introduced By Dr Nina Byrnes
In association with Hidden Hearing
Dr. Nina Byrnes introduces a series of articles by various writers on medical topics this one is by Edel Rooney.
I have just found out I am pregnant. I am around eight weeks along at the moment and because this is my first pregnancy, I’m not sure what to expect. I’ve heard so much about women craving strange foods but I want to make sure my diet is as healthy as possible for me and my baby. Any tips? Also, is it best to cut out alcohol completely?
Congratulations. To ensure you and your baby have the nutrients and energy to get through this exciting but demanding time, it’s vital you enjoy a healthy and varied diet.
Firstly, there is a new tool at feedingforlife.ie, which gives you a neat insight into the types of food you should be eating at each stage of your pregnancy. In fact, if you pop in a typical meal plan for your day, the tool will tell you whether you are eating healthily or not, based on your due date and your dietary requirements.
During the first twelve weeks of your pregnancy, it’s important to take on lots of folic acid – you should take 400g per day at this stage.
To guard against anaemia, you should eat iron-rich foods like red meat, eggs, fish and chicken. Oily fish are also an excellent source of Omega 3 and 6 fats, which help your baby’s brain development. Make sure your meat and fish is fully and carefully cooked. Partially raw food can contain bacteria and viruses that may harm you or your baby.
Low-fat dairy products will provide the calcium you need for your baby’s bones. However, avoid unpasteurised dairy products, which may contain the bacteria listeria – this can be harmful to your baby.
You should drink plenty of water during your pregnancy – this will guard against dehydration and help with heartburn, morning sickness and constipation. Aim for around eight glasses per day. Avoid taking on too much carbonated fluids. Water, milk and unsweetened juices should be your beverages of choice.
High-fibre and wholegrain breads, rice and cereals will also help you avoid constipation. As always, you should aim to eat the recommended five-a-day of fruit and vegetables.
There are also certain food groups you should cut down or cut out altogether during pregnancy.
Drinking during pregnancy
Alcohol is best avoided completely. The HSE Health Promotion Unit advises that there is no known safe level of alcohol use during pregnancy.
Alcohol consumption can lead to disorders in how the brain develops in the womb as the placenta does not act as a barrier to alcohol. Damage can occur particularly in the first three months of pregnancy, and also from the seventh month of pregnancy on when the brain experiences a growth spurt.
The HPU also makes the point that taking more than three drinks per day increases the risk of miscarriage, while taking more than 12 drinks in a week increases the risk of premature birth.
Foods to avoid
You should also avoid foods containing high amounts of Vitamin A, such as liver and pâté or foods with lots of mercury, like swordfish, marlin or shark. These can harm your baby’s nervous system.
You should limit your intake of caffeine to no more than four cups per day – this includes coffee, caffeinated drinks and other sources of caffeine. Peppermint and ginger teas are a good alternative. If making herbal tea, use tea bags, don’t have more than two cups per day and do not make your tea too strong.
As during any stage of life, it’s wise to limit the intake of processed and preserved foods, as they usually contain high levels of salt. Crisps and confectionary may offer some sweet relief during pregnancy, but you should limit foods that offer extra calories but little nutrition.
Now might also be a good time to have yourself checked for food allergies, particularly if you suspect you have a problem. If there is a family history of nut allergies, avoid peanut and peanut products as your baby may have inherited this problem.