Finding out you’re pregnant is an exciting moment, and with it can come a whirlwind of emotions. You’re excited to share the news with your friends and family. You want to start buying baby clothes, and you begin making plans for the nursery. But suddenly, you realize there’s much more to think about, especially when it comes to your health. Keeping yourself healthy is no longer just about you– now you have another person you need to take care of.
However, there’s no need to get panic or get overwhelmed. Keeping up with exercise and maintaining proper nutrition is important when you’re expecting, but luckily taking care of yourself doesn’t have to be too complicated.
“When a woman is pregnant, it is crucial for her to receive the proper nutrients from foods because the baby is relying on those nutrients as well as she,” says Amy Klassman, RD. “But it is a common myth that a baby or fetus acts like a ‘parasite’ within the womb and is able to obtain nutrients ahead of the mother or steal it from the mother’s store. The mother’s body fulfills its needs first based on the nutrients obtained, and then passes on the rest to the fetus/baby.”
1. Green leafy vegetables
“Green leafy vegetables such as kale, spinach, and Swiss chard are packed with the essential folic acid that assists with the baby’s neurological development,” says Klassman. These nutritious veggies are also filled with nutrients such as vitamin K, vitamin C, and calcium, which will help keep your immune system up and increase your bone strength during pregnancy.
Fatty fish such as salmon, sardines, and tuna contain omega-3 fatty acids that help decrease inflammation and aid in the development of the baby’s nervous system. Studies have even found that mothers who consumed a lot of omega-3 fatty acids when they were pregnant had children that had earlier brain development and better attention spans than those children whose mothers included less omega-3s in their diet.
Not only are beans high in fiber and heart-healthy protein, but they contain large amounts of iron, a nutrient especially important when expecting a baby. “The increase in blood capacity by the developing baby increases women’s need for iron during pregnancy,” says Klassman. Incorporating foods like black beans, kidney beans, and garbanzo beans into your diet will help keep your energy levels high and also decrease the chances of delivering prematurely.
Eggs are a fantastic source of choline, which is an essential part of the cell membrane. Since a mother goes through so much growth during pregnancy, the need for choline is increased exponentially. “Choline is also necessary for the fetus’s brain development,” says Klassman. Just make sure your eggs are fully cooked, as pregnant women are advised not to eat raw or semi-cooked eggs due to an increased risk of salmonella.
“Flaxseed is a great addition to pregnant women’s diet,” says Klassman. “It is packed full of omega-3 fatty acids and is one of the few plant-based foods that contains this important nutrient.” Like in salmon, the omega-3s in flaxseed can help aid in the baby’s brain development, but the consumption of flaxseed can also protect the mother and baby from a preterm delivery.
Yogurt is a healthy source of calcium and protein, which can help aid both the expectant mother and future child. “Calcium is needed for the baby’s bone development and to ensure healthy blood pressure maintenance for both mother and baby throughout the pregnancy,” says Klassman. “If the mother does not consume enough calcium, she runs the risk of having calcium pulled from her bones so that the baby can continue to develop.”
7. Iodized Salt
A surprising number of pregnant women are deficient in iodine, a nutrient essential for protecting the fetus from developing hypothyroidism, a disease that is characterized by developmental and growth deficiencies. Iodine can be found in table salt, dairy products, seafood, and brewers yeast. “Even though it sounds contradictory to common public health beliefs, salt, especially iodized salt, is something that should be included within every pregnant woman’s diet,” says Klassman. “Iodized salt provides pregnant women with iodine and sodium, which are two important nutrients especially during pregnancy.”