Motherhood, Marriage and Other Wild Rides

Health, Happiness and the Pursuit of Mommyhood

Big Love, Low Risk: Your Guide to the Healthiest Pregnancy December 16, 2007

This previously published story (San Diego Family magazine) is now available for FREE reprint.
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At no other time of a woman’s life is she more concerned about good nutrition and health than during pregnancy. To celebrate this sometimes scary yet exhilarating new chapter of your life, your first loving act of parenting can be to protect your developing baby by caring for yourself.

When you’re expecting, it’s natural to be concerned about your health and that of your unborn baby. Maintaining a healthful diet, lowering stress and getting appropriate exercise and rest are all important for the health of a pregnant mother and her baby. Food safety is also very important. The following will help you make safe decisions when selecting and preparing food for yourself and your family, as well as helpful tips on reducing stress and keeping fit.

The Big Three

Scientific research continues to expand our knowledge of nutrition in pregnancy. Let’s begin with the Big Three: protein, calcium and folate. Use the Big Three as building blocks for all your meals. Be sure to include them with every meal to meet recommended daily requirements.

Protein is essential to your baby’s cell growth and blood production. In general, a pregnant woman requires 80-100 grams of protein daily. The best choices for pregnant women include lean meat, poultry, eggs, beans, peanut butter and tofu.The National Institute of Health states that folate, or folic acid, protects against neural tube defects including malformations of the spine (spina bifida), skull and brain (anencephaly).

The Institute of Medicine (IOM) recommends a daily intake of 400-600 micrograms of folic acid per day from fortified foods and/or dietary supplements. The 2000 Dietary Guidelines for Americans suggest pregnant mothers enjoy green leafy vegetables, dark yellow fruits and vegetables, beans, peas and nuts. Also, check the cereal aisle at the grocery store to find ready-to-eat cereals fortified with 100 percent of the RDA for folate.

Most women are aware of calcium’s role in building and maintaining healthy bones. During pregnancy, in addition to forming your baby’s bones, the mineral helps to conduct nerve impulses and aids in the proper function of your baby’s heart and other muscles. The recommended amount of calcium for a pregnant woman is 1,200 milligrams a day–just four cups of milk a day. Other dairy products like yogurt and hard cheese make excellent choices, or you can get your calcium through nondairy products such as collards, spinach, broccoli, okra, chickpeas, lentils, sweet potatoes and tofu. Also, choose foods that are fortified with calcium: orange juice, cereal, bread and cereal bars, to name a few. Check food labels for calcium levels of 30 percent RDA to get the same amount as you would from a cup of milk.

Now that you have your building blocks for each meal, you can ensure the healthy development of your growing baby with the following nutritional powerhouses. These nutrients have undergone worldwide scientific studies and have been found to be indispensable for human growth and development.

Brainies R Us

Give your little one a jumpstart at school! Omega-3 fatty acids have proven a critical component for both neurological and early visual development of infants. Recently published research has confirmed that adding omega-3 fatty acids to the diet of a pregnant woman can positively affect her baby’s visual and cognitive function–with effects measurable up to the age of four! Omega-3 fatty acids may also have positive effects on the pregnancy itself. According to Dr. Steve Hasley, a practicing obstetrician at West Penn Hospital, women with lower intakes of omega-3 fatty acids have a much greater risk of developing pre-eclampsia (also known as toxemia), a complication affecting approximately 5-10% of all pregnancies and a leading contributor to maternal mortality, preterm delivery, fetal growth retardation and perinatal mortality. Dr. Hasley adds that an even more important benefit is the role of omega-3 fatty acids in preventing pre-term labor and delivery. Women with lower amounts of omega-3 have a higher risk of preterm labor, and supplementation with this vital nutrient has been shown to decrease the risk. Omega-3 fatty acids may also lower the risk of post-partum depression. A pregnant woman should get at least 250 mg of omega-3 fatty acids per day using vitamin supplements, fish oil capsules, ground flax seeds, flax oil or fortified cereals.

Will your baby be President one day?

By adding choline to your diet now, you improve your chances of delivering a genius! The Journal of Neurophysiology (vol 91, April issue) reported study results indicating that taking choline during pregnancy could “super-charge” children’s brains for life. Scott Swartzwelder and colleagues at Duke University Medical Center in North Carolina, US, discovered that pregnant women who took choline, a member of the vitamin B family, gave birth to faster learners with better memories. Results of the study prompted the US Institute of Medicine to add choline to its 2003 list of essential nutrients, particularly for pregnant women. Daily requirements for pregnant and lactating women are 550 milligrams, or 2 egg yolks. While choline and omega-3 fatty acids are also found in liver, swordfish and tuna, those foods should be avoided during pregnancy. Liver is high in retinal, which can cause birth defects; swordfish and tuna fish have a high mercury content, which is harmful to fetuses.

Number one on the hitlist of trouble-foods, high-mercury fish is a prenatal no-no. Mercury occurs naturally in the environment and is also released into the air through industrial pollution. It accumulates in streams and oceans where fish absorb it. Eating fish and shellfish containing higher levels of mercury may harm an unborn baby or young child’s developing nervous system. In a 2004 report, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) advised pregnant women, nursing mothers and young children to avoid shark, swordfish, king mackerel`and tilefish. For fish and seafood lovers, they suggest only 12 ounces a week of low-mercury fish and shellfish, such as cooked shrimp, canned light tuna and salmon. Be advised, albacore (“white”) tuna has more mercury than canned light tuna.

Not The Usual Suspects

As a pregnant woman, you’ve never been hungrier. Since you’re spending more time in the kitchen, here are some helpful hints on food safety.

If you’ve always nibbled the uncooked cookie dough, savored Caesar salads with raw egg in the dressing or prepared your burgers medium rare, experts say pregnancy is a time to rethink these practices.

Hormonal changes during pregnancy have an effect on the mother’s immune system that lead to an increased susceptibility to listeriosis, a type of bacteria in contaminated food. According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), pregnant women are about 20 times more likely than other healthy adults to get listeriosis. In fact, about one-third of listeriosis cases happen during pregnancy. Listeriosis can be transmitted to the fetus through the placenta even if the mother is not showing signs of illness. This can lead to premature delivery, miscarriage, stillbirth or serious health problems for her newborn.

USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) and the FDA advise pregnant women to steer clear of hot dogs and luncheon or deli meats unless they are reheated until steaming hot. And, until the baby is born, wave bye-bye to soft cheeses such as feta, brie, camembert, blue-veined cheeses and Mexican-style cheeses such as queso blanco fresco. Anything labeled “unpasteurized” should be avoided, including beverages.More goodies that should never top your (whole grain, low-sodium) cracker: refrigerated pâté or meat spreads or refrigerated smoked seafood including those labeled as “nova-style,” “lox,” “kippered,” “smoked,” or “jerky.” Opt instead for hard cheeses and semi-soft cheeses such as mozzarella, pasteurized processed cheese slices and spreads. Cream cheese and cottage cheese and canned or shelf-stable pâté and meat spreads can be safely eaten.  

Take A Load Off

Pregnancy is a stressful time for many women. You may be feeling happy, sad and scared–all at the same time. As a new mommy, you are commencing a new life of love and concern for your child’s well-being. Now is the ideal time to learn how to cope with stress, while building energy and stamina through appropriate exercise. Any woman, pregnant or not, can cope better with stress if she is healthy and fit.

Speak with your doctor about which types of exercise would most benefit your unique pregnancy. Exercise keeps pregnant women fit, can prevent some common discomforts of pregnancy (e.g.: backache, fatigue and constipation) and relieves stress. Popular, safe choices for most mothers include prenatal-specific yoga, walking and swimming. A group prenatal exercise class creates a relaxed setting for meeting and talking with other expectant moms and allows temporary separation from a hectic workplace or the demands of maintaining a home.

Allow sufficient time to relax for the health of your baby and yourself. Maternal stress can affect your developing baby. Simple yet effective stress reducers include slipping into a warm (but not hot) bath, listening to quiet music or positive visualization tapes while lying on your left side, meditation, deep breathing or writing in a journal. Hormonal changes may be partly responsible for the mood swings experienced during pregnancy. These mood swings are common and normal. When possible, permit yourself to simply laugh about them. Often, after the baby is born, parents share a giggle over stumbling through mommy’s hormone-induced highs and lows together. Most importantly, attending all your prenatal care appointments will give you the reassurance that your baby is doing well and allow you to ask questions and share your feelings.

If stress is taking its toll on you, talk about your feelings with your partner, friends, relatives and health care practitioner. If you feel overwhelmed, talk with a trained counselor. New motherhood is a life-changing event. Fortunately, for today’s expectant moms, quality health information is available so that you can offer your child the best possible start in life. Change is indeed scary, but without change you wouldn’t be pregnant! Begin adjusting to your wonderful new life as mommy by making simple dietary and lifestyle adjustments that encourage a healthy, low-risk pregnancy.

Pregnancy Superfoods!

You’ll meet your recommended daily allowances in no time with these nutrient-rich food choices!

  • 2 whole eggs offer 17 grams of protein and an entire day’s choline requirement.
  • 1 4-ounce glass of vitamin D-fortified milk offers 8 grams of protein and 300 milligrams of calcium with vitamin D to help absorb it.
  • 2 Tbsp peanut butter offers 8 grams of protein, 15 milligrams of calcium and folate.
  • Green leafy veggies offer folate, fiber (to relieve constipation) and calcium.
  • Read the cereal box: Many whole or multigrain cereals are fortified with omega-3-rich flax and offer up to 100 percent of the RDA for folate, not to mention protein and fiber. Pour a cup of milk over it, add a piece of fruit and you’ve made an ideal start to your day!  

Special note:
Please note that smoking, second-hand smoke and the use of alcohol and/or narcotics are extremely dangerous to your unborn baby. If you haven’t abstained from nicotine, drugs or alcohol, stop now. Get help through a local program or with the assistance of a medical professional. Also, several types of over-the-counter or prescription medications could pose a danger to your developing infant. Discuss the use of any medication with your practitioner.  

Are you selecting baby gear and decorating your nursery? Fisher Price has a chic, gender-neutral new line of baby products, The Zen Collection. Check it out here!

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2 Responses to “Big Love, Low Risk: Your Guide to the Healthiest Pregnancy”

  1. […] Check This Out! While looking through the blogosphere we stumbled on an interesting post today. Here’s a quick excerpt: Food safety is also very important. The following will help you make safe decisions when selecting and preparing food for yourself and your family, as well as helpful tips on reducing stress and keeping fit. The Big Three Scientific … […]

  2. […] more info on how choline helps during pregnancy, check Big Love, Low Risk: Your Guide to the Healthiest Pregnancy. You’ll also learn how Omega-3 fatty acids may decrease the risk of both post-partum […]


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