While you're probably aware that your diet affects your baby's development in utero and your newborn's health, many pregnant women still make eating errors--mainly because they don't know any better. "Most women I see tend not to be aware of all the nutritional requirements of pregnancy," maintains Kelli Hughes, R.D., a clinical nutritionist at the University of Virginia Health System in Charlottesville. "But they'll happily do what is recommended once they know what to do."
Some of the common blunders expectant moms make could increase their risk of developing serious consequences like gestational diabetes, high blood pressure, or a bacterial infection that can be transmitted to the fetus. Avoiding these five dietary faux pas can mean better health for both of you.
Mistake 1: Eating for two
Every expert we spoke to listed this as the numero-uno diet gaffe. "There is a common belief that pregnancy is the time
for indulgence," says Raul Artal, M.D., chairman of the department of obstetrics, gynecology and women's health at St. Louis University School of Medicine. "It's a myth."
Not only can overeating make it harder to lose the excess weight after delivery, but you're also at increased risk during pregnancy for gestational diabetes and high blood pressure, which is a symptom of preeclampsia. "If you develop preeclampsia, there is a higher risk for poor fetal growth and a complicated delivery," Artal says. "Gestational diabetes leads to bigger babies and a higher C-section rate."
During your first trimester, you don't need any additional calories; in the second trimester, you need 340 more each day; in the third, 450 more. However, the U.S. Department of Agriculture recommends that pregnant women consume 71 grams of protein per day. (Nuts, eggs and lean meats are quick, easy options.) "You need the extra protein to support new cell growth in the fetus," says Jennifer Ramos Galluzzi, Ph.D., assistant professor of nutrition and science at Housatonic Community College in Bridgeport, Conn.
Solution: The number of extra calories you require is small compared with the amount of extra nutrients. So get your additional calories from high-nutrient foods: fruits, vegetables, nuts, beans, legumes, low-fat dairy products and lean meats. All of these give you lots of nutritional bang for your calorie buck.
Mistake 2: Obsessing about weight gain
While some women take in too many calories, others consume too few. Big mistake. "Some women are terrified of gaining weight and scared it won't come off afterward, so they restrict their diets," says Heather Blazier, R.D., L.D., a clinical dietitian at the Medical College of Georgia in Augusta. Complications
of eating too few calories can include low birth weight. "I see women who think milk products are high in fat and calories, so they avoid them," Blazier adds. "If you don't get 1,000 milligrams of calcium daily, the baby's skeleton will be built with calcium leached from your bones."
Solution: Don't deprive yourself of necessary nutrients during pregnancy, as your fetus will not get what it needs for healthy growth and development. If you are obese, consult a dietitian who specializes in pregnancy nutrition to determine the proper prenatal diet for you. Also, cut out all nutritionally empty calories, such as snack foods.