Eating well does not mean eating more
Contrary to common belief, pregnant women do not need to double their food intake. It is only in the second half of their pregnancy that they need to increase their calorie intake slightly by about 300 kcal per day. Most pregnant ladies will eat fairly similar amount of food during their pregnancy as compared to before. A lot of them have cravings for certain foods, which is acceptable if they do so in moderation.
Pregnant women should follow a balanced diet of carbohydrates, proteins, vegetables and fruits. They should eat an assortment of fruits and vegetables as they contain different nutrients, especially vitamins and minerals necessary for proper development of the baby. They should take more food rich in calcium like diary products and fish; food rich in folate such as greens (asparagus, broccoli, beans and peas) as well as citrus fruits; and food high in iron (red meat, tuna, nuts, spinach, dates and figs).
High intake of caffeine is associated with low birth weight babies and the increased risk of miscarriages. Therefore, they should try to limit caffeine intake to no more than one cup of coffee a day. Many other beverages and food also contain caffeine albeit in smaller quantities, so their consumption have to be moderate, like lemon-tea or green tea, cola drinks, and coffee sweets.
Excessive amount of alcohol intake is associated with poor foetal growth and in serious cases may cause foetal alcohol syndrome. Soft cheese like brie, camembert and feta cheeses made from unpasteurised milk should be avoided, as these have higher risk of Listeria contamination. In serious cases, Listeria infection may cause foetal death.
Lastly, they should avoid undercooked meat and shellfish in order to minimise the risk of food poisoning caused by Salmonella. Overnight food must be thoroughly warmed up to ensure that any bacteria contamination will be effectively destroyed.
Fruit Myths & Supplements
Most fruits are safe to be consumed during pregnancy, as there is no evidence of them causing complications. In fact, fruits contain vitamins and minerals beneficial to pregnant women. However, as some fruits contain very high sugar content, their consumption should be moderate especially in patients with pre-existing or gestational diabetes mellitus.
A common myth is that eating pineapple might cause miscarriage. This has no scientific evidence. Some people also avoid eating papaya for fear of causing jaundice in the baby. Papaya contains beta-carotene which, when taken in large amount over time may produce a harmless orange tinge to the skin colour. In babies, jaundice is a common condition due to the inability of the neonatal liver to remove the bilirubin rapidly enough, resulting in its accumulation.
Pregnant women should avoid taking health supplements without first consulting their doctors as many supplements contain high concentrations of certain nutrients that may cause yet unknown problem to the foetus. For example, large amount of vitamin A is known to cause developmental problem in the foetus.
Doctors are generally very cautious when prescribing medicine for pregnant women. Only medicine that are necessary to ensure the health of the mother and baby, and medicines that have been shown to be safe for the foetus, are prescribed. Where there is not enough data on safety in pregnancy, they are not prescribed unless necessary for the well-being of the mother.
The same is true of traditional Chinese medicine as there are medicines that are safe to use in pregnancy and those that are absolutely contraindicated. If you are not familiar with these products, it would be prudent not to take TCM during pregnancy or to consult with a TCM physician first regarding its suitability for you.
A common query is about consuming bird’s nest during pregnancy. This is fine as the product contains mostly protein and has no other medicinal property. A word of caution though as many people are allergic to the protein in bird’s nest resulting in development of rashes or in more serious cases, an anaphylactic shock.