfeeding, you need 600 mcg per day from foods or vitamins. It is hard to get this amount from foods alone, so you need to take a supplement that contains folic acid.

Iron is important for your baby's growth and brain development. During pregnancy, the amount of blood in your body increases, so you need more iron for yourself and your growing baby.

Calcium during pregnancy can reduce your risk of preeclampsia, a serious medical condition that causes a sudden increase in blood pressure. Calcium also builds up your baby's bones and teeth.

Vitamin D helps the calcium to build up the baby's bones and teeth.

Keep in mind that taking too much of a supplement can be harmful. For example, very high levels of vitamin A can cause birth defects. Only take vitamins and mineral supplements that your healthcare provider recommends.

You also need more protein when you are pregnant. Healthy sources of protein include beans, peas, eggs, lean meats, seafood, and unsalted nuts and seeds.

Hydration is another special nutritional concern during pregnancy. When you are pregnant, your body needs even more water to stay hydrated and support the life inside you. It is important to drink enough fluids every day.

 If you were at a normal weight before pregnancy, you should gain about 11kg to 15kg (Photo: iStock)

Weight gain

This depends on health and weight before pregnancy. If you were at a normal weight before pregnancy, you should gain about 11kg to 15kg. If you were underweight before pregnancy, you should gain more. If you were overweight or had obesity before you become pregnant, you should gain less.

Check with your health care provider to find out how much weight gain during pregnancy is healthy for you. You should gain weight gradually during your pregnancy, with most of the weight gained in the last trimester.

Calories required depend on weight gain goals. Your health care provider will guide you on what your goal should be, based on things like your weight before pregnancy, your age, and how fast you gain weight.

Keep in mind that not all calories are equal. You should eat healthy foods that are packed with nutrients - not "empty calories" such as those found in soft drinks, candies, and desserts.

Foods to avoid

Alcohol: No amount is recommended.

Fish with high levels of mercury: Do not eat tilefish, shark, swordfish or king mackerel.

Caffeine: Drinking high amounts of caffeine may be harmful to your baby. Check with your health care provider about whether drinking a limited amount of caffeine is okay for you.

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