Five top tips for eating well during pregnancy

I have just entered the third trimester of my first pregnancy (exciting times!).  So far, I’ve had lots of people telling me ‘you’re eating for two’ or ‘you can eat what you like now’, not to mention my own unhelpful voice in my head saying ‘go on have some more chocolate’ or ‘a second helping won’t hurt!’  However I’ve been monitoring my weight (although not as regularly as normal), because gaining too much weight during pregnancy can lead to an increased risk of unpleasant conditions like gestational diabetes or pre-eclampsia – click here for more details.  I’ve managed to keep my weight-gain fairly steady without restricting myself too much or getting too obsessed (and of course I’m still allowing myself occasional treats!).  So I thought I would share some of my tips for eating well during pregnancy for my fellow expectant mothers.

Firstly there are a few things I need to point out:  Pregnancy is not the time to be losing weight or following a strict diet (I would never recommend strict diets anyway!).  You need to make sure you are getting enough nutrients to feed your growing child as well as ensuring you are fit and well to cope with the demands of pregnancy, birth and breastfeeding (if you plan to).

The amount of weight you need to gain during pregnancy depends on your pre-pregnancy weight.  Check out my previous blog for guidance on the BMI – click here.

NHS recommends:

Pre-pregnancy  weight  Aim to gain
Underweight 3 stone
Healthy weight 2 stone
Overweight 1 stone

 

If you are very overweight you may even be encouraged to aim to maintain your weight during pregnancy – if this is the case for you, ask for support to ensure you are getting a healthy balanced diet.  You can ask your GP or midwife to be referred to a registered Dietitian or you may find that your local area has a dedicated weight management service for pregnant women.

You may have heard there are a few foods to watch out for during pregnancy as they increase the risk of infections e.g. uncooked eggs.  There is plenty of advice on this on the NHS website, click here for guidance.

So here are my 5 top tips for eating well during pregnancy:

1.   Try not to ‘eat for two’

It’s hard to ignore those people telling you that you can eat more and there’s an urge to feed and nourish your growing baby.  However it’s important to remember that your energy requirements only go up by about 200kcal/day and that’s only in the last three months of pregnancy.  This is the equivalent of a couple of slices of bread!  Now I will be the first to admit that I have definitely been eating more than normal in the first two trimesters – I had bouts early on when I would feel really sick if I even had the slightest feeling of physical hunger, so my advice would be to really listen to your body and eat to your appetite.  But really ask yourself if it’s true physical hunger and you’re not just giving yourself permission to eat more ‘for the baby’ – it’s so easily done!

2.   Try to have breakfast

Ok so I know I always harp on about this, but breakfast really is the most important meal of the day.  Whatever time you get up whether it’s 8am, 2pm or 2am – try to have something to break that fast.  You will give yourself energy for the rest of the day, it’s great for your concentration levels and you’re less likely to pick on snacks particularly those fatty/sugary treats later on.  If you’re not usually one for having breakfast, now is a good time to get into good habits.  Try telling yourself it’s for the baby and it will also be a good example for them as they grow up too.  Some people tell me they feel too sick to eat first thing; this may be due to getting too hungry overnight.  Remember it’s a feeling that you’re used to and you can get used to eating in the morning, it just takes time.  Try starting with something small and easy like a glass of milk or a pot of yoghurt or piece of fruit.  Trust me; it will make a difference in the long term.

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Chocolate breakfast cereals are nice as a treat once in a while, but don’t forget that they are high in sugar!

 

3.   Eat regularly

This is another thing that I always recommend, but it’s even more important during pregnancy.  I don’t know about you, but not eating regularly sets my heartburn off!  If you let yourself get too hungry you could put yourself at risk of fainting and fatigue.  It may be more helpful to eat 4 or 5 smaller meals, particularly as your bump gets bigger and there’s less room inside!  If you find you are craving sweet things it may be useful to look at whether you are eating starchy carbohydrates regularly e.g. bread, potatoes, cereals, rice etc.  The more wholegrain carbs such as granary bread and brown rice, will help if you’re struggling with constipation and regular starchy carbs help give you a nice steady stream of energy.  Try to include at least 1-2 portions at each meal (again follow your appetite) – a portion is about a handful such as a slice of bread or a couple of tablespoons of boiled rice.

4.   Carry emergency snacks

Early on in my pregnancy I was driving to get some petrol, but there was some kind of issue meaning there were massive queues.  Deciding that it would be a better idea to park up at the supermarket for a few minutes and pop to the toilet, I was hit with a sudden attack of hunger, which lead to me scoffing the hugest bag of crisps!  I dread to think how much salt was in there – it was one of those bags meant for sharing between at least 3 or 4 people!  It was a serious case of mindless eating and afterwards I thought “this can’t keep happening if I want to stay healthy!”  So this is probably my most important tip.  I’ve been keeping a small box of mixed seeds in my handbag so I always have something to stop me reaching for a bag of crisps.  Now there’s nothing wrong with the occasional bag of crisps as a treat, but aside from fat and energy they really don’t provide much nutrition.  If you’re out and about, try to remember to take some kind of snack just in case.  A piece of fruit is fine to keep you going, but I always find they get a bit squashed (unless you have a plastic protector!).  Something like unroasted/unsalted nuts or seeds is good for an emergency stash, because they are packed full of protein and vitamins, and don’t take up too much room.  Dried fruit is another possible option too; it counts as part of your ‘5-a-day’ and a lot of people find it helpful for keeping that constipation at bay.  Just remember that a portion of dried fruit is smaller than a handful of fresh e.g. a tablespoon of raisins or 3 dried apricots.

Confused by what we mean by 'healthy eating' - click here for my top tips
Confused by what we mean by ‘healthy eating’ – click here for my top tips

5.   Avoid those unnecessary extras

If you’re struggling with your weight, watch out for the little things that can add up.  Sauces like mayo or ketchup and spreads like butter and jam taste good, but can help rack up the calories in just small quantities.  Imagine you started having an extra sachet of mayonnaise every day and didn’t do any extra exercise.  The extra energy from the mayo (approx 100kcal/day) would gradually add up over time and lead to around a pound of weight gain in about 35 days.  Small changes can have a big impact.  Ask yourself do you need spread on your bread if you’re having a moist filling in your sandwich?  Could you have one sachet of sauce instead of two?  Try to eat the fruit and vegetables part of the meal first to make sure you’re getting plenty of fibre and try to make sure you’re getting a good balance at each meal.  By going for the foods that are more nutritious first and limiting the little extras, you are giving yourself and your baby the best chance of getting the nutrients you both need.

And a bonus tip about physical activity….

6.   Avoid putting your feet up too much!

Unless your midwife or GP tell you otherwise, try to stay as active as you can.  It’s great for your circulation and helping you to sleep better.  It also helps reduce the risk of complications during labour and aids recovery after the birth.  Speak to your midwife/GP about whether it is ok to continue your pre-pregnancy routine or look into exercise classes designed for mums-to-be.  If you weren’t exercising before remember to start small – just a short walk each day could make a big difference.  If you’re starting any new exercise try to find an instructor who is qualified to teach pregnant mums or as a minimum tell your instructor as soon as you can that you are pregnant so they can let you know if there’s anything you should avoid doing.  Click here for more information on exercises to avoid during pregnancy.

If like me, your work involves a lot of sitting down, try to periodically move and stretch – rolling your ankles/pointing your toes every half an hour is good for those tight calves.  Drinking fluid regularly is important in itself, but is also useful for getting you to go to the toilet regularly too so you keep moving!

 

I hope you found that useful – please share if you know anyone who might find it useful too.

What tips did you find (or are you finding) useful during your pregnancy?  I’d love to hear them in the comments below.

Louise Tanner-Stokes
Hi I'm Louise, a Food Relationship Coach and registered Dietitian with a passion for helping mums to ditch the diets for good. I want to help you feel good about yourself, feel in control of your eating and enjoy your food again - normal food and especially the cake and chocolate!

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