Instead of lurching from saintly food habits to a chocolate binge, tailor your diet to each stage of your nine months. Say hello to your new eating rules
Research suggests half of British women are confused by the food advice given during pregnancy. We’re supposed to eat healthily, but what and when? The latest approach is to tailor your diet to support your baby’s development at each stage of pregnancy. And, as it’s what your body needs, it suits your cravings, too. Bring it on.
Stage 1: The Early Weeks
Before you conceive and during the first month of pregnancy, you’re laying down nutritional reserves to benefit your baby. So, what should you stockpile?
Greens are a great place to start, particularly broccoli and spinach, as these are rich in folic acid. ‘This provides the building blocks needed to construct every cell in your baby’s body,’ says nutritionist Saidee Bailey. Folic acid also helps that crucial early spinal development. And that’s not all. Greens could help ease early morning sickness, thanks to their high magnesium content. ‘A recent survey found up to 90% of women with severe morning sickness were deficient in the mineral,’ says Saidee.
Stage 2: Weeks Four To 12
Your baby’s developing fast. At around week six, his heart starts to beat and his red blood cells are forming, so boost your own iron intake. There are two types – heme iron (found in meat) and non-heme iron (in leafy greens). They’re equally beneficial, but heme is utilised more easily than its vegetarian cousin. If you don’t eat meat, drink orange juice with your meals to help with absorption.
Greens could help ease early morning sickness, thanks to their high magnesium content
By week 12, your baby’s brain is developing faster than any other part of his body, so load up on the ‘good’ fat DHA. The richest source is oily fish – think sardines and mackerel. Pregnant women should stick to two portions of oily fish per week, so you might want to top up your levels. ‘DHA is just as easily absorbed in supplement form. Look for a prenatal vitamin containing EPA or DHA,’ says nutritionist Lowri Turner. Try Biocare Mega EPA (£9.25, revital.co.uk).
Stage 3: Weeks 13 To 28
As you move towards week 15, start including carrots and other orange foods, such as sweet potato, into your diet as they are rich in betacarotene. ‘Your baby’s eyes are starting to develop their functional components now, and betacarotene benefits eye health,’ says Saidee.
If you’re craving dairy, go for it, as this is a perfect time to boost your calcium reserves to strengthen your baby’s bones. You can get it from milk, yoghurt and hard cheeses, as well as tofu and sardines with the bones in.
Vitamin D helps you absorb calcium but, if a dose of sunshine is wishful thinking right now, fill up on mushrooms as they contain a decent dose. Zinc is another must-have at this stage. ‘It’s needed for the production, repair and functioning of DNA, so is essential in pregnancy – a time of rapid cell growth,’ says Saidee. It also helps ward off colds, a bonus at a time when your immune system is lowered and you’re more vulnerable to picking up every bug going.
And keep taking your DHA. ‘A study found that children of women who took DHA supplements during week 18 did better in cognitive tests at the age of four,’ says Saidee.
Stage 4: Weeks 29 To 40
‘As you hit 30 weeks, add a side serving of kale, spinach or Swiss chard to meals, as they’re full of vitamin K,’ says Saidee. ‘This will help your baby’s blood to clot.’
Drink lots of milk, too, as he is still storing up his reserves of calcium and magnesium.
Drink lots of milk, as your baby is storing up his reserves of calcium and magnesium
By week 38, your baby is fully formed and only his lungs are still developing. Eat Brazil nuts to up your selenium levels, a mineral associated with healthy lung capacity. It’s also time to think about yourself. ‘You wouldn’t run a marathon without making sure you’re on form – the same goes for preparing for birth,’ says midwife Clemmie Hooper. ‘Plus, the stronger your immune system, the more immunity you pass to your baby.’ So, get stuck into wholegrains, fish and antioxidants – tomatoes, cranberries and artichokes are all good sources.
Stage 5: Post-Birth
Woo-hoo! You did it and your baby is here. Now it’s time to get your strength back after labour and gear up for regular breastfeeding.
Post-childbirth, your body will benefit from copper. This mineral helps reduce inflammation, soreness and aches after labour. The richest source is sesame seeds, so sprinkle them on everything for the next few weeks.
As your baby’s eyes continue to develop for up to six months after birth, keep tucking into the squash and pumpkin, as the betacarotene will come through in your milk. Throw in some red bell peppers, too. They contain bioflavonoids, which can reduce the risk of infection around your baby’s umbilical cord.
And make sure you’re eating enough. Women need around 300 extra calories a day in the first few months of breastfeeding. While you shouldn’t eat biscuits all day, you can treat yourself.
What are your favourite pregnancy foods? Let us know in the comments box below.