While it may seem like the ultimate excuse to get that extra serving of your favourite foods, parents-to-be are encouraged to focus on nutrition, not indulgence during pregnancy. So what are the dos and don’ts to optimize fertility, manage weight gain and prepare your body for breastfeeding? Check out PLN’s guide to feeding your bump.
Trying to conceive
When it comes to boosting fertility, there are no magic foods or supplements that can help seal the deal for parenthood, but there are ways to optimize your chances of becoming a parent. According to Ilona Burkot, Registered Dietitian, there is evidence from observational studies that eating a plant-based diet optimize fertility for women and men.
She suggests increasing your intake of items like legumes, nuts, seeds, tofu and decreasing your intake of animal-based proteins. Decreasing alcohol intake and limiting caffeine intake may also have a positive effect on fertility.
“There are some observational studies that show that the male’s nutrition can also impact fertility and not only that, preconception nutrition can influence your baby’s health down the road. You can start thinking of your baby’s health even before you conceive.”
It is also beneficial to increase foods rich in healthy fats like oily fish, eggs, avocado, nuts, seeds as well as full-fat dairy. She also suggested trying to limit trans fats as they can be inflammatory to your body.
Health Canada suggests starting a prenatal multivitamin three months before you want to conceive.
Ilona also suggests addressing any nutritional deficiencies that may exist when you are trying to conceive. Having blood work done by your medical practitioner can indicate issues such as low iron.
Is the keto diet safe for pregnancy?
A popular diet designed to allow a rapid weight loss through the elimination of sugar and carbohydrates, the keto diet has also been pegged as a good way to increase fertility by many fans of the low carb high-fat way of eating.
The National Institute of Health performed a study on mice who were fed a ketogenic diet before conception and during pregnancy found that consuming this diet can impact the development of healthy organs during pregnancy and could cause organ dysfunction later in life.
“I haven’t seen any evidence that adopting a keto diet or any type of restricted diet has an influence on fertility or conception rates,” says Ilona.
“I tend to steer people towards eating a balanced diet that includes real whole foods as opposed to adopting a restrictive diet because those tend to not be sustainable in the long run. If you are cutting out whole food groups you may be putting yourself at risk for deficiencies, especially in this critical period in your life.”
While Ilona does not recommend an increase in calories during the first trimester, she says that women who are suffering from morning sickness and nausea need to eat as healthy as possible, when possible, but not beat themselves up if they are only able to stomach certain foods.
In severe cases, women may suffer from Hyperemesis gravidarum (HG), which is not the same as morning sickness. With morning sickness, women suffer from nausea and vomiting which typically ends around 12 to 14 weeks of gestation and does not cause dehydration.
With HG, women often cannot keep any liquids or foods down and can become dehydrated. HG can also last an entire pregnancy.
With this severe condition, Ilona says that women who may not have much choice in the food they are eating.
“At that point, we really just counsel women to eat whatever they feel good about eating. We really don’t focus on what is optimal, but what makes you feel good,” she says.
Eat better to feel better
There are things that women can do that may help to relieve morning sickness.
Ilona recommends eating a smaller amount of foods like nuts and seeds and nut butter.
“They are nutrient dense and you can get a good amount of calories from a small amount of that type of food,” she says.
“When you are not able to eat a lot, I would refer to things like full-fat dairy as opposed to things that are lower fat so you can eat smaller amounts but get in your nutrition.”
She says that if you are craving salty foods you can try to go for healthier versions of your favourite snacks, such as whole grain tortilla chips with salsa or guacamole or whole grain toast with avocado.
Ilona says that salty foods can help increase your thirst and help you drink more.
“When you are dehydrated the symptoms of nausea and vomiting can be exacerbated so staying well hydrated is important.”
Best tips for beating morning sickness:
- Eat smaller meals
- Separate your meals from your liquids
- Avoid high fat or greasy foods
- Stay hydrated
- Ginger supplements may help (check with your healthcare provider)
- Eat ginger candy or sip ginger tea
Should we give in to cravings?
While many may believe that cravings are a sign of nutritional deficiencies, Ilona says that this is only the case when a woman is craving non-food items, such as dirt, clay or ice cubes. This condition is called Pica and is a sign of an iron deficiency.
She says that cravings are more likely just an indication of the women’s preferences for either sweet, savory or salty foods. While she encourages pregnant women to eat a healthy diet, she says that indulgence in moderation is fine.
“Don’t adopt the all or nothing approach,” she says. “Go ahead and have small amounts of those types of foods so you don’t become preoccupied with it.”
How many calories do I need?
“A lot of people tend to think of eating twice as much now that you are pregnant or eating for two as the other saying goes, but in fact, your nutrition needs to increase only quite moderately,” Ilona says.
In the first trimester, there isn’t an increase in needs. It isn’t until the second trimester that an average woman’s calorie needs might increase by an average of 350 calories and in the third trimester by about 450 calories.
That is equivalent to about two snacks or a small to a moderately sized meal.
When a woman is able to eat well, Ilona would encourage that those calories were made up of nutrient-dense foods to support nutrition during pregnancy.
Great snacks during pregnancy
- whole grain toast or pancakes with nut butter and fruit
- oatmeal with hemp hearts or ground flaxseed and fruit
- whole grain pita with hummus and veggies
- whole grain cereal with almonds, hemp seeds and cow’s or plant-based milk
- avocado toast
- apple with peanut butter
- raw veggies, whole grain crackers or tortilla chips with hummus or guacamole
- hard-boiled eggs with slices of real cheese
- whole grain cereal + milk + hemp hearts
- plain Greek yogurt with fruit and honey
- chia seed pudding with fruit
- smoothie (add in nutrient-dense ingredients like Greek yogurt, nut butter, avocado, green veggies, colourful fruits)
- salad with chickpeas or cubed chicken, grated veggies, drizzled with olive oil and balsamic vinegar/lemon juice
- mixed salad with a mini can of oil-packed tuna
- dates stuffed with nuts (add a few chocolate chips for a sweet treat)
- trail mix (make your own with your favourite raw nuts, dried fruit, dry whole grain cereal, coconut flakes and more)
- strawberries and banana slices drizzled with two to three squares of melted dark chocolate
- small whole grain tortilla with nut butter and banana
- popcorn and peanuts
Additional benefits of a healthy pregnancy diet
If nurturing a healthy baby wasn’t enough of a benefit to a healthy diet during pregnancy, there are also additional bonuses that you may experience.
- You may notice that you are more energetic during pregnancy
- Your diet will help nourish your body and prepare for breastfeeding (if you choose to do so)
- Good nutrition throughout pregnancy may help manage proper weight gain and postpartum weight loss.
Give yourself a break
While most expecting mothers set out to have a healthy diet during pregnancy, it is not always possible to eat as healthy as you would like if you are suffering from morning sickness or HG.
“It is important that a woman let go of those ‘shoulds’ and ‘oughts’ of nutrition when she is not feeling well,” she says. “Even the Society of Gynecologists and Obstetricians of Canada recommendations are that women should be encouraged to eat whatever appeals to them at that point. So while you are striving for good nutrition, the need to feel well and be able to eat something supersedes that.”
What are your favourite snacks to eat during pregnancy? Have you ever had any crazy cravings? Let us know in the comments!
*Opinions expressed are those of the author, and not necessarily those of Parent Life Network or their partners.