Frequently Asked Questions about Pregnancy Health and Nutrition answered by Los Angeles Obstetrician Dr. Thais Aliabadi
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Q: What Kinds of Foods Should I Be Eating During Pregnancy?
Throughout your pregnancy, the food that you eat will be converted to energy and tissue for your new baby to grow. Your baby’s nutritional needs are similar to yours, but since the baby can’t choose his or her meals, you will have to choose wisely for the both of you.
Doctors recommend eating a well-rounded diet, with a variety of foods that give your body plenty of complex carbohydrates, fats, and proteins, as well as essential vitamins and minerals. If you’ve made a habit of eating sugary, pre-packaged, and overly-processed foods, now is a good time to break that habit. You should choose fresh, organic foods as often as possible.
You also need to drink plenty of fluids, preferably water, or electrolyte drinks like Pedialyte. Consume between 60-80oz each day.
Q: Should I Be “Eating for Two”?
“Eating for two” is more of a cultural joke than a sound nutritional guideline. Generally, you should listen to your body, eating when you’re hungry and stopping when you feel full. But you should be more mindful of where your calories are coming from.
Most women will need to up their protein intake to about 70g per day during pregnancy. As a reference, this is 24g more than the daily recommendation for non-pregnant women.
Experts recommend that pregnant women should increase their daily calorie intake by about 300 calories. This is equivalent to about an 8oz prepared chicken breast or a medium-sized bagel with cream cheese.
Q: How Much Weight Should I Expect to Gain?
Each woman’s weight gain during pregnancy is unique to her body and her eating and exercise habits. Although it’s not an exact measure, doctors use the Body Mass Index (BMI) calculator to estimate about how much weight a woman should gain during her pregnancy.
The BMI sets guidelines for normal weight depending on a person’s height. Your doctor can tell you your BMI, or you can calculate it yourself at home by searching online.
- Women with a BMI of 20-25 (normal weight) should expect to gain 25-35 pounds
- Women with higher BMIs (overweight or obese) should gain 10-20 pounds
- Women who are underweight may want to consult with their doctor about their specific nutritional needs.
- Women pregnant with twins should gain 35-50 pounds
Q: Should I Take Prenatal Vitamins?
Yes. Prenatal vitamins are an easy way to make sure you’re getting the nutrients your baby needs to grow healthfully.
- Folic acid. Although there are many kinds of prenatal vitamins, the most important component is folic acid. Folic acid has been repeatedly shown to reduce the risk of complications and birth defects of the brain and spinal cord. Choose a prenatal vitamin that contains at least 400 mcg of folic acid.
- Fish oil. Doctors also recommend taking a fish oil supplement daily. Fish oil provides omega-3 fatty acids, which support brain development and may reduce the risk of premature birth. Make sure your fish oil supplement is made from demercurized fish. Vegetarians can get omega-3s from plant-based supplements.
- Other vitamins/minerals. Many women have iron deficiencies that should be corrected with supplements during pregnancy. You can also talk to your OB-GYN about vitamins to help combat nausea and constipation.
Consult with your doctor before taking any additional vitamins or supplements. There are many vitamins and minerals that can be harmful to you or your baby when taken in excess.
Q: Should I Take Herbal Supplements?
The effects of herbal supplements on pregnancy have not been fully studied by the medical community. Just because herbal supplements are “natural” does not necessarily mean that they are harmless. Talk to your doctor about any supplements you may be interested in taking.
Q: What Foods and Substances Should I Avoid During Pregnancy?
The list of foods that should be avoided during pregnancy seems to grow longer every day. If you have questions about specific foods or drinks, you can always call your OB-GYN’s office for advice.
- Sushi/Raw meats. Eating raw and undercooked meats and fish increase the risk of food-borne illnesses during pregnancy.
- Consuming alcohol has been shown to cause fetal alcohol spectrum disorders and increase the risk of complications during pregnancy. It is unclear if there is any safe amount of alcohol to consume while pregnant; the safest choice is to refrain from drinking any alcohol.
- Coffee/caffeinated beverages. Scientific studies have returned mixed results on the safety of drinking caffeinated beverages during pregnancy. Generally, experts believe that consuming less than 200mg of caffeine per day is perfectly safe – which is about two cups of coffee, depending on the brand. More than 200mg each day may increase the risk of miscarriage.
Q: Can I Travel During Pregnancy?
There is no need to restrict travel during most of your pregnancy. Prior to travelling, make sure there is a doctor nearby that can assist you in case of an emergency. Check in with your OB-GYN for an evaluation a few days before leaving on a long trip.
If you’re taking a long flight or drive, take breaks to stand and stretch your legs and calves to reduce the risk of blood clots. Drink plenty of fluids to keep hydrated.
We do recommend avoiding travel after 34 weeks, even in low-risk pregnancies. It’s best to be near your doctor in case you happen to fall ill or go into pre-term labor.
Q: Can I Have Sex During Pregnancy?
Yes. Sexual activities, including vaginal intercourse, are safe during every stage of pregnancy. Some women report light spotting after sex – this is normal and should not be cause for alarm. If your pregnancy is high-risk, you may want to ask your doctor if it’s okay to have sex. Check in with your OB-GYN if you have:
- Experienced any abnormal bleeding
- Increased risk for preterm labor
- Placenta previa or another abnormal placenta condition
- A ruptured amniotic sac