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Nutritional Needs During Pregnancy

When it comes to pregnancy nutrition, there seem to be two types of people. Those who feel it is of the utmost importance, and those who feel it doesn’t matter. Want to know which side of that fence I am on?  Here is some information straight out of Varney’s Midwifery  to help you figure that out.

Low birth weight babies, whether they are small for gestational age or premature, have increased rates of perinatal mortality, mental retardation, cerebral palsy, learning disabilities, visual and hearing defects, neurological defects and poor infant growth and development. Factors that influence birth weight are: maternal disease, smoking, gestational age and maternal malnutrition. Maternal malnutrition is related to two factors, the prepregnancy weigh and the weight gain during pregnancy. That’s all.

That doesn’t quite tell the whole story.  We do know that two things seem to cause the baby’s growth to not be optimum; placental problems and poor nutrition.  But these two do not produce the same results.  When growth is restricted by the placenta, brain growth is protected even though the rest of the growth is hindered. When growth is restricted by inadequate nutrition, the brain is not spared.

Varney’s tells a chilling tale, does it not? It goes on to break down birth weights to explain what birth weights have the optimum health, and its higher than you think.  3500 – 4000 grams, which is between 7 lb 12 oz and 8 lb 14 oz. Many women might even consider these babies “big” wishing instead for a more petite version.

So we can accept nutrition is important, but that is about all I see most people will agree on. Why? Because  the food you eat is a very personal, culturally specific and emotionally charged issue. Diet is a difficult subject to bring up because families have many reasons for eating the way they do.  Finances, access to foods, experience with foods, culture and time limitations are all mixed in. So when they come to you as the midwife, and you tell them to eat well for pregnancy, what have you really told them?

It goes the opposite way too.  I have meet birth professionals who spend majority of their time focusing on the importance of  organic or whole foods or vegetarian or high protein diets. None of these things are necessarily wrong, but if you are working with a family that does not yet eat two servings of vegetables a day, you are missing an opportunity to help them make the first step.

So how do nutritional needs change during pregnancy?  They actually change very little from the standard nutritional needs.  Most nutrients needs are the same, or nearly the same for pregnant and non-pregnant women.  The big differences are that protein needs rise to 71 g per day on average and total calorie need increases by 300. In addition, pregnancy does increase your iron needs.

The recommended breakdown of food groups to meet these needs is as follows:   Fruits – 1.5 cups;  Vegetables – 2.5 cups;  Grains – 6 oz eq;   Meat and Beans – 5 oz eq;   Milk 3 cups.

And for those of you who read that list and feel frustrated that women will not get optimum benefits from eating like that unless they choose organic or whole food or whatever you personal preferences are in food, I share with you the wisdom of one of my favorite midwives: The research shows these benefits from the plain old stuff they sell in the grocery store.  If you can get her to eat it, she’s get these benefits.

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