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Pregnancy and breastfeeding

Whether you’re planning to have a baby or are already advanced in your pregnancy, diet and wellbeing are important. Here's some top tips on eating well, no matter what stage you’re at

Planning for a baby

Whether you’re planning for a baby or not, it’s important that your own body is a healthy weight with a varied diet and active lifestyle. The Eatwell Guide is the perfect way to help you get all of the nutrients that your body needs.

Folic acid is essential before and during pregnancy, helping to reduce the risk of neural tube defects in your baby. It's tough to get all this from your diet so a 400mcg folic acid supplement should be taken while trying to conceive, then up to the 12th week of pregnancy. If you are very overweight (BMI >30) you should take 5mg of folic acid every day when you are planning to get pregnant up to the end of the first trimester.

Iron is another essential nutrient while planning for a baby. Include plenty of rich sources of iron in your diet, such as lean red meat as well as plant-based sources: lentils, beans, wholegrain bread and dried fruit. These are harder for the body to absorb, so should be combined with foods rich in vitamin C, such as tomatoes, citrus fruit and peppers.

Dads: keeping fit and maintaining a healthy weight and balanced diet is just as important for future fathers. Zinc and selenium can boost fertility – great sources include lean red meat, wholegrain cereals, seafood and eggs.

Pregnancy

A healthy balanced diet is key to providing the right nutrients for you and your baby. It's good to maintain a healthy weight so try and avoid falling into the 'eating for two' habit. Only in the last trimester should you increase your calorie consumption by 200 calories a day.

Nutrients you need more of:

  • 400mcg folic acid supplements should be taken until the 12th week of pregnancy. Foods such as sprouts, broccoli and wholegrains contain a natural source of folic acid (folate) so try and get as many of these as possible.
  • Vitamin D is important for growth and development of your baby's bones. Needs are higher when pregnant so 10mcg supplements are recommended.

Nutrients to avoid/limit:

  • Vitamin A is important for healthy development but large amounts can be harmful. Avoid supplements that contain vitamin A or retinol, for example fish liver oil, and foods such as liver or pâté.
  • Raw or undercooked meats, including cured meats such as parma ham and salami, should be avoided. All meat should be thoroughly cooked with no pink meat or blood. Cold, cooked meats are fine to eat.
  • While there is no need to limit white fish or canned tuna, you should avoid shark marlin or swordfish as it's high in mercury. Your oily fish intake should be limited to a maximum of two portions per day. Thoroughly cooked shellfish is safe to eat.
  • Pasteurised soft cheeses such as cottage, feta and mozzarella are fine to eat, but soft blue cheese, soft cheese and cheese made with unpasteurised milk should be avoided due to its potential bacteria content. These include gorgonzola, roquefort, brie and camembert.
  • Do not eat raw or partially cooked eggs, only fully cooked.
  • Alcohol should be avoided. The Department of Health advises this to be the best approach during pregnancy to avoid any risks to the baby.
  • High intakes of caffeine should be avoided. Limit to around 200mg a day – roughly two mugs of instant coffee, one and a half mugs of filter coffee and two and a half mugs of tea. For more details, visit the NHS website.

Breastfeeding

If you're planning on breastfeeding when your little one arrives, again it's important to maintain a healthy, balanced diet with plenty of fluids. The same nutritional information around fish, vitamin D, alcohol and caffeine should be followed as above, but if you do wish to drink alcohol, it’s best to avoid feeding for two to three hours per unit after drinking.

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