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Pregnancy and breastfeeding
Good nutrition is especially important for women when they are thinking about getting pregnant, pregnant or breastfeeding. Pregnancy is a time when your nutritional needs are greater, in order to nourish both yourself and your growing baby. Good nutrition now will benefit your children throughout their lives.
You don’t need to change your diet drastically when you are preparing for pregnanacy, pregnant or breastfeeding. You should continue to eat healthy foods, drink plenty of water and keep active. However, there are a few extra things you need to be aware of in relation to certain vitamins and minerals, alcohol, and food safety.
Eating a Balanced Diet
Eating from each of the following food groups every day helps to ensure you have all the nutrients you need to nourish yourself and your baby.
- Have at least 4 servings of vegetables and 2 servings of fruit
- Have at least 6 servings of grain foods during pregnancy and at least 7 serves during breastfeeding. These foods include bread, pasta, rice and breakfast cereal. Whole grains varities are best
- Have at least 3 servings of milk and milk products, such as milk, yoghurt and cheese
- Have at least 2 servings of lean meat and alternatives which includes meat, poultry, seafood, eggs, nuts and seeds or legumes (such as beans, chickpeas and lentils)
With pregnancy you may become constipated. Eat foods with fibre (fruit, vegetables and whole grains). Kiwifruit has laxative properties and is an excellent way to stay regular as it also is a nutritionally dense fruit.
Iron is a carrier of oxygen throughout the body. Lack of iron will make you feel tired and exhausted during pregnancy and while breastfeeding.
Animal products provide the best-used iron, with red meat the richest source. Others include chicken, fish and eggs. If you do not eat meat you need to eat larger amounts of other iron-containing foods, such as wholegrain breads, nuts, seeds, dried beans, peas or lentils. Eating two or more servings of these foods each day will help you meet your iron needs. To help increase the amount of iron used from these foods, have something rich in vitamin C at the same time, such as capsicum, tomato or fruit juice. Tea and coffee may reduce the amount of iron absorbed so avoid drinking these until about an hour after a meal, or have them between meals.
Pregnant and breastfeeding women need extra calcium for their growing baby as well as to keep their own bones strong. Dairy foods are the best sources of calcium but if you don’t eat these, there are many other sources of calcium.
Calcium requirements during pregnancy and breastfeeding vary with age. Teenagers (14-19 year olds) need more, as their own bones are still growing. An adult female will meet her needs by eating 2-3 serves of dairy products (or equivalent) each day, e.g. a glass of milk, a pottle of yoghurt and a slice of cheese. Teenagers need an extra serving. If you drink soy milk check that it is enriched with calcium and vitamin B12.
More iodine is needed during pregnancy and breastfeeding because your baby is growing rapidly.
Choose good sources of iodine such as low-fat milk and dairy products, eggs, fish and seafood. Although the seaweed in sushi is a good source of iodine, it is recommended that women avoid sushi during pregnancy. Choose iodised table salt for cooking.
Pregnant and breastfeeding women are recommended to take a daily iodine supplement of 150 micrograms as well as eating foods rich in iodine. (These tablets are currently being produced and should be available from pharmacies in the future.) Seaweed and kelp tablets are not recommended as the levels of iodine they contain are extremely variable and can be high enough to be toxic. Women with pre-existing thyroid conditions should seek advice from their doctor before taking a supplement.
Early pregnancy is a crucial time in a baby’s development, particularly for what is called the ‘neural tube’, which becomes the brain and spinal cord. This is formed in the first 27 days of pregnancy so that is why it is important to have a diet high in folate before and during the early stages of pregnancy. Foods rich in folic acid include, leafy green vegetables, fruit wholegrain breads and cereals, yeast extracts and foods fortified with folic acid, such as some breakfast cereals and breads.
In addition, women who are pregnant, or planning a pregnancy, are recommended to take a daily supplement of 800ug folic acid. This should be taken for at least one month before, and three months following, becoming pregnant.
High levels of vitamin A during pregnancy are harmful to a developing baby. Liver (lamb’s fry) and some supplements are particularly high in this vitamin, so avoid eating liver more than once a week (100g) and do not take supplements containing vitamin A, including fish oils, unless advised by your doctor.
Keeping food safe from contaminants is extremely important while you are pregnant or breastfeeding. Food poisoning can affect both yourself and your baby. If you experience diarrhoea, vomiting or flu-like illness it is important to contact your doctor or midwife immediately.
Here are some tips on handling food safely:
- Always cook eggs until the yolk and white are solid. Avoid undercooked or raw eggs
- Avoid buying pre-prepared sandwiches and salads from delis or supermarkets. Freshly made homemade sandwiches are the best option.
- Avoid foods containing raw fish, shellfish or seafood, such as sushi
- Wash and dry fruit and vegetables before you eat them
- Store chilled foods in a fridge below 4°C and always heat food thoroughly until it’s steaming hot, i.e. at least 70°C.
- Avoid soft cheeses (such as brie and camembert) and unpasteurised milk
There is no known safe level for drinking alcohol during pregnancy as it enters a baby’s bloodstream, where it can affect development. The Ministry of Health recommends pregnant women avoid drinking alcohol, including those who are planning a pregnancy. Breastfeeding mothers are encouraged to avoid alcohol, especially during the first month.
Many pregnant women believe they must give up caffeine altogether, but this isn’t necessary. The caffeine content of drinks varies. Stronger espresso coffee is best limited to one cup per day. Instant coffee and tea contains less caffeine so up to six cups per day can be enjoyed. Whatever you choose, be aware caffeine is a stimulant, and can contribute to indigestion as well as keeping you awake at night.