Diet And Nutrition During Pregnancy

Weight gain should be welcome during the nine months of pregnancy. Yet many pregnant woman worry about their weight. “Can you see anything yet?” The only time when women get excited about watching their bellies slowly expand is when they are pregnant.

Weight gain

When a woman is expecting, weight gain isn’t just allowed – it’s desirable. After all, “now I’m eating for two”. Prior to becoming pregnant most women (and men) watch their weight, but after a positive pregnancy test, the floodgates tend to open when it comes to food. Your pants won’t fit soon anyway and pregnancy hormones will likely trigger irresistible cravings for sweet or sour food. So we simply eat what we want. If only the health food gurus weren’t wagging their fingers at us and our gynaecologist wasn’t giving us such stern looks!

 Gaining between 10 and 16 kilos during pregnancy is normal, they say. Less can cause the baby to be malnourished and putting on more weight (for instance, 20 kilos or more over the nine months) significantly increases the risk of complications and disorders like gestational diabetes, back pain and high blood pressure. As a general rule: the lower your weight when you become pregnant, the more weight you are allowed to gain.

Concrete figures about what constitutes permissible or excessive weight gain can cause some women to worry unnecessarily. This is particularly evident in online forums, where women frequently bemoan their increasing weight with exclamations like: “I’m only in the 20th week of pregnancy and I’ve already put on 5.5 kg!” But at least they can draw comfort from the stories of countless other women going through the same experience.

There are natural reasons why pregnancy causes weight gain and a significantly rounder figure: to start with, after nine months the baby weighs around 3 or 4 kilos. Add to this the womb, which weighs around 1.5 kg, about 1 kg of amniotic fluid and roughly 700 g of placenta. The breasts also become about 500 g heavier and the amount of blood in increases by around 2 kg. Fluid retention (oedema) also contributes to the woman’s overall weight.

Vitamins and minerals

During pregnancy, women need to increase their intake of certain vitamins and minerals. To avoid any deficiencies, it is especially important to ensure that you get enough of the following trace elements:

  • Folic acid is essential for the development of the baby’s central nervous system. Found in these foods: fruit and vegetables, cereal germs, wholemeal products, legumes, meat and egg yolks.
  • Calcium is important for the growth of the developing child’s bones and teeth. Found in these foods: milk, yoghurt, cheese, curd cheese (quark, etc.), calcium-rich mineral water.
  • Sufficient quantities of magnesium can help to reduce leg cramps and prevent premature labour contractions. Found in these foods: wholemeal products, legumes, a wide variety of vegetables, fruit (e.g. bananas, dates, figs, berries), nuts and dark chocolate.
  • Iron is important for the formation of red blood cells. Found in these foods: meat, fish, egg yolks, wholemeal products and vegetables.

Multivitamin supplements

Taking special multivitamin supplements during pregnancy can reduce the risk of congenital deformities (e.g. neural tube defects, heart defects and cleft palates) by nearly fifty per cent. It can also reduce the risk of miscarriage, premature birth and malnutrition in the child.    

Folic acid

Folic acid – an essential vitamin

Folic acid helps with cell division, reduces the risk of neural tube defects in the unborn child, supports the healthy development of the embryo and improves sperm quality. Many people are already aware of how important this vitamin is and yet there are still women who are deficient in folic acid before and during pregnancy.

Timely folic acid intake is essential

Vital folic acid helps with cell division and reduces the risk of cleft palate (cheilognathouranoschisis) and neural tube defects, such as spina bifida (open spine). Because the development of the neural tube is already complete by the 25th day of pregnancy, it is particularly important that the mother-to-be takes enough folic acid before and during the first weeks of pregnancy. A healthy, well-balanced diet can cover most of the recommended daily allowance of folate (0.4 mg), which is the form of the vitamin found in food. Wheat germ, soya beans, spinach, and wholemeal products, for example, contain a lot of folic acid. However, the body requires a higher daily dose of folic acid (0.8 mg) at least four weeks before conception and during the first three months of pregnancy, which is hard to get from dietary intake alone. For this reason, the recommendation is to specifically take 0.4 – 0.8 mg folic acid supplements during this period to prevent a deficiency from occurring and reduce the risk of neural tube deformities.

Talk to your gynaecologist

Studies have shown that 73% of all women do not consult a medical specialist when they stop using contraception. As a result, many women are still unaware that they should be consuming sufficient folic acid before conception to ensure the healthy development of the embryo. Gynaecologists can provide women who wish to conceive with a lot of useful information about the essential role of folic acid.

Folic acid improves sperm quality

Numerous studies have shown that folic acid not only helps with cell division but also with the formation of high-quality sperm. This means that men who want to have children should eat a healthy, folic acid-rich diet and take 0.4 mg of supplementary folic acid to be on the safe side. This can not only help to improve sperm numbers but also the quality of the genetic material – which are the ideal conditions for healthy prenatal development.

Find out more on the website of Stiftung Folsäure Schweiz  (available in German and French).