Pregnancy and breastfeeding
Good nutrition is especially important for women when they are thinking about getting pregnant, pregnant or breastfeeding. Pregnancy is a time when your nutritional needs are greater, in order to nourish both yourself and your growing baby. Good nutrition now will benefit your children throughout their lives.
You don’t need to change your diet drastically when you are preparing for pregnanacy, pregnant or breastfeeding. You should continue to eat healthy foods, drink plenty of water and keep active. However, there are a few extra things you need to be aware of in relation to certain vitamins and minerals, alcohol, and food safety.
Eating from each of the following food groups every day helps to ensure you have all the nutrients you need to nourish yourself and your baby.
- Have at least 4 servings of vegetables and 2 servings of fruit
- Have at least 6 servings of breads and cereals during pregnancy and at least 7 serves during breastfeeding. These foods include bread, pasta, rice and breakfast cereal. Whole grains varities are best
- Have at least 3 servings of dairy products, such as milk, yoghurt and cheese
- Have at least 2 servings of meat, poultry, seafood, eggs, nuts and seeds or legumes (such as beans, chickpeas and lentils)
Iron is a carrier of oxygen throughout the body. Lack of iron will make you feel tired and exhausted during pregnancy and while breastfeeding.
Pregnant and breastfeeding women need extra calcium for their growing baby as well as to keep their own bones strong. Dairy foods are the best sources of calcium but if you don’t eat these, there are many other sources of calcium.
More iodine is needed during pregnancy and breastfeeding because your baby is growing rapidly.
Early pregnancy is a crucial time in a baby’s development, particularly for what is called the ‘neural tube’, which becomes the brain and spinal cord. This is formed in the first 27 days of pregnancy so that is why it is important to have a diet high in folate before and during the early stages of pregnancy.
High levels of vitamin A during pregnancy are harmful to a developing baby. Liver (lamb’s fry) and some supplements are particularly high in this vitamin, so avoid eating liver more than once a week (100g) and do not take supplements containing vitamin A, including fish oils, unless advised by your doctor.
Keeping food safe from contaminants is extremely important while you are pregnant or breastfeeding. Food poisoning can affect both yourself and your baby. If you experience diarrhoea, vomiting or flu-like illness it is important to contact your doctor or midwife immediately.
- Always cook eggs until the yolk and white are solid. Avoid undercooked or raw eggs
- Avoid buying pre-prepared sandwiches and salads from delis or supermarkets. Freshly made homemade sandwiches are the best option.
- Avoid foods containing raw fish, shellfish or seafood, such as sushi
- Wash and dry fruit and vegetables before you eat them
- Store chilled foods in a fridge below 4°C and always heat food thoroughly until it’s steaming hot, i.e. at least 70°C.
- Avoid soft cheeses (such as brie and camembert) and unpasteurised milk
There is no known safe level for drinking alcohol during pregnancy as it enters a baby’s bloodstream, where it can affect development.
The Ministry of Health recommends pregnant women avoid drinking alcohol, including those who are planning a pregnancy. Breastfeeding mothers are encouraged to avoid alcohol, especially during the first month.
Many pregnant women believe they must give up caffeine altogether, but this isn’t necessary. The caffeine content of drinks varies. Stronger espresso coffee is best limited to one cup per day. Instant coffee and tea contains less caffeine so up to six cups per day can be enjoyed. Whatever you choose, be aware caffeine is a stimulant, and can contribute to indigestion as well as keeping you awake at night.