Nutrition Tips for Pregnant and Lactating Women
In India, it is observed that diets of women from the low socioeconomic groups are essentially similar during prepregnant, pregnant and lactating periods. Consequently, there is widespread maternal malnutrition leading to high prevalence of low birth weight infants and very high maternal mortality. Additional foods are required to improve weight gain in pregnancy (10-12 Kg) and birth weight of infants (about 3 Kg). It is hence important to ensure provision of extra food and healthcare to pregnant and lactating women
Key points regarding nutrition for pregnant and lactating women
- Pregnancy is physiologically and nutritionally a highly demanding period. Extra food is required to meet the requirements of the foetus.
- A woman prepares herself to meet the nutritional demands by increasing her own body fat deposits during pregnancy.
- A lactating mother requires extra food to secrete adequate quantity/ quality of milk and to safeguard her own health.
Important nutrition tips for pregnant and lactating women
- Eat more food during pregnancy.
- Eat more whole grains, sprouted grams and fermented foods.
- Take milk/meat/eggs in adequate amounts.
- Eat plenty of vegetables and fruits.
- Avoid superstitions and food taboos.
- Do not use alcohol and tobacco. Take medicines only when prescribed.
- Take iron, folate and calcium supplements regularly, after 14-16 weeks of pregnancy and continue the same during lactation.
Nutrients that require special attention during pregnancy and lactation period
The daily diet of a woman should contain an additional 350 calories, 0.5 g of protein during first trimester and 6.9 g during second trimester and 22.7 g during third trimester of pregnancy. Some micronutrients are specially required in extra amounts during these physiological periods. Folic acid, taken throughout the pregnancy, reduces the risk of congenital malformations and increases the birth weight. The mother as well as the growing foetus needs iron to meet the high demands of erythropoiesis (RBC formation). Calcium is essential, both during pregnancy and lactation, for proper formation of bones and teeth of the offspring, for secretion of breast-milk rich in calcium and to prevent osteoporosis in the mother. Similarly, iodine intake ensures proper mental health of the growing foetus and infant. Vitamin A is required during lactation to improve child survival. Besides these, nutrients like vitamins B 12 and C need to be taken by the lactating mother.
Ways to meet the nutritional demands during pregnancy and lactation
- The pregnant/lactating woman should eat a wide variety of foods to make sure that her own nutritional needs as well as those of her growing foetus are met.
- Bioavailability of iron can be improved by using fermented and sprouted grams and foods rich in vitamin C such as citrus fruits.
- Milk is the best source of biologically available calcium.
- Though it is possible to meet the requirements for most of the nutrients through a balanced diet, pregnant/lactating women are advised to take daily supplements of iron, folic acid, vitamin B and calcium.