The best foods to eat during pregnancy and post birth

Pregnant woman eating fruit

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Now you're eating for two, it's important to get all the nutritients you and your baby need throughout each stage of your pregnancy and beyond by eating the best foods for your pregnancy. So, instead of lurching from saintly food habits to craving a chocolate binge, you'll want to tailor your diet to each stage of your nine months. Say hello to your new eating rules...

Read on to find out more about the foods below and what stage of pregnancy it's best to eat them:

  • Spinach

  • Meat

  • Oily fish

  • Carrots

  • Milk

  • Mushrooms

  • Kale

  • Brazil nuts

  • Sesame seeds

  • Pumpkin

Certain nutrients are important during pregnancy to ensure everything ticks along nicely. Your body is working hard all the time which is why you probably feel pretty fed up and exhausted. It is possible to take vitamins or nutrient supplements during pregnancy but it is important to check with a doctor or pharmacist which is safe.

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.

Pregnancy is split into three stages: the first, second and third trimester. If you've just taken a pregnancy test (read: if you only got a faint line on the pregnancy test), have been exhibiting some of the early signs of pregnancy and have found out you are pregnant - welcome to the first trimester of pregnancy!

During the first trimester, you are likely to experience everything from morning sickness to tender breastsfatigue, general pregnancy painheartburn and indigestion - sounds fun right?

In order to make these first thirteen weeks as bearable as possible, it is a good idea to stick to healthy diet and make sure you read up on what food and drink you need to avoid when you're expecting. It is important you get all the nutrients you need when growing a baby so we have rounded up the best food to eat during this important stage of pregnancy.

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. {#Spinach}

Stage 2: Weeks 4 - 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. {#Meat}

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, {#Oily fish}

18 superfoods to eat during the first trimester:

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1) Yoghurt

If hot meals are offputting, yoghurt is a great soothing option to fill you up. You can have it with fruit or try grated apple as that is thought to be good for settling an upset stomach.

Stage 3: Weeks 13 - 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. {#Carrots}

Stage 4: Weeks 29 - 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. {#Kale}

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. {#Brazil nuts}

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. {#Sesame seeds}

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