Pregnant women are notorious for their food cravings. While most stick to food items like pickles or burgers, some women develop a taste for the unusual like paint chips, dirt, cornstarch, or the frost in the freezer. These cravings are known as pica. Some of these items may be potentially harmful. Paint chips or dirt, for example, may have lead or other toxic chemicals. No one knows the cause for these cravings, but some believe that the body is trying to obtain vitamins and minerals that are not sufficient in the diet.
Vitamins and minerals are an important part of nutrition for a mother and her unborn child. Before attempting to conceive, a woman should ensure that she is taking an adequate amount of folate to reduce the risk for neural tube defects like spina bifida. A woman should have 400 micrograms of folate per day. Folate can be found in oranges, beans, dark green leafy vegetables like spinach and fortified flour and cereals. During pregnancy, a woman should also take a prenatal vitamin which can help ensure sufficient intake of iron and calcium.
Iron and calcium can come from a combination of supplements and dairy products. Iron can be found in red meat, poultry, and fortified cereal. Iron absorption increases with simultaneous intake of vitamin C. A pregnant woman should have about 1,200 milligrams of calcium per day, which is equivalent to about 4 servings of dairy per day.
There are several foods that pregnant women should avoid including deli meat and unwashed fruits or vegetables. Harmful bacteria may contaminate raw or undercooked foods like beef tartar, sushi, or eggs which may be in egg nog, Caesar salad, or cookie dough. Other foods to avoid include non-pasteurized dairy products and soft cheese like brie, camembert, or blue cheese. Fish that are high in mercury like swordfish, tuna steak, and shark may also cause neurologic abnormalities.
Caffeine and artificial sweeteners like aspartame should be taken in limited amounts. Saccharin should be taken with caution. Any woman who is pregnant or trying to conceive should avoid also alcohol and tobacco products. Alcohol is known to cause severe birth defects including fetal alcohol syndrome. Cigarette smoking is linked to prematurity and low birth weight.
The expectant mother should also monitor her weight gain to be sure she is gaining weight, particularly if she is having problems with nausea or poor appetite from morning sickness. A woman should also avoid too much weight gain since excess weight increases the risk for gestational diabetes, preeclampsia, and the need for a caesarian section. The obstetrician can help determine the appropriate amount of weight gain.
Pregnancy is an exciting time for the expectant mother-to-be. The upcoming baby is strong motivation for a woman to make healthy lifestyle changes that will benefit them both long-term. Proper nutrition can help increase the likelihood of a healthy mother and newborn.
You may also find these links interesting:
Quick Fixes for Your Family's Diet
Fruits And Veggies: Ten a Day, The Easy Way!
Published On: October 20, 2006