Healthy Diet, Healthy Baby

For many women, finding out you are pregnant can be overwhelming whether the pregnancy is planned or not. Something many pregnant women don't expect is the need to modify their diet to have the best possible outcome for their baby.

We have all heard the old adage that when you are pregnant "you are eating for two." However, while calorie requirements do increase during pregnancy by about 300 calories per day, other dietary guidelines need to be followed as well. Remember that your developing baby is relying on you to make nutritious food choices to aid in its development and growth. The sooner you start prenatal nutrition, the better off you and your baby will be.

All food groups play a role in your baby's development and it is important to maintain a balanced diet throughout your pregnancy. Here are some tips to help you along the way.

  • Folic acid. Research has shown that including adequate amounts of folate in your diet early in pregnancy can prevent neural tube defects. The recommended daily goal of 400 micrograms is best achieved by consuming folate-fortified foods (cereals and other grains) and dietary supplements. In addition, dietary sources of folate such as legumes, green leafy vegetables, liver, and citrus fruits and juices should be included as part of your daily diet.
  • Calcium. It is important to have adequate calcium in your diet to assist with development of your baby's bones and teeth. Although a woman's requirements of calcium -- 1000 milligrams a day for women ages 18 to 50 -- do not increase during pregnancy, it is important to include enough calcium-rich foods every day.
  • Alcohol. Consumption of alcohol during pregnancy has been linked to learning disabilities, mental retardation, and major birth defects in babies, so it should be eliminated from your diet while you are pregnant.
  • Caffeine. Coffee and other caffeine-containing drinks should be limited or eliminated from your diet during pregnancy. Caffeine consumption by pregnant women has been linked to such adverse outcomes as spontaneous abortion and low birth weight. If you must have your daily cup of coffee, make sure that your caffeine intake stays below 300 milligrams per day.
  • Protein. It is important to ensure adequate protein intake during pregnancy to assist with new cell growth and physical growth of the baby. If you suffer from severe nausea and vomiting, or follow a strict vegetarian diet during pregnancy you may not be meeting the suggested 60 grams of daily protein intake. Try to include cheese, yogurt, meats and poultry, peanuts, beans, and other protein-rich foods in you daily diet.
  • Extra calories. The additional calories you will need to nurture your growing baby should come from healthy, nutrient-packed foods. Items like potato chips, cookies, and sodas provide empty calories. Look for nutrient-rich foods such as low-fat dairy products, fruits, and vegetables.