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Eating right during pregnancy

Kirsten Kibler, M.D., Ph.D. [October 27 2011]

What should I eat? What should I not eat? These are common questions women ask when they get pregnant.
The answers depend on a number of factors, including the woman's overall health and whether she has certain medical conditions. But there is some diet advice that virtually all pregnant women should follow:
• Drink lots of water. Sufficient fluid intake can help prevent problems like dehydration, hemorrhoids and constipation. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends at least six to eight glasses of liquids daily. Water is best, since juices contain excess calories and coffee and tea contain caffeine. Obviously, you shouldn't drink alcohol, but you might not know that you should also avoid herbal tea. There aren't enough data on how herbal teas affect developing babies.
• Get protein from safe, healthy sources. Dairy products, nuts and beans and lean meats are good. Women who are (or planning to become) pregnant should limit fish consumption due to mercury and other contaminants. In general, pregnant women should have no more than two meals a week of fish from supermarkets or restaurants (including canned tuna). Avoid altogether high-mercury fish like swordfish, shark, tilefish, king mackerel and striped bass. Also avoid deli meats, hot dogs, soft cheeses (feta, brie) and other foods that can contain harmful Listeria monocytogenes bacteria.
• Get your vitamins and minerals, through fruits, vegetables, dairy products and whole grains. Among the most important nutrients is folate, a B vitamin. Adequate folic acid (folate's synthetic form) helps prevent spina bifida and other neural tube defects. Doctors often recommend that women who are pregnant (or planning to become pregnant) take a folic acid supplement. Pregnant women need other nutrients, also, including but not limited to: 70 mg of vitamin C; 1,000-1,300 mg of calcium; and 27 mg of iron daily. One important note: Don't consume too much vitamin A, which can cause birth defects. The Institute of Medicine recommends pregnant women ages 19 and older get just 2,565 IU of vitamin A daily.
• Eat plenty of fiber. Fruits, vegetables and whole grains are great sources.
• Avoid raw, undercooked or unpasteurized foods, and be sure to wash fruits and vegetables before eating.
• Remember, you're not eating for two adults. Most women should consume 100 to 300 extra kilocalories (kcals) per day during pregnancy, but talk to your doctor about what your weight-gain goal should be.
The best way to ensure you're eating right during pregnancy is to talk to your doctor, who is familiar with your health and can give you the best nutrition advice for you and your baby.
Kirsten Kibler, M.D., Ph.D., is an obstetrician/gynecologist at The Hospital of Central Connecticut. For information on HCC physicians, please contact our free Need-A-Physician referral service by phone, 1-800-321-6244 or online, www.thocc.org. Learn more about HOCC's maternity services