A balanced diet is important for one to maintain a healthy lifestyle and is especially crucial in pregnant women or those trying to conceive.
The nutritional status of a mother at conception and during pregnancy greatly influences a child’s physical and mental growth and development.
What a woman eats during pregnancy has profound and long-lasting effects on her child’s health. To maintain the health of both the child and the mother, a healthy diet is very important.
Nutrient needs increase during pregnancy to cater for the demand of both the growing child and the mother. Most women meet their increased nutrient needs by consuming a diet that has a variety of foods from each food group daily.
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In absence of any health complications, a mother’s energy needs remains the same as it was prior to pregnancy or during the first trimester, thus there is no need to consume extra food during this period.
During the second and the third trimester, energy requirement slightly increases by 300 to 450 calories.
The increased energy needs during the second and third trimester can be met by eating the three main meals and at least two snacks in between the main meals. A pregnant woman should try and make her meals and snacks as healthy as possible.
Contrary to the popular belief, a pregnant woman should not eat for two. There is no need to eat any extra food especially for the first three months. Eating too much during pregnancy can lead to overweight and obesity, conditions which increase the risk of complications during birth.
A mother’s body goes through many changes during pregnancy to accommodate the growing foetus. Some of these changes influence a woman’s ability to eat healthy. Problems like nausea, vomiting, reflux, food aversions and cravings can greatly affect food intake.
It is difficult to completely prevent these pregnancy problems since they are a normal part of pregnancy. All these problems may be triggered by different foods in each person.
The best way to cope with them is to identify the trigger and avoid it. Eating small frequent meals, avoiding fried fatty and spiced foods may help alleviate these problems.
In case the problem is severe, a pregnant woman should not force herself to eat a balanced diet. She can always catch up on the nutrients later especially after the first trimester is over.
To ensure healthy growth and development of the baby and to maintain the health of the mother, pregnant women are given supplements at the anti-natal clinic.
Of great importance is folic acid supplement, also known as Vitamin B9, crucial for development of a healthy foetus and prevention of neural tube defects like spina bifida.
Staying physically active during pregnancy is also very important. Physical exercises helps ease common pregnancy complaints like constipation, bloating, improves mood and helps the mother sleep better.
Exercises also promote a mother’s strength, promote muscles tones, reduces risk of non-communicable diseases and may be helpful during labour and recovery after delivery.
Pregnant women should also avoid alcoholic drinks completely as there is no known safe amount in pregnancy.
Alcohol intake can interfere with a mother’s health, her body’s ability to absorb and utilise nutrients and also hinders healthy development of the baby.
Excess intake can also result in fetal alcohol syndrome and lifetime irreversible mental retardation. Pregnancy is the one period of life when a woman’s eating habits directly affects another person.
By maintaining a healthy lifestyle before and during pregnancy, a mother gives her child a strong start in life and leaves herself strong and healthy after delivery.