You are not going to become a mother in a few months – you already are one. The care and feeding of your infant began at the moment of conception. Though you were not aware of it, you began to “mother” your child at that instant. The two of you are an inseparable pair. How you take care of yourself right now directly affects your baby’s development.
Your baby lives and grows in two sacs. The outer sac is the uterus and the inner one is the amniotic sac or membrane. Amniotic fluid protects your baby by providing a constant and perfect environment for growth and development. You replenish nutrients and remove wastes from amniotic fluid through the placenta.
Extending from the wall of your uterus to the baby’s umbilical cord the placenta is a remarkable structure. You can think about it as your baby’s life-support system, much like the kind an astronaut uses on a space walk. It removes wastes and continuously supplies oxygen, nutrients, and protein so growth can proceed uninterrupted.
The stockpile of needed nutrients comes from you. The food you take in each day is broken down and delivered to the placenta to be ferried across to your baby. Although the placenta is amazing, it is not flawless. It is unable, in most cases, to tell the difference between needed substances and harmful substances. It recognizes substances simply by the concentration in the mother’s blood. That means if you have a high concentration of alcohol, drugs, or nicotine in your blood the placenta will deliver a similar concentration to your baby. It was once believed that the placenta was a magical barrier that protected the developing baby, but today we understand that the placenta is simply an efficient delivery system. It is up to you to deliver the “right stuff.”
It’s been estimated that it takes 55,000 calories to support the growth of a full-term baby. Because your baby is so tiny in the first trimester, most experts agree a pregnant woman doesn’t need extra calories during the first 3 months. After that, 300 extra calories a day will support your baby’s growth. That is far less food than you may realize. A glass of nonfat milk (80 calories), a slice of whole wheat bread (100 calories) and a scrambled egg (100 calories) will come close to what you need, so will a jelly doughnut (290 calories). But, doughnuts, chips, sodas, cookies, and candy won’t give your baby what he needs to grow.
The key nutrients your baby needs – calories, protein, vitamin C, folic acid, calcium and iron – can be easily met through good food choices. The following healthy eating guidelines will keep both of you healthy during your pregnancy.
Grains are rich in carbohydrates providing energy, fiber, vitamins and minerals. Aim for 6 ounces a day. Choose whole grains whenever possible. A one ounce grain serving is equal to:
• 1 slice of bread
• 1 cup ready-to-eat cereal
• ½ cup cooked rice, pasta or hot cereal
• 1 small (4 inch) pancake
• 1 small (6 inch) tortilla
Getting 6 servings a day is easier than you imagine. A 2 cup serving of spaghetti for dinner and a sandwich for lunch and you’ve reached your goal.
Vegetables and fruits are rich in vitamins, minerals and antioxidants. Aim for at least 5 servings a day, more is even better. A serving of fruit or vegetable is equal to:
• 1 cup raw or cooked vegetable
• 2 cups salad greens
• 1 medium (size of a computer mouse) baked potato
• ½ cup fresh, frozen or canned fruit
• 1 small fruit
• 2 tangerines or clementines
• ½ banana
• ¼ cup dried fruits (raisins, cranberries, apricots)
• 12 grapes or cherries
When it comes to vegetable and fruit juice, go easy. Both pack at lot of calories in a small volume. One cup of vegetable juice or ½ cup of fruit juice equals 1 serving. Try mixing your favorite fruit juice with an equal amount of sparking water for a healthy, larger, refreshing drink. Freeze your favorite juice in an ice cube tray to flavor and offer a nutrient punch when you have a glass of water.
Protein foods are rich in protein and minerals, especially iron. Aim for 5 to 6 ounces a day. One ounce of protein is equal to:
• 1 ounce of cooked meat, fish or poultry
• ¼ cup canned tuna, salmon or mackerel
• ½ cup meat substitute
• 1 egg
• ¼ cup egg substitute
• 2 tablespoons peanut or other nut butters
• ¼ cup nuts
• 3 ounces tofu
• ¼ cup cooked soybeans
• ½ cup cooked beans (any variety)
• ¼ cup tempeh
• 1 container of yogurt
• 1 cup milk
• ¼ cup cottage cheese
• 1 ounce cheese
• ¼ cup wheat germ
Protein is great example of how foods from many groups contribute important nutrients to your diet. Whenever possible stick with lean meats and lowfat milk, yogurt and cheese, you get the same nutrients and far less fat.
Milk and dairy products are rich in calcium as well as other important vitamins and minerals. Aim for 3 cups a day. One cup of milk, the most calcium-rich choice, is equal to:
• 1 cup of yogurt
• 1½ ounces cheese
• 2 cups cottage cheese
• 1½ cups soft serve ice cream
• 2 cups regular ice cream
• 1¼ cups cooked spinach
• ¾ cup canned salmon with bones
• 3 ounce canned sardines with bones
• 6 ounces firm tofu
Calcium sources, like protein sources, come from a wide variety of foods.
Good eating habits during pregnancy insures you will have a healthy pregnancy and healthy baby. It also sets the stage for good eating habits that you’ll teach your child after she is born. It’s important to feed yourself and your baby right – right from the start.