The early weeks of pregnancy are fragile—and confusing. Here, the answers to your questions.
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If you’re like most women, one of the first things you did when you found out you were pregnant was resolve to eat everything you should — and nothing you shouldn’t. Out with the fast-food fries, in with the nutrient-packed salads, veggies and grains. After all, it’s a small sacrifice to make for the sake of your baby’s health.
But as with most resolutions, these don’t always work out. Being tired, busy or worried about weight gain can conspire against your preparing and eating plenty of the right foods, no matter how good your intentions. And then there’s the havoc morning sickness and food cravings often wreak on those intentions.
Well, don’t beat yourself up too much. “Pregnancy is a time when you just have to bend the nutrition rules a little,” says Elizabeth M. Ward, M.S., R.D., a nutritionist at Harvard Vanguard Medical Associates in Boston, author of The American Dietetic Association’s Pregnancy Nutrition: Good Health for You and Your Baby (Chronimed, 1998) and a mother of three. Not that good nutrition isn’t important during pregnancy. In fact, you need more of several nutrients than ever, including vitamins B6 and B12, copper, zinc, folic acid and calcium.
But giving in to an occasional craving for chocolate or indulging in a baked potato with sour cream to tame your churning stomach is not the end of good nutrition. In other words, you don’t have to eat textbook-perfectly at every single meal to get the nutrition you and your baby need; what counts is your intake over the longer term.
Here’s some advice on overcoming three of the biggest obstacles to eating right during pregnancy, as well as a suggested real-world (read: simple) five-day meal plan that accommodates some of the more frequently encountered pregnancy cravings, such as the hankering for sweets.
Although many pregnant women’s food cravings sound unusual, to say the least, satisfying them can often prevent yet another wave of nausea and vomiting — two major obstacles to good nutrition during pregnancy. If it’s any consolation, research shows that women who experience nausea during pregnancy have a lower miscarriage rate than do those who remain nausea-free. (Of course, plenty of women who never suffer one nauseous moment during pregnancy give birth to healthy babies, too.) The bad news is, if you have nausea, even that reassuring bit of information offers little comfort. Misleadingly named, morning sickness can occur at any time of the day or night, and only those who experience it can truly understand the impact it can have.
While there are few, if any, proven ways to prevent or relieve morning sickness, eating ginger sometimes works (it’s a known motion-sickness remedy), as does avoiding strong smells or sniffing a lemon. The main concern is dehydration. According to Miriam Erick, M.S., R.D., a senior dietitian at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston and author of No More Morning Sickness (Plume, 1993), women who are nauseous often don’t get enough fluids (she recommends about 10 cups a day). Sometimes satisfying a craving for a specific food can settle your stomach, allowing you to drink more. If you can’t keep any food down, at least take your prenatal vitamins religiously. Because they can be nauseating, some doctors recommend taking them at night.