Pre and Post-Natal Nutrition 101
Warning: this post discusses pregnancy, breastfeeding and motherhood in great detail. If this is a topic that you find to be difficult to read about, or to be particularly emotional, it may not be best to proceed with reading the piece.
Disclaimer: This is not a substitute for medical advice given by your doctor. If you are pregnant or breastfeeding, please ensure you discuss any lifestyle changes with them.
Motherhood is an exciting, and potentially nerve-wracking time for women to go through. Women see huge changes in hormone levels, sleep, and energy levels, and nutrition plays an essential role in helping us to adapt to these changes.
Because of this, we are incredibly proud and excited to have developed a Maternity Plan. Our aim is to support those who are pregnant or breastfeeding to get the nutrients and energy their bodies and their babies require, and relieve them from the stress of shopping, cooking, and washing up.
Breastfeeding or expectant mothers need different vitamins and/or supplements, should avoid certain foods and drinks, and have different energy requirements that need to be accounted for.
All of this is on top of preparing for the baby/navigating life with a newborn, and the hormonal changes that occur.
Because of this, and the alarming lack of meal prep catered specifically to pregnant women, we thought it was about time to shift the market and give the option of meal prep to the people that arguably need it the most!
So what differences and requirements need to be accounted for?
With supplementation, most things remain the same from pre-pregnancy to pregnancy, with two key exceptions;
Folic acid (vitamin B9) requirements are significantly higher in the first trimester (weeks 0-12). This roughly doubles from around 200μg before pregnancy, to 400μg in the first trimester. This is to prevent something called neural tube defects, such as brain, spine, or spinal cord defects developing in the foetus.
However, it is difficult to sustain this level of folic acid in the first trimester through diet alone, which is why supplementation is necessary. But, this can be a tricky period to supplement, as most women do not find out that they are pregnant until around 6-8 weeks.
If actively trying to conceive, it is recommended to start supplementing as soon as you start trying for a baby. If the pregnancy was unplanned, it is best to start supplementing as soon as you find out you are pregnant.
Folic acid only needs to be supplemented in this way until the 12th week of pregnancy.
The other key vitamin to be aware of is vitamin A, specifically preformed vitamin A (also known as retinoids). When consumed in excess, Vitamin A can lead to birth defects. As such, it is recommended that pregnant women avoid consuming liver (as it is very high in vitamin A), and using retinol-based products; retinol is a commonly used ingredient in skincare products.
Foods to avoid
There’s a relatively extensive list of food and drink to avoid while pregnant. Some of it is obvious, like alcohol and smoking, and some of it is less obvious, like certain types of fish.
We’ve outlined the general things to be aware of below;
- Food safety – Ensure everything is thoroughly cooked before eating it – no rare/pink meat or raw shellfish.
- Meat – If cooked thoroughly with no trace of pink, meat is mostly fine to eat, but be wary of cold cured meats (unless cooked thoroughly), and liver.
- Food hygiene – Wash all utensils, cooking surfaces and hands carefully, to ensure that any strains of food poisoning-causing bacteria are removed (e.g. listeria or salmonella)
- Eggs – Only consume British Lion Code of Practice eggs – these are clearly marked in supermarkets with a red lion stamp/logo, but be mindful of hidden eggs in meals out (e.g. in ingredients like mayonnaise).
- Fish – Limit oily fish consumption (tuna, salmon, mackerel, etc) to 1-2 times per week.
- Caffeine – Avoid having more than 200mg of caffeine per day (this is equal to two cups of instant coffee, or one filter coffee). This can cause low birth weight if excessively consumed while pregnant and can make the baby agitated and jittery while breastfeeding.
- Fluid intake – Ensure you’re drinking enough hydrating fluids throughout the day, particularly if you are experiencing morning sickness or hyperemesis gravidarum, it’s hot, and/or you are sweating more than normal. Urine should be a clear, pale yellow – if it’s darker than this, try to drink more fluids!
- Alcohol – Alcohol should be avoided throughout pregnancy and breastfeeding if possible, especially in the first trimester, but there is some evidence to suggest that one drink a week may not cause harm.
- Alcohol consumption can lead to learning difficulties, deformation and health problems, and premature birth and/or low birth weight, amongst many other side effects. If you are unsure, it may be best to avoid altogether.
The general guidelines for nutrition in pregnancy are mainly similar to those we would recommend for the general population.
Contrary to popular belief, pregnancy does not require ‘eating for two’.
In fact, there is no scientific evidence to suggest an increased calorie intake is necessary within the first two trimesters at all – just the third! This is where the baby is developing most.
The mother’s metabolic rate (BMR) increases by around 15% in the third trimester, which means caloric intake needs to increase on top of maintenance calories, as well, to
support the growing baby. Energy-wise, this works out to be an increase of approximately 250 kcal per day.
Breastfeeding places an even greater demand on the mother’s body – on average, babies will take around 750ml of milk per day, all of which the mother produces herself (assuming that she is breastfeeding)
Producing all this milk each day expends a huge amount of energy – around 450 kcal extra! It is therefore recommended that breastfeeding women supplement their nutrition with a further 450 kcal per day, at least until they have had their post-natal check-up with their doctor, to ensure there’s a healthy supply of milk for the baby to continue steadily growing postpartum.
Following the postnatal check-up, the doctor will advise as to whether it is safe for the mother to start losing weight or not. If it is safe to do so, she may start to gradually decrease her daily calorie intake from there.
It is important to note that this is a very special, and potentially difficult time for mothers. While the media’s fixation on women ‘bouncing back’ immediately after giving birth can be intrusive and hard to shake, this time should be used to bond with your newborn and ensure you are looking after yourself, as well as them. Your baby is unbothered by what you look like – they just want enough love and milk (whether that is through breastfeeding or bottle) to keep them happy and healthy.
Our Maternity Plans factor in the stage of your perinatal life that you are at, and the appropriate calorie requirement for the stage, increasing by 250 or 450 kcal if appropriate, and automatically excluding the foods you need to be mindful of while pregnant or breastfeeding, to give you one less thing to worry about! Additionally, with the option to add exclusions to our plans, we are able to cater for any particular aversions you may experience through the pregnancy, and help cater to any symptoms where the service allows.
If you are finding nutrition difficult throughout your pregnancy or while breastfeeding, you can try our newly developed and specialised plans to help you through this time and to help you focus on your little one. Use the code MATERNITY50 at checkout to get £50 off your trial week. Our plans can cater to all three trimesters, and breastfeeding before and after your postnatal check-up.
Pregnancy support – https://www.nhs.uk/pregnancy/support/
Pregnancy loss support – https://www.tommys.org/baby-loss-support