As a mother, I want to ensure during each pregnancy that I am maintaining a balanced diet. It is not only important for my unborn child but for myself. As an expectant mother, you are plagued with worry from what you eat to what you should or shouldn’t lift. Dairy has always been a staple in my diet even prior to becoming a dairy farmer. I wanted to know where dairy fits into a balanced diet for expecting mothers. I am excited to have registered dietician, Cara Harbstreet as a guest to share her expertise on what a balanced diet for expecting mothers looks like.
What does a balanced diet look like for an expecting mother?
Nutrition during pregnancy actually does not look drastically different from nutrition before or after pregnancy! Although there are notable changes, for the most part, some minor changes can help a women adapt to these increased needs without overhauling the majority of her food choices. The old adage of “eating for two” doesn’t quite hold true – while energy needs are indeed higher during the second and third trimesters (and during breastfeeding), it amounts to a few hundred more calories. Not double! This is probably the most common nutrition question I hear about pregnancy, and I’m always careful to reassure them they can still enjoy some of their favorite things more often without going overboard. Weight gain is a normal and natural thing that occurs during pregnancy. Your body is going through major changes and your unborn baby needs it! But we also have to be mindful of your health and excessive weight gain might lead to other complications. We can avoid that with well-planned nutrition and consideration for what your body needs!
What are some simple snacks that are nutritious yet easy for someone like myself that has a busy lifestyle to maintain during pregnancy?
My guidelines for snacks are to aim for at least two food groups. I think of foods as falling into a few different categories: fruits/veggies, carbs or starches, protein, and healthy fats. So when I think of nutritious snacks, it’s less about what the actual food is and more about making sure I have variety and balance. Here’s some examples I rely on frequently and have recommended to busy moms:
- Carrots/bell peppers/broccoli with hummus (vegetable + carbs + protein)
- PB&J on whole grain English muffin (protein + fat + carbs)
- Apple or banana with almond butter (fruit + fat)
- Yogurt with almonds/pecans/walnuts and dried fruit mixed in (protein + fat + fruit)
- Hard boiled egg w/ whole grain crackers or pretzels (protein + carbs)
Snacks don’t have to be complicated and they definitely don’t require cooking!
Water- It is so important yet so many of us never drink enough water. What is the daily recommended amount of water expecting mothers should be consuming?
Fluid needs for pregnant women are slightly higher than the needs for non-pregnant women, but it can be tough to add additional water. It’s recommended to drink 2-3 additional glasses (8 oz) of water during pregnancy. But remember, water isn’t our only source for hydration; we can get about 20% of our fluid needs from foods. So adding more fresh fruits and vegetables can help you get closer to that goal and take some pressure off a bladder that already feels like it’s working overtime!
What are some foods that women should avoid during pregnancy?
Food safety during pregnancy is always my top concern. While some of these foods might have been part of your diet before becoming pregnant, it’s simply not worth the risk for your baby. I advise clients to avoid:
- Raw meat/fish/seafood/shellfish, as well as raw eggs. No more sushi until after baby is born!
- Fish high in mercury. Think large, predatory fish that are higher in the food chain. Fish like swordfish, shark, tuna, king mackerel, and tilefish tend to accumulate higher stores of mercury. This isn’t to say all fish must be avoided, though, since the current recommendation is to consume 2 or more servings per week.
- Unpasteurized dairy, including cheese. If a label clearly states the cheese is made from pasteurized milk, it is fine to consume but be sure to read labels carefully!
Additionally, caffeine is something you should work to limit during pregnancy. Small amounts are fine if you can tolerate it, but the recommended upper limit is 200 mg per day. And finally, it goes without saying that alcohol will always be on the list of things to avoid consuming while pregnant.
How important is it to consume dairy for an expectant mother and her unborn child?
Dairy is part of my diet, and it certainly delivers valuable nutrition for both mothers and their unborn children. Calcium is usually the first nutrient we think of, but we can also consider protein, phosphorus, Vitamins B2 and B12, and magnesium from milk. However, I’m always respectful of the food choices my clients hold as high priority, and if they choose not to include dairy there are alternative foods or targeted supplementation that could help fill those gaps. And just like with any food, I would not encourage excessive intake or significantly increased intake of dairy products during pregnancy. Most women can meet their nutritional needs without making drastic changes so going overboard or using the “more is better” philosophy isn’t recommended, either.
If a mother is lactose intolerant or becomes lactose intolerant during pregnancy, would you recommend lactose-free dairy options?
This is a choice I always leave up to my clients; if they develop a sensitivity but don’t want to pursue an alternative food to replace the trigger, I leave it at that and we look to other foods to provide those missing nutrients. However, there are lactose-free dairy options available. They can be great substitutes and still provide the same nutrition. One option that many clients aren’t aware of is kefir. This fermented dairy drink is up to 99% lactose free, which means it may be tolerated with no problems. As an added bonus it delivers a good dose of probiotics, the good bacteria that can support a healthy gut microbiome and immune system.
Do you have any dairy related snacks or beverages that would be nutritionally beneficial during pregnancy?
As I mentioned above, kefir could be a good option to add. It’s a versatile product that can be added to cereal, parfait, smoothies, salad dressings, or enjoyed on its own. Yogurt is another dairy product that can offer balanced nutrition and the added benefit of probiotics. Some women develop aversions to flavors, textures, or aromas during pregnancy and that can turn them away from high protein foods like meat. Incorporating dairy into snacks in the form of milk or cheese might help these women replace protein in their diet if they find they aren’t able to stomach the foods they were enjoying before becoming pregnant.
If a woman is having a high risk pregnancy or a pregnancy with severe complications, what would your recommendation be for her?
In a high-risk pregnancy situation, I will always defer to the recommendations of the health care team. I do see pregnant women as part of my practice, but I do not specialize in that area. My role in those cases is to support my client through individualized nutrition recommendations. I try to work with her to make adaptations that are realistic and practical – if I can help relieve stress in others areas of life-like grocery shopping, food prep, and meal planning, that’s what we focus on and I leave the medical care to the other providers. And in extreme cases, it may be in the woman’s best interest to be referred to a specialist.
It is so important as expecting mothers to make sure that we are taking care of ourselves as well as our unborn child. A balanced diet, staying hydrated and exercising is so crucial to our overall health. I am so thankful to have so many amazing dairy options to incorporate into my diet with each pregnancy. Making sure both us remain healthy is my number one concern.
Cara is a registered dietitian and the owner of Street Smart Nutrition. She’s based in Kansas City, where she lives with her husband and several pets. She has experience working in community nutrition, outpatient clinics, and private practice. Her favorite part of her work as a dietitian is helping people rediscover joy in eating deeply nourishing meals without restriction or fear. When she’s not working, you can find her running, reading, or experimenting in her own kitchen with her favorite ingredients.
Latest posts by Krista Stauffer (see all)
- Does Dairy Belong in a Balanced Diet During Pregnancy? - November 30, 2017
- Farm Feature: Mesman Farm - July 28, 2017
- Food Safety Starts on Our Farm - July 7, 2017
- My Working Class Roots - July 4, 2017