The early weeks of pregnancy are fragile—and confusing. Here, the answers to your questions.
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Never before have your food choices mattered so much. From conception to delivery, or longer if you breastfeed, your baby is dependent on nutrients from you for the growth and development of all his cells, tissues and organs. Every bite of food you take (or don’t take) counts.
Fortunately, providing you and your baby with the best mix of nutrients is a simple matter of eating lots of fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, legumes and low-fat milk products along with a little extra-lean meat, chicken or fish. In addition, research recently has uncovered a few other links between diet and your baby that you should consider.
Folic Acid to the Rescue New findings about the B vitamin folic acid seem to be making the news daily. You’ve probably heard by now that folic acid intake before and during the early months of pregnancy is essential for preventing neural tube defects, but it might be just as important in the third trimester, say researchers at the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey. When average folic acid intakes and blood levels in pregnant women were measured and related to the outcomes of their pregnancies, researchers found that those women with low average daily folic acid consumption (i.e., less than 240 micrograms a day) and/or low blood folic acid levels at 28 weeks of pregnancy had twice the incidence of preterm delivery and low-birth-weight babies as those getting adequate amounts of this vitamin.
The Calorie Count
If you don’t eat enough during pregnancy, your baby is robbed of calories and nutrients, which can result in low-birth-weight or premature infants who are more prone to health problems. This doesn’t mean you can eat all you want (see “Weight Gains: What’s Safe?” page 52). Your daily energy needs during the first trimester are the same as they were before pregnancy (approximately 2,200 calories), and they increase by only 100 to 300 calories during the second and third trimesters, for a daily total of 2,300 to 2,500 calories.
An average-weight woman should gain about 25 to 35 pounds during her pregnancy. Women who are overweight should gain no more than 15 to 25 pounds, while underweight women should gain approximately 28 to 40 pounds, depending on their height and degree of leanness prior to pregnancy.
It’s not just total weight gain, but the pattern of weight gain that’s important. In the first trimester, you should experience a slow gain of about 2 to 5 pounds total (more if you’re thin, very active or tall; less if you’re overweight, sedentary or short). In the last two trimesters, your weight should steadily increase by approximately 3/4 to 1 pound a week.