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As a mom-to-be, you can make a powerful impression on your baby before she’s even born. Avoiding alcohol, smoking, medications and supplements not approved by your doctor can help you have the brightest, healthiest baby possible. So can your diet. Granted, eating perfectly isn’t guaranteed to produce a genius or an Olympic athlete, but healthful foods will provide your child with the raw materials to build a vigorous body and brain.
In fact, perhaps the most important role of a healthful prenatal diet (one that emphasizes seasonal, brightly colored fruits and vegetables) is to help nourish your child’s growing brain. Babies enter the world with all the neurons — the basic units of the brain and the entire nervous system — they will ever have. And just like the rest of your baby’s body, neurons need the proper nourishment. Here’s how to give baby what she needs to succeed.
fueling fetal growth
Pregnancy is demanding. “Even the perfect pre-pregnancy diet is no longer adequate once you conceive,” says Mary Frances Picciano, Ph.D., professor of nutrition at Pennsylvania State University in University Park, Pa. That makes choosing a nutrient-packed diet more important than ever.
It takes 80,000 calories to nourish the rapid growth of your baby’s brain and body for nine months. During the first three months, energy needs are negligible, since the baby is only the size of your index finger by the end of the first trimester. Growth begins in earnest around week 14. That’s when you’ll need 300 extra calories a day to meet the recommended weight-gain goal of 25–35 pounds. Moderately active women require about 2,900 calories daily; very active women may need more.
Skimping on calories to preserve your figure isn’t healthy for you or your baby. Inadequate weight gain increases the chance of a low-birth-weight baby (51/2 pounds or less). However, pregnancy is no license to overeat. Moms-to-be who gain too many pounds have been shown to have bigger babies, resulting in difficult deliveries.
Packing protein: 60 grams
Protein supplies the raw materials for the construction of cells, antibodies and the hormones and enzymes that support life. For all of protein’s importance, pregnancy boosts protein needs by a mere 10 grams a day, the amount found in 10 ounces of milk or 11/2 ounces of meat, poultry or seafood. Five ounces of meat, chicken or seafood daily, in addition to three servings of milk, yogurt or cheese, satisfies pregnancy protein requirements.