The minute I learned I was pregnant, I cut out coffee (and wine) and otherwise spruced up my diet. My objective? Do everything I could to get baby off to a good start. Every mother-to-be wants the best for their baby, so let's take a look at the latest nutritional recommendations.
Choline. This B-vitamin plays a key role in developing the hippocampus, the memory center of the brain. It's also involved with building the neural tube and central nervous system. Egg yolks are a particularly rich source. Find smaller amounts in beef, poultry, pork and fish, as well as pistachio nuts.
DHA omega-3. DHA is the building block of our brains, according to Tara Gidus, MS, RD, author of Pregnancy Cooking & Nutrition for Dummies and the mother of two. "Aim for low mercury, high omega-3 fishes like salmon or sardines or take a supplement," she says.
Folate. This B-vitamin is needed to prevent birth defects even before you're pregnant. Take a prenatal or multivitamin or folic acid supplement when you're trying to get pregnant. Eat folate-rich foods like asparagus, spinach, orange juice and legumes.
Iron. Blood volume increases in pregnancy and so do iron needs. Meat is the best source.
Protein. You need a significant amount of additional protein to support the growth of the baby. Aim for things like Greek yogurt, lean meats and beans.
Vitamin D. "Most women enter into pregnancy deficient in this vital nutrient and you need more when you're pregnant," Gidus says. "Supplements are the best way to get it."
Gidus points to three categories of foods that pose a food safety risk: Anything unpasteurized, such as milk, cheese, or freshly squeezed juices; undercooked or raw meats, fish, seafood, or poultry; and raw or runny eggs.
Food cravings are normal, and for the most part, hormonal, according to Gidus. "They don't necessarily mean you are 'deficient' in a nutrient if you are craving it. For example, you may not be deficient in iron if you're craving a steak," she says.
She suggests you enjoy what you want: "Go with the cravings and have small amounts of the foods you are craving as long as it's not a dangerous food or a non-food substance."
As every mom of two knows, every pregnancy is different, so don't be surprised if one pregnancy finds you with extreme cravings and the next without many at all.
Gidus says if food allergies run in the family, it's best to limit the allergens during pregnancy. However, with no history of allergies, "there is no need to limit milk, eggs, peanuts, soy or any of the other common allergens."
In two studies presented at the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology's annual meeting in March, researchers found that nursing mothers who attempt to ward off allergies by eliminating high-risk foods did not reduce the development of food allergies in their children.
Many new moms are anxious to get their bodies back to normal. Gidus suggests patience. "Don't expect too much too soon. Make sure you rest and recover," she says.
She recommends plenty of fluids as well as eating to keep your strength up. "Focus on nutrient-rich foods like lean meats, low-fat dairy, whole grains, and of course, lots of fruits and veggies. Eat small meals and frequent snacks so you give your body energy consistently throughout the day."
Christine M. Palumbo is a registered dietitian in Naperville who experienced stronger food aversions than she did cravings during each of her three pregnancies. Find her on Facebook at Christine Palumbo Nutrition or contact her at Chris@ChristinePalumbo.com.
Christine M. Palumbo, RD, is a nutritionist living in Naperville.
See more of Christine's stories here.