When you’re pregnant, everyone is an expert.
Here’s a tip: Don’t believe everything.
Here’s another: Eating a healthy diet will not only help you feel and look good, but it’s key to preventing certain pregnancy conditions and laying the groundwork for your baby’s health. Here are three common pregnancy myths and the real story:
Myth: “I’m eating for two!”
The amount of extra calories you need during pregnancy to promote a healthy weight gain greatly depends on your weight before you got pregnant. If you’re on the skinny side of normal, you may need to gain 25 to 35 pounds, but if you’re just a little overweight, 15 to 25 pounds may be the right goal, according to the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology. Staying within your recommended weight gain range can help prevent gestational diabetes, which increases your risk of developing diabetes—and your baby’s risk of macrosomia (being born over 8 pounds, 13 ounces) which can increase complications during delivery. Macrocosmic babies are also at risk of becoming obese children. Bottom line? Work with your obstetrician to pinpoint your own healthy pregnancy weight gain goals; a registered dietician can help you tailor your diet to your caloric needs. And while you may not need to gain as much weight as you thought, never go on a weight loss diet when you’re pregnant.
Myth: “I take a prenatal vitamin, so I’ve covered all my bases for the nutrients I need.”
During pregnancy, certain micronutrients take on a star role. The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics recommends:
- 600 mcg of folic acid per day to prevent spinal cord defects such a spina bifida
- 1000 mg of calcium per day to help your baby’s heart, bones, muscles, teeth, and nerves develop
- 27 mg of iron per day to help prevent maternal anemia
While all of these micronutrients and more can be found in a daily prenatal vitamin, it is equally important to make sure the rest of your diet is just as nutritious. Your body can only absorb 600mg of calcium at a time, for example, so any excess in a prenatal vitamin is excreted in your urine. To meet all of your calcium needs, aim for three servings of dairy per day, such as low-fat milk, yogurt and hard cheese, or calcium-fortified nondairy substitutes. Additionally, your body cannot absorb calcium and iron at the same time—they compete for the same absorption site within your body. (When that competition goes down, calcium always wins.) Anemia can zap your energy and lead to premature birth—and a low birth weight infant. To prevent it, aim for a diet rich in iron-containing foods such as lean meats, poultry, eggs, seeds (especially raw pumpkin seeds), beans, quinoa, and leafy greens. Vitamin C enhances the absorption of iron, so try pairing your iron-rich foods with citrus fruits or tomatoes. Waiting about half an hour between calcium-rich foods and iron-rich foods gives your body the best chance at absorbing as much as possible.
Myth: “I’m craving salty foods, this is my body telling me I need more salt.”
Excess salt intake during pregnancy can lead to gestational hypertension, which if left untreated can result in a serious condition known as preeclampsia. Preeclampsia can cause seizures, placental abruption, and lack of blood flow to the baby leading to growth delays, respiratory complications, and preterm birth. Preeclampsia increases the risk for morbidity and mortality in both the mother and the baby, and is a common cause for medically prescribed bed rest during pregnancy. To reduce your risk of gestational hypertension, aim for less than 1500 mg of sodium per day, combined with a diet rich in colorful fruits and vegetables, whole grains, low fat dairy, lean protein, and healthy fats.
So be gracious in accepting all those gifts in the baby shower. But when your best friend’s friend’s sister tells you about nutrition during pregnancy, take it with a grain of salt.
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