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Eating well during pregnancy is your best insurance plan for an uncomplicated pregnancy and a healthy baby. You can avoid many pregnancy complications by eating a well-balanced diet of high quality foods. Eating right will also make you feel better, give you more energy, and give your baby a healthy, strong beginning. The average weight gain is about 30-40 pounds. However, there is no normal amount to gain and it is much more important what you eat than how much you gain. Women who are underweight to begin with will need to gain more and women who are overweight will need to gain less.
Generally, you need to eat 300 extra calories per day while you are pregnant. More important than how much you eat is how, when, and what you eat. You should focus on nutrient rich foods and avoid empty calorie foods (like junk food, ice cream, soda, etc). You will need to eat 3 meals and 2 snacks per day, or 5 small meals. You are less likely to feel nauseous if you have something in your stomach.
It is important to eat minimally processed, nutritious foods. You will need a liberal intake of fruits and vegetables. Organic produce is best, as it has the most nutrients. It is best to eat foods in as natural a state as possible. This means fresh is best, followed by frozen, and lastly, canned vegetables. Focus on whole grains and complex carbohydrates and try to avoid refined breads, sweets, and sugars to maintain even blood sugar levels. If you crave sugar, it is a sure sign that you need to eat more protein.
Protein is extremely important during pregnancy. It is responsible for building the baby’s tissues, the increased blood volume, the placenta, the amniotic fluid, hormones, enzymes, and antibodies. You should consume 60-90 grams of protein per day. This is equal to about 8 servings of protein foods. Complete proteins included meats, poultry, fish, dairy products, and soy. Incomplete proteins need to be combined to make complete proteins. They include nuts, seeds, legumes, beans, grains, breads, and cereals. Some examples of protein are:
1 oz of cooked lean meat, fish, poultry, or seafood
2 hot dogs
2 slices of lunchmeat
2 oz or 3 links of sausage
2 fish sticks
1 cup milk
1 oz cheese
1/2 cup cooked dry beans
3 oz tofu
1 oz or 1/4 cup of peanuts, pumpkin or sunflower seeds
1 1/2 oz or 1/3 cup of other nuts
2 tablespoons of peanut butter
Try to eat a variety of foods and to vary the type of food (proteins, carbohydrates, fats, fruits and vegetables). Vary the source of foods (animal, vegetable, fruit). Vary the way you prepare the food as well (raw, cooked, boiled, steamed, sautéed, baked, or barbecued). Try to eat foods that are free of additives, preservatives, and dyes. Eat fruits instead of fruit juices, and drink boxed juices rather than sodas. Eliminate caffeine if at all possible. If you must, have no more than one serving of caffeine per day (one 8 oz soft drink, one cup of tea or coffee).
Due to mercury levels in some large fish the FDA advise pregnant and nursing women against eating King mackerel, swordfish, shark, and tilefish. The Environmental Working Group expands the FDA advisory to include avoiding tuna fish steaks, sea bass, oysters, Marlin, Halibut, Pike, Walleye, White croaker, and Largemouth bass. Pregnant women should not eat raw fish of any kind.
The American Academy of Pediatrics. American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, American Academy of Family Physicians, Academy of Breastfeeding Medicine, World Health Organization, and United Nations Children’s Fund recommend exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months of life. Exclusive breastfeeding is defined as an infant’s consumption of human milk with no supplementation of any type (no water, no juice, no nonhuman milk, no foods).
Human milk provides all the nutrients a baby needs in exactly the right proportions. Since it is made specifically for human babies it is more easily digested than infant formula, which is made from cow’s milk or soy products. Research has shown that breastmilk decreases the incidence of a wide range of infectious diseases, such as meningitis, diarrhea, respiratory infections, intestinal infections, ear infections, urinary tract infections, and pneumonia. There is also a lower incidence of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) among breastfed infants. Benefits from breastfeeding are not limited to the infant’s first year or two. Long-term benefits include decreased risk of diabetes, lymphoma, leukemia, obesity, high cholesterol, and asthma in older children and adults. Breastfeeding has also been associated with enhanced performance on tests of cognitive development. Breastfeeding offers emotional benefits as well. Nursing is a great source of comfort and security for breastfed infants. The skin-to-skin contact stimulates the baby and enhances bonding. The baby is not the only one who benefits from breastfeeding. The mother too enjoys many health and financial benefits. Human milk needs no preparation; it’s always ready, in the right amount, at the right temperature. It’s obviously cheaper because there is no need to buy formula or bottles. Since breastfed babies are healthier, the mother also saves on medical bills. Mothers who breastfeed lose weight faster than those that give formula. Also, the baby’s sucking stimulates the uterus to contract and reduces the amount of blood loss after delivery. So breastfeeding helps to prevent hemorrhage after the birth and returns the uterus to the pre-pregnant state more quickly. Mothers who breastfeed also enjoy long term health benefits, such as a decreased risk of breast cancer, ovarian cancer, urinary tract infections, and possible protection from osteoporosis. Breastfeeding also enhances the mother’s attachment to her infant. The baby’s sucking causes the mother’s body to release hormones, which promote feelings of warmth, love, and calmness, and promote nurturing behavior.
Breastfeeding also decreases the environmental burden of disposal of formula cans and bottles, and decreased energy demands for production and transport of artificial feeding products.
What is Colostrum?
The mother’s first milk is called colostrums. It differs in amount and color from breastmilk, but is the perfect amount of food for your baby. There is no need to supplement “until the milk comes in”. Babies have tiny tummies and Mother Nature has provided colostrum as a way to prepare your baby’s digestive tract for the milk and protect against infection. Because it’s a small amount it also forces the baby to suck hard to get the colostrums out, which helps the baby to develop a strong suck for when the milk comes in, usually about 3 days after the birth (can take 5 days after a cesarean birth).
Collecting and Storing Milk
Many mothers do not have the option of staying at home with their baby beyond a short maternity leave. Breastfeeding is still possible for the working mother, thanks to the development of breast pumps. Although breastmilk may be hand-expressed, if you will be needing more than a small amount, it is best to invest in an electric-grade breast pump. Before collecting milk, wash hands with soap and water. Wash breast pump parts that come in contact with the breast or milk with hot, soapy water. Rinse with cold water and air dry on a clean towel. When to pump depends on your and your baby’s schedules. Morning time is a good time to pump, as milk supply is usually plentiful at this time. You can also try to pump in between regular feedings. Also, if the baby skips a feed or only nurses from one side, pump on the remaining milk and save it. You should begin to pump and save two weeks before returning to work. Try to pump on the schedule that you anticipate once you have returned to work.There are several containers available for storing breastmilk. Some are specially designed plastic bags and others are plastic or glass containers. Use whatever is most functional for you. It is normal for breastmilk to vary in color, consistency, and odor, depending on diet and type of container used. Always label the container with the date and time pumped.
Breastmilk is good for 4-10 hours at room temperature (66-77 degrees Farenheit). It may be stored in the refrigerator for 5-7 days, and in the freezer for 3-6 months. It may be stored in a deep freezer (-20 degrees Celsius) for up to 12 months. Thawed breastmilk may be stored in the fridge for 24 hours. When you freeze your breastmilk be sure to leave extra space at the top of the container, as it will expand when frozen. Be sure to seal containers properly. Freeze the milk in small amounts, 2-4 ounces per container. This makes it easier to thaw and you will waste less.
Always defrost the oldest milk first. To defrost, place the sealed container in a bowl of warm water for 30 minutes. Don’t use hot water as this can destroy some of the protective properties of the milk. Never microwaves breastmilk, as it can change the composition of the milk or cause severe burns in your baby’s mouth due to uneven heating. You can defrost milk in the fridge overnight; it usually takes 8-12 hours. Never refreeze defrosted milk. Be sure to shake the milk to mix the layers together. Discard any thawed milk not used during a feeding.
Your baby will average 2-5 ounces per feeding between 0-2 months, 4-6 ounces per feeding between 2-4 months, and 5-7 ounces per feeding during 4-6 months.
If you have questions or problems with breastfeeding contact your midwife, doctor, or lactation consultant. You may also wish to contact La Leche League International, an organization dedicated to making breastfeeding easier and more rewarding for both mother and child. Their website is
Nutrition While Breastfeeding
Surprise! You actually need to eat more while breastfeeding than when you were pregnant! While breastfeeding you should be getting an extra 500 calories each day. You also need to drink about 3 quarts of fluids per day. You do not have to drink milk to make milk! But you should try to drink a glass of water, juice, or milk whenever you sit down to breastfeed. You will likely feel very thirsty so follow your body’s cues. Make sure you continue to eat high quality, high protein foods while breastfeeding. Also, you should continue taking your prenatal vitamins until you stop breastfeeding.