Nutrition During Pregnancy & Postpartum

Updated: Mar 17

Eating for two places higher demands on a woman's body. To help ease the stress and save energy, it is important to consider what nutrition means to you during pregnancy, and in what ways you can eat wholesome nutritious food sustainably. A simple and guided approach will usually work for you, even when times get hard or your schedule is jam packed. This is a quick dive into how to get the most out of your nutrition during pregnancy.


Habits vs. Calories

According to the recommendations from the academy of Nutrition and Dietetics women generally do not require additional calories in the first trimester. However, requirements will increase above standard needs roughly by 340 calories in the second trimester, 450 calories in the third trimester, and 500 calories postpartum if breastfeeding. Now, Yes, the numbers can be frightening, but it is important to focus on eating high-quality, nourishing foods as wells as eating slowly, eating when hungry, and stopping when satisfied (1).


Building a foundation around nutrition during pregnancy puts a woman in a place to grow and limit the possible complications as pregnancy throws a lot of challenges (some that may be seen coming, and others that may appear undetected). Counting calories is in an extra task, it takes away energy and is very time consuming - even with the latest technology. A slow and steady approach to forming nutritional habits and setting goals is what I have learned in studying, and have seen work the best with clients. Setting foundational nutritional habits will be discussed in further detail in the next blog.


Macronutrients. Vegetables & Fruits. Hydration.

Macronutrients are nutrients your body needs in large amounts to function optimally. Each macronutrient has a defined role for proper functionality (2).


Macronutrients: Protein

Proteins, composed of amino acids, are literally the building blocks of life, and make up every tissue in the body. Dietary protein provides vital structural proteins that build blocks necessary for the healthy development of the baby--muscle, tendons, elastin, collagen, and enzymes (1).


How To Get Adequate Protein & Sources of Protein

Setting a goal to eat a serving of protein with every meal. Ideally, pastured, grass-fed, and wild caught sources of meat and seafood are best because they potentially contain fewer contaminants and hormones than the conventional raised equivalent. If these options are not accessible, that is ok, it is more important to get the protein than to not. Further, leaner cuts of meat may be a suitable alternative if needed. Plant based options such as nut butters, legumes, tofu, and tempeh are all good sources of proteins.


Macronutrients: Essential, Healthy Fats

Essential fats are those the body cannot make and must be obtained from diet. Said fats are good for brain function and structure of cell walls. To add, essential fats Omega-3 acids including (DHA & EPA) are important for the baby's brain development and eye health (1).


How To Get Adequate Essential, Healthy Fats

Eating a portion of healthy fats at every meal will ensure the consumption of adequate healthy fats. A variety of fats and oils that come from whole-food animal and plant sources that are minimally processed are ideal. Nuts, seeds, olives, avocado, coconut, fatty fish, and grass-fed or pastured animal products such as meat, cheese, butter, and yogurt. A high quality supplement would also be a good source.


Macronutrients: Whole-food Carbohydrates

Often deemed as the enemy, carbohydrates provide the body (especially during pregnancy!!!) with energy, promote healthy hormone levels, and replenish glycogen stores that have been depleted by intense exercise (1).


How To Choose & Get Adequate Whole-Foods Carbohydrates

Eat a portion of carbohydrates at every meal. Generally, white, grain-based foods, such as white pasta or white bread are less nutritionally dense--lacking nutrient value found in whole grains. Whole-grains like brown rice, oatmeal, oat bran, quinoa, teff, and amaranth tend to be the most nutrient-rich grains (1).


These foods are substantial sources for B vitamins and fiber. To add, sweet potatoes, potatoes, root vegetables, and squash are also great sources. Although, whole-grains are encouraged because of the nutrient density, this does not mean a woman should never eat less nutrient-dense grains.


Vegetables & Fruit

Vitamin, mineral, and antioxidant packed, vegetables and fruit improve health and reduce inflammation. Also, a great source of fiber aiding digestion to help prevent common, but unpleasant pregnancy-related issues, i.e. hemorrhoids and constipation.


Choosing Vegetables and Fruits

Incorporating a broad range of vegetables and fruits can ensure intake of full spectrum if nutrients needed to maintain good health for yourself and baby. It may be hard to get adequate vegetables into diet during the first trimester as most women have food aversions to eating them (1). A great and simple way to make sure you are "eating the rainbow" is to eat by color and add a few different colors of vegetables and fruits to each meal. See list below:

  • Red: grapefruit, watermelon, red pepper, cherry, strawberry, radish

  • Green: spinach, kale, kiwi, broccoli, green pepper, asparagus, zucchini, green apple

  • Blue and Purple: eggplant, purple cabbage, plum, blueberry, figs, black olive

  • Yellow and Orange: yellow pepper, pineapple, butternut squash, cantaloupe, pumpkin, ginger

  • White and Beige: banana, mushroom, onion, potato, cauliflower, jicama


Hydration

Water making up two-thirds of the body plays a vital role in digestion, cognition, skin health, body temperature regulation, and daily activity performance (1). Lack of water causes dehydration which disrupts mentioned functions. Most commonly, resulting in headaches, tiredness, and difficulty concentrating, as well as disrupting bodily functions--all highly problematic during pregnancy (1).


How Much Water Is Enough

According to the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine, healthy females between ages 31 and 70 living in temperate climate should consume 91 oz (2.7 liters) per day from all sources--fruits, water, vegetables, soup, tea, and other fluids. Other sources suggest 162 oz (4.8 liters) per day to avoid complications and dehydration (4).


Portions and Servings

To ensure caloric intake os supporting a healthy weight gain, it is suggested to monitor portion sizes within the meal. A simple and effective way to approach monitoring portion sizes is using your hand. See below:

  • Standard serving of protein is the size and thickness of the palm

  • Standard serving of size of vegetables and fruits is the size of the fist

  • Standard serving size of healthy fats is the size of the thumb

  • Standard serving of cooked starchy carbohydrates is size of a cupped handful


Summary

Many women have nutrition related concerns and questions during the prenatal and postnatal period. Eating for two will never be a seamless and easy journey, these times will most likely test you in ways you never imagined. Our goal is to eventually have nutrition working in your favor. By understanding and implementing the strategies discussed nutrition can become less of a hassle and more enjoyable while you are getting all you need to stay healthy and ensure you are giving your baby the vitamins, minerals, and nutrients to grow healthfully.



Sources:

1) “Nutrition for Pregnancy and Postpartum.” Pre- & Postnatal Coaching, Girls Gone Strong, 2018.


2) “Macronutrients: A Simple Guide to Macros.” Avita Health System, 1 Sept. 2020, avitahealth.org/health-library/macronutrients-a-simple-guide-to-macros/#:~:text=There%20are%20three%20types%20of,carbohydrates%2C%20proteins%2C%20and%20fats.&text=Along%20with%20energy%2C%20all%20of,allows%20you%20to%20function%20properly.


3) “Dehydration During Pregnancy.” American Pregnancy Association, 2014, americanpregnancy.org/womens-health/dehydration-pregnancy-9901/.


4) Zhang, N., Zhang, F., Chen, S. et al. Associations between hydration state and pregnancy complications, maternal-infant outcomes: protocol of a prospective observational cohort study. BMC Pregnancy Childbirth20, 82 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1186/s12884-020-2765-x