Pregnancy

A healthy pregnancy starts well before conception. A woman’s diet during the few months before she conceives can significantly increase her ability to get pregnant and be as important for her baby’s well-being as what she eats during her pregnancy.

Supplements

A daily intake of at least 400 micrograms of folic acid when trying to conceive and during the first 12 weeks of pregnancy greatly reduces the risk of giving birth to a baby with a congenital neural tube defect such as Spina Bifida.

Do:
Remember to take your folic acid supplement every day.
Eat plenty of folate-rich (the natural form of folic acid) foods as well. Try to include plenty of dark green leafy vegetables, such as spinach and watercress, nuts, pulses, wholegrains and fruit juices.

Don’t:
X Take excessive amounts of vitamin A as this can cause foetal abnormalities. Check any supplements you are already taking and make sure you are not exceeding the RDA (recommended daily amount) for vitamin A.

Alcohol

Alcohol consumption is not recommended during pregnancy and can lower your chances of conceiving.

Do:
Stop drinking alcohol if you are planning to get pregnant.

Don’t:
X Binge drink. If you really want an alcoholic drink to celebrate a special occasion, stick to just one unit, such as a small glass or wine or champagne, half a pint of weak lager or a single measure of spirit diluted with plenty of mixer.

Food safety

Bacterial infections such as listeriosis, salmonella and toxoplasmosis can be particularly dangerous for both pregnant women and their unborn babies. The bacteria can pass through the womb and infect the unborn baby causing great harm and interfering with normal development.

Do:
Avoid unpasteurised soft cheese, such as Brie and Camenbert.
Cook eggs thoroughly and avoid any foods that incorporate raw or lightly cooked eggs, such as home-made mayonnaise, sauces and puddings.
Make sure all meats are cooked though.
Wash your hands after handling raw meat.

Don’t:
X Eat liver or liver products, as this is a very rich source of vitamin A.
X Eat more than two portions of oily fish per week or more than fours cans of tuna, due to risk of contamination with environmental pollutants.
X Eat shellfish, marlin, shark or swordfish, due to risk of contamination with heavy metals such as lead and mercury.

Healthy balance

A well balanced diet will supply all the energy and nutrients for health needed by the mother and growing baby.

Do:
Eat plenty of fruit and vegetables – at least 5 portions a day.
Eat plenty of foods from the starchy carbohydrate group, such as breads, cereals, rice, pasta and potatoes. Choose wholegrain versions whenever you can.
Consume good amounts of low fat milk and dairy products to ensure a good intake of calcium. Make sure you go outside for at least half an hour a day, exposing your skin to daylight. This will ensure your body makes an adequate amount of vitamin D, needed to absorb calcium from the diet.
Eat moderate amounts of protein foods, such as meat, fish, eggs, soya, pulses and nuts. Have a good variety to ensure adequate protein as well as important nutrients like iron, zinc, magnesium and essential fatty acids including omega 3 fats.

Don’t:
X Eat for two. You don’t need many extra calories during pregnancy. Be guided by your appetite and when you feel hungry between meals, choose a healthy snack such as a fruit scone, a yoghurt, a slice of cheese on toast or a handful of dried fruits.
X Try to slim during pregnancy. You may end up with a nutrient deficiency.

Morning sickness and heartburn

Morning sickness is most common during the first three months and can happen at any time during the day. Heartburn and indigestion often occur during the later stages of pregnancy.

Do:
Eat little and often.
Avoid fatty and spicy foods.
Drink plenty of water.

Don’t:
X Skip meals.