Women's Health and Pregnancy
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Pregnancy is a phase of joy and excitement for women as they experience a life growing within them. But it involves numerous physiological and biochemical changes that occur in the body as it adapts to support the growing fetus. The sole responsibility of nourishing the fetus depends upon the mother. Whatever food or diet the women consume, those nutrients are absorbed and provided to the growing fetus. During pregnancy, women experience weight gain to nourish and support the developing fetus. Hence, the mother needs to consume a healthy diet during pregnancy, which contains all the necessary nutrients for the nourishment and healthy growth of the fetus. Women also need to make sure that their body is robust enough to deal with the changes occurring within the body during pregnancy. As a result, a healthy diet during pregnancy is vital for both the mother and the fetus. A healthy pregnancy diet needs to be balanced and nutritious, which involves the correct balance of proteins, carbohydrates, fats, vitamins, and minerals.

What is pregnancy diet & nutrition?

During pregnancy, a woman needs to increase her calorie intake to provide nutrients for the growing fetus. The pre-pregnancy weight of women is also important to check the capability of the body of the women to handle and maintain a growing fetus. Underweight pregnant women are highly recommended to gain weight during pregnancy to sustain the fetus and have a healthy labor. Whereas overweight women are advised to lose weight during pregnancy as it may harm the fetus. Absorption of iron increases in the blood along with an increase in the blood volume during pregnancy so that both the mother and baby have enough blood and oxygen supply. [1,2]

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Healthy pregnancy diet

It is found that the diet consumed by women during pregnancy directly affects the growth of the fetus. In the studies, it was found that women who consumed an unhealthy diet gave birth to infants who were thin in size, lacking skeletal muscle as well as subcutaneous tissue. According to these studies, it was concluded that women who consumed a low intake of dairy protein in late pregnancy gave birth to infants that were thin at birth. Dairy protein intake is related to the amino acid composition of proteins found in the fetus. Hence, low dairy protein intake may cause differences in the amino acid composition of proteins in the fetus and may affect the growth of the fetus. [3,4]

Fractures are considered a significant public health problem, which is the result of low bone mineral density. According to animal studies, it is found that low calcium intake during pregnancy and lactation results in low bone mineral density. Smoking and alcohol consumption during pregnancy was found to impact negatively on the bone mass of infants. Increased bone density was found in neonates when their undernourished mothers were given calcium supplements during pregnancy. Hence, pregnant women need to follow a healthy pregnancy diet, which satisfies all the nutrient needs of the fetus for healthy growth. [5,6]

What does diet during pregnancy mean? When we refer to diet while pregnant, we're not talking about restricting calories or attempting to drop weight. Dieting to lose weight during pregnancy can be hazardous to you and your baby, especially since a weight loss regimen can confine important nutrients like iron, folic acid, and other essential minerals and vitamins. The American Pregnancy Association recommends avoiding popular diets like Atkins, South Beach, The Zone, Raw Food Diet, etc. The sort of diet we promote during pregnancy describes fine-tuning your eating habits to ensure you're receiving adequate nutrition for the health of you and your baby. Healthy eating during pregnancy is essential to your child's growth and development. So as to get the nutrients you need, you must eat from many different food groups, including fruits and vegetables, bread and grains, protein sources, and dairy products. Typically, you'll have to consume an additional 300 calories each day. It's always important to eat a variety of foods during the day ensuring you get the nutrients both you and your baby need. Here's a look at the food groups and a few suggested sources for making a healthy diet during pregnancy.

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Best diet for pregnancy

Maintaining a healthy diet during pregnancy is essential. Whatever the mother consumes in her diet is reflected in the growth of her fetus. During pregnancy, there is an additional need for nutrients, vitamins, and minerals for both the mother and the fetus. The following are some highly nutritious foods that, if included in the diet, can be regarded as the best diet for pregnancy. An appropriate pregnancy diet plan should be formulated, which includes all these nutritious foods along with the necessary supplements which are advised during pregnancy.

1. Dairy products

Dairy product consumption is of utmost importance during pregnancy as it provides protein and calcium to meet the needs of a growing fetus. Dairy products also contain high amounts of phosphorus, B vitamins, magnesium, and zinc, which help promote bone mineral density in the fetus. [7]

2. Poultry, Fish, and Eggs

These nutritious foods are an excellent source of protein along with various vitamins & minerals. They also contain a high amount of iron, which is an integral part of red blood cells and is essential for delivering oxygen to all the cells of the body. Fish are rich in omega-3 fatty acids, which help in building the brain and eyes of the fetus. Eggs can be an excellent source of choline that promotes brain development and overall health. [8,9,10]

3. Broccoli and dark leafy vegetables

These vegetables are a great source of vitamin C, vitamin K, vitamin A, calcium, iron, folate, and potassium. Consuming these vegetables is linked to a reduced risk of low birth weight of infants. [11]

4. Whole grains

Whole grains help pregnant women meet their increased caloric requirements during pregnancy. Additionally, these grains contain fiber, B vitamins, and magnesium, which are essential for women during pregnancy. [12]

5. Fruits

Fruits are packed with healthy carbohydrates, vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants. Citrus fruits and berries are rich in vitamin C and antioxidants, which improve the immune function of the mother to be as well as the fetus. Fruits contain essential minerals that meet the micronutrient demands of the growing fetus. [13]

6. Water

It is of utmost importance for the mother to stay well hydrated during pregnancy. The blood volume of the mother increases during pregnancy, and hence, it is vital to stay well hydrated. Adequate water consumption prevents the symptoms of mild dehydration. These signs include headaches, anxiety, fatigue, and mood swings.[14]

Along with appropriate diet, the mother must consume some dietary supplements after consulting with a doctor which include: 

- Iron

- Folic acid

- Vitamin D

- Zinc 

- Calcium

It is also advised for women to avoid these foods & lifestyle habits during pregnancy as they may harm the fetus

- Smoking

- Alcohol

- Excessive caffeine

- Some types of fish contain mercury like shark, swordfish, and marlin.

- Raw or partially cooked meat [15]


Complement to nutrition

Prenatal Vitamins: Though the primary source of vitamins and nutrients needed during pregnancy should come from the diet, a daily prenatal vitamin can help fill tiny gaps--in case you unintentionally don't get enough essential nutrients. Prenatal vitamins should be taken up to 3 months before conception, if possible.

Ask your healthcare provider about which supplement is ideal for you. It is good to remember that a prenatal vitamin or any other supplement can only match a healthy diet during pregnancy.

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Summary

Whatever a pregnant woman eats during pregnancy affects their energy and well-being as well as it directly affects the health and development of the baby. Since numerous physiological and biochemical changes occur within a woman during pregnancy, where the caloric and nutrient needs are increased, it is essential to choose a healthy, nutrient-rich diet. Consumption of a healthy diet during pregnancy results in well being of the mother as well as the fetus. The risk of complications that arise during labor and post-partum is highly reduced. A healthy and nutritious diet during pregnancy gives rise to a healthy baby after birth.

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References

1. A. E. Beddoe and K. A. Lee, "Mind-Body interventions during pregnancy," Journal of Obstetric, Gynecologic, and Neonatal Nursing, vol. 37, no. 2, pp. 165–175, 2008.

2. Leung, C. W., Epel, E. S., Bush, N. R., Coleman-Phox, K., Adler, N. E., & Laraia, B. A. (2016). Maternal diet quality during pregnancy and fetal growth outcomes: a pilot study of lower-income pregnant women. The FASEB Journal, 30(1 Supplement), 671-20

3. Widdowson EM, Crabb DE, Milner RDG. Cellular development of some human organs before birth. Arch Dis Child 1972; 47: 652– 655.

4. Robinson JS, Owens JA, De Barro T, Lok F, Chidzanja S. Maternal nutrition & fetal growth. In: RHT Ward, SK Smith, D Donnai, editors. Early Fetal Growth and Development. London: Royal College of Obstetricians & Gynaecologists 1994: 317– 334.

5. Gertner, JM (1999): Childhood and adolescence. In Primer on the Metabolic Bone Diseases and Disorders of Mineral Metabolism, Fourth Edition, ed MJ Favus p47. Philadelphia: Lippincott, Williams, and Wilkins

6. Raman L, Rajalakshmi K, Krishnamachari KAVR & Sastry KG (1978): Effect of calcium supplementation to undernourished mothers during pregnancy on the bone density of the neonates. Am. J. Clin. Nutr. 21, 466 ± 469

7. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22747842

8. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/10721924

9. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21364848/

10. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19906248

11. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21428901

12. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11238752

13. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16373990

14. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/4075604

15. Kouba, S., Hällström, T., Lindholm, C., & Hirschberg, A. L. (2005). Pregnancy & neonatal outcomes in women with eating disorders [Abstract]. Obstetrics & Gynecology, 105(2), 255-260

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