Having healthy diet and lifestyle habits during your pregnancy (and ideally before you conceive) will help to minimize many common pregnancy related discomforts, as well as ensure that both you and your baby are the getting optimal nutrition you need.
By eating well and nourishing yourself during pregnancy, you will also help to prepare your body for labour and birth and the increased nutritional demands of breastfeeding and caring for your newborn in the postpartum period.
According to Ayurvedic medicine (one of the world’s oldest holistic whole-body healing systems, based on the belief that health and wellness depend on a delicate balance between the mind, body, and spirit), pregnancy and the transition into new motherhood, are acknowledged as times where you need to be supported, nourished and rested.
Important nutrients for pregnancy
Every mama-to-be has different nutrient requirements, so it’s important to always follow your midwife or doctor’s advice about which nutrients to emphasise and how many calories to consume.
However, no matter what your individual requirements are, the following nutrients are vital for pregnancy:
Calcium is necessary for the formation of your baby’s bones and teeth and for sustaining health in your bones, teeth and connective tissue. It also nourishes your nervous system, heart, metabolism and the mineral balance in your body.
Having an adequate intake of calcium will help to prevent imbalances like irritability, insomnia, leg cramps, cavities and future bone loss.
Food sources – dark leafy greens (kale, spinach, and collards), yoghurt, milk, cheese, sesame seeds, sardines, salmon, tofu and almonds.
Magnesium works together with calcium. Magnesium relaxes muscles, while calcium stimulates muscles to contract. Having an adequate intake of magnesium during pregnancy can help prevent your uterus from contracting prematurely. It also helps to build strong teeth and bones in your baby, supports your tissue growth and recovery during pregnancy.
Food sources – dark leafy greens, nuts, seeds, fish, beans, whole grains, avocados, yoghurt, bananas, dried fruit, dark chocolate.
Folate is well known for its preventative effects against spina bifida and other developmental problems. It is an important nutrient to supplement with prior to conception.
The supplement folic acid is commonly recommended, but there is a difference between the synthetic form (folic acid) and the natural form (folate). It’s always best to check with your doctor or midwife.
Food sources – green leafy vegies, legumes, avocado, oranges, nuts, wheat germ, fortified breads and cereals.
Vitamin D is important for your baby’s bone and hormone development and helps to support your immune system during pregnancy. Emerging research suggests that it can also help reduce the risk of many pregnancy related complications, including gestational diabetes.
Food sources – Oily fish, milk, eggs, butter, fortified milks & soy milks. Exposure to safe levels of sunlight.
Iron is needed to build your blood and form haemoglobin, the protein in red blood cells that carries oxygen to other cells. It assists in protein metabolism, increases your resistance to stress and assists with proper muscle contraction.
During your pregnancy, your body’s blood volume increases by 50 percent! So you need more iron to make more haemoglobin.
You also require more iron for your growing baby and placenta, and for the first few months after birth when you need to replenish your own red blood supply.
Having an adequate iron intake can also prevent anaemia – which leads to symptoms such as fatigue and light headedness.
Food sources – lentils, chickpeas, pumpkin seeds, blackstrap molasses, tofu, dark green leafy vegies, dried fruit and animal protein.
Omega 3’s are essential for your baby’s optimal brain and retinal development. They also play a part in preventing perinatal depression, asthma and other allergenic conditions.
Omega 3 fats are also needed for physiological functions including oxygen transport, energy storage, cell membrane function and regulation of inflammation.
Food sources- linseeds, walnuts, chia seeds, flaxseed oil, oily fish, eggs.
Iodine is essential for healthy brain and nervous system development in your baby.
It also regulates your baby’s metabolism (the rate at which the body uses energy).Iodine plays an important role in regulating your thyroid gland.
Your requirements increase substantially during pregnancy to ensure adequate supply to your growing baby.
Most foods are relatively low in iodine content.
Food sources – Seafood, sea vegetables, iodised salt, fortified bread, dairy products, eggs, some vegetables.
Probiotics are a great inclusion in your pregnancy diet.
During the birth process, your baby will culture their beneficial gut bacteria from what they receive when passing through your birth canal, and from breastfeeding in the months afterwards.
Good gut health also has a big impact on lifelong health, making this is one of the most important things you can do for your baby’s health.
Probiotics also help you to avoid illness and constipation during your pregnancy and can also help reduce the risk of developing Group B strep.
Probiotics are best sourced from high quality supplements, fermented foods, and beverages like water kefir and kombucha.
Ayurveda and pregnancy
Many foods that are important from an Ayurvedic perspective also support and enhance any healthy pregnancy diet.
In Ayurveda, it is important to emphasise foods that are ‘sattvic’ and ‘ojas’ building.
Let me explain what this means.
Ojas is the ‘essential energy’ for the body and mind. It governs immunity and vitality and helps to maintain your body’s natural resistance.
Sattva represents the qualities of balance, clarity and compassion.
Foods of these two elements are particularly nourishing for you and your growing baby. These foods are pure, wholesome and very nutritious.
Some sattvic foods include: almonds, walnuts, dates, figs, honey (not raw during pregnancy), sesame seeds, fresh fruits and fresh pressed juices, saffron, cardamom, fresh ghee, butter, milk, fresh coconut, split mung beans, wholegrains (wheat, rice, quinoa) and root vegetables (sweet potatoes, carrots, beets).
In Ayurvedic medicine, there are 6 tastes, each having a vital role to play in our health, wellbeing and physiology. These tastes are: sweet, sour, astringent, bitter, salty, spicy and pungent.
During pregnancy, the sweet taste should be most emphasized, because it is the most sattvic, or wholesome for the baby.
Now this doesn’t mean any sweet foods (sorry ladies). Think sprouted breads or those cooked without oils, whole grains, rice, fruits and healthy starches like sweet potatoes, quinoa, cooked beets and carrots.
By consuming a well-balanced diet of fresh fruits, wholegrains, vegetables, protein and healthy, high quality fats (e.g. avocados, eggs, olive/coconut oil, nuts, meat), and choosing foods closest to their natural state, you will ensure you are nurturing both yourself, and your baby.
Digestion in Pregnancy
During pregnancy when you are digesting for two and your organs are becoming increasingly compressed, it’s extremely easy for the digestive fire to become imbalanced.
Food and waste can move slower through your system and create constipation. Acid reflux and heartburn are also common pregnancy digestive discomforts.
And don’t forget to stay hydrated! Your blood volume actually increases during pregnancy and your body has to supply fluid to replenish the amniotic fluid the baby is in.
Drinking enough water (about 2 litres a day) helps to alleviate morning sickness, prevent constipation and ensure both you and your baby are hydrated.
Foods to avoid during pregnancy
Some foods are not safe to consume during your pregnancy because they carry a risk of contamination with bacteria, toxoplasmosis, listeria or salmonella, which can be harmful to your baby and and even cause miscarriage.
Some foods are best to avoid because they aren’t beneficial nutritionally, or can be detrimental to you or your baby.
- Some types of cheeses
- Raw or undercooked eggs
- Liver products
- Raw or undercooked meats
- Supplements containing vitamin A
- Some types of fish
- Raw shellfish
- Unpasteurised milk
- Artificial flavours, preservatives and chemical additives
- Pre-packaged salads
- Cold cured meats
- Excess caffeine
- Foods that are hot, spicy, very salty, deep-fried or contain large amounts of sugar. These are difficult to digest and may also upset the baby too.
A nourishing day on a plate for pregnant mamas
Breakfast: Porridge topped with a sprinkle of cinnamon, chia seeds, fresh berries and chopped almonds
Morning snack: Bliss ball and a cup of raspberry leaf tea
Lunch: Pumpkin & spinach dahl with brown basmati rice (recipe below)
Afternoon Tea: Green Smoothie
Dinner: Piece of grilled salmon, quinoa & steamed greens
Snack: A cup of raspberry leaf tea & a little dark chocolate
Here is my favourite Red Lentil & Pumpkin Dahl recipe:
- 1 large onion, chopped
- 3 cloves garlic
- 1 tsp chopped ginger
- 1 tsp black mustard seeds
- 1 bay leaf
- 1 tbsp olive oil (or ghee)
- 1 cup red lentils
- 2 tsp curry powder
- 1 cup vegetable stock
- 1 cup chopped pumpkin
- 1 tin coconut milk/cream
- 2 cups baby spinach
- Basmati or brown rice
- Fry onion, garlic, ginger, mustard seeds and bay leaf in olive oil or ghee until onions are soft.
- Add lentils and curry powder and fry for 2 minutes, stirring continuously.
- Poor in stock, add pumpkin and coconut milk. Cook for 40 minutes on a low heat, making sure the dahl doesn’t stick to the bottom of the pan.
- Add chopped baby spinach and stir through for 2 minutes.
- Serve with rice, yoghurt and chutney. You can also add a spoonful of ghee before serving for added goodness.