INSAAF GOOLAM, a registered dietitian (SA) answers some questions related to pregnancy.
Q: How important is the nutritional status or health of a woman before pregnancy?
A: The nutritional status of a woman before pregnancy is very important. This is not only maintaining a healthy diet but rather a healthy lifestyle overall. Lifestyle changes include following a healthy balanced diet as well as exercising or being generally active. A balanced diet includes varying the types of food eaten rather than just sticking to the firm favourites.
Q: How much should a pregnant woman eat and what foods are most beneficial?
A: When it comes to pregnancy, quality over quantity is generally the best idea to follow. A woman’s needs during pregnancy do not double but rather only slightly increase. It’s best to eat foods that are nutritious to ensure that you are getting a wide range of vitamins and minerals. Foods that should be included are:
- whole grains and high fibre, such as brown breads, cereals, rice, pastas etc.;
- a wide variety of different types of vegetables and fruits;
- a portion of protein with each of your meals. Not only meat, chicken and fish but also eggs, beans and legumes;
- milk and dairy products as they provide you with the calcium needed to help your baby build strong healthy bones (two to three portions a day should be sufficient).
In short, additional calories needed to support a healthy pregnancy are equivalent to an additional sandwich and a glass of milk per day.
Q: Are multivitamins important during pregnancy?
A: Both yes and no. Vitamins and minerals can be obtained by eating fresh fruits and vegetables of a large variety, apart from the usual items chosen. However, it’s not always easy to include such a large variety and a multivitamin can cover the gaps. As such, even with a highly varied diet, the benefits always remain.
Q: What is considered a healthy weight gain during pregnancy?
A: Weight gain varies from person to person and pregnancy to pregnancy. However, there are general guidelines that can be followed to ensure that weight gain is sufficient. If you were underweight before pregnancy, ideal weight gain would be between 12 and 18 kg. If you were at an ideal weight before pregnancy, weight gain should generally be between 11 and 16kg. If overweight before pregnancy, an ideal weight gain would be between seven and 11kg. Ideal weight gain with a twin pregnancy is generally between 17 and 25kg. Additional weight however, is not only from what we eat but also comes from the extra blood volume and body tissues, such as the placenta, the amniotic fluid as well as the baby.
Q: Does a woman need to eat more if she is having twins or triplets, than for a singleton?
A: Although nutrient requirements do increase for a multiple pregnancy, these requirements do not increase significantly compared to a single pregnancy. However, it is beneficial to have a diet that includes foods that can provide you with additional energy, proteins, iron, calcium and folate. In this case, it would be beneficial to add a multivitamin to your diet as well.
Q: Most women suffer from nausea, especially in the first trimester. Is there anything that they can do to help with this?
A: There are a few changes that can assist in decreasing or eliminating nausea:
- eating small frequent meals – six small meals or snacking every one to two hours to avoid making your stomach too full or too empty;
- snacking on dry crackers, pretzels and biscuits;
- eating simple foods such as rice, scrambled eggs, mashed potatoes rather than overly spiced foods;
- drinking enough fluids;
- getting enough fresh air by opening windows etc, could help if the odours from cooking makes you nauseous;
- take your time and eat and drink slowly;
- avoid fatty foods, creamy foods, foods that are too sweet or spicy and avoid lying down immediately after eating.
Q: Are there any guidelines to help with additional symptoms such as heartburn and constipation?
A: If you suffer from constipation,
- include more fibre such as whole grain breads and cereals, fresh fruits and vegetables in your diet;
- make sure to drink enough fluids.
If you suffer from heartburn,
- avoid spicy or fatty foods;
- limit caffeine;
- have small, more frequent meals;
- eat slowly;
- avoid lying down immediately after eating;
- Avoid eating too late at night.
Q: Are herbal tea and coffee safe to drink during pregnancy?
A: The effects of herbal teas have not been fully researched and are not widely recommended. Caffeine, from coffee or tea should be limited to one cup per day. Energy drinks contain large amounts of caffeine and are not recommended.
Q: Most women have cravings in pregnancy; are cravings a sign of missing nutrients in the body?
A: Cravings during pregnancy are common and occur with most women. They don’t indicate that anything is missing from your diet. They should not stop you or be any kind of obstruction from eating a well balanced diet.