Pregnancy concerns and diet solutions

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  • Common pregnancy issues such as morning sickness, heartburn and constipation can be managed by most women with diet and other lifestyle changes.
  • Health concerns during pregnancy, like high blood pressure and diabetes, require monitoring by a healthcare provider and a healthy eating plan.
  • Vegetarian diets, eating for multiple babies and gaining too much weight can all be managed with a healthy eating plan.

Here are some helpful explanations for common pregnancy concerns:

Cravings
Countless mothers have had them–cravings for everything from peanut butter brittle to hot sauce on ice cream. But are cravings bad? No one really knows why cravings occur, but if you occasionally indulge, keep the portions reasonable and maintain a healthy diet.

Morning sickness
Nausea and vomiting are the plight of many moms-to-be, especially in the first trimester. The cause is unknown, but may be due to hormonal changes or lower blood sugar during early pregnancy. Emotional stress, fatigue, traveling or certain foods can also contribute to the problem. It can be more common when pregnant with multiple babies. As the name suggests, it often occurs in the morning, but can strike at any time during the day.

Try these quick tips to help manage morning sickness:

  • Eat smaller amounts of food.
  • Think nutritious foods you would have for a meal, but in a snack portion size. 
  • Your sense of smell may be heightened during pregnancy, so avoid potential nausea triggers like food with strong aromas, perfume and cigarette smoke. 
  • Go for mild flavors over spicy. Have a small snack at bedtime and when waking, such as dry toast or saltines.
  • Take prenatal vitamins with or after food.


For severe cases of nausea, consult with your doctor. 

Try ginger

Ginger is known to help calm nausea. Try chilled ginger ale, warm or chilled ginger tea, or sucking on a piece of fresh ginger.

Constipation
Pregnancy hormones relax your intestinal muscles and slow the movement of food through your intestine. Your baby is also putting pressure on your intestines, slowing down the process even more.  

Here are some simple remedies that may help to get things moving again: 

  • Drink plenty of liquids every day, including water, decaffeinated tea, prune juice, milk and soups. Vegetables and fruits with lots of moisture—like celery, berries and watermelon— can also help.
  • Eat more fiber-rich foods
  • Be more active; exercise, such as taking regular walks, can help keep food moving through the digestive system.
  • Ask your doctor if your Iron supplements may be contributing to constipation. If you are taking them, spread out the dose to twice a day, rather than a single dose. Alternatively, ask your healthcare provider for a slow-release version.   


Swollen ankles 
Ankle swelling is a common side effect of pregnancy. Your body is naturally accumulating more fluid for both you and your baby. Hormonal changes may also contribute to the swelling. Swollen ankles seem to be more noticeable in the evening, especially if you’ve been standing all day.  

These tips may help bring relief: 

  • Drink plenty of fluid to get rid of waste and toxins. 
  • Put your feet up whenever possible. 
  • Don’t wear tight shoes.  


If the swelling gets noticeably worse, discuss with your doctor.   

Heartburn 
Heartburn—a burning sensation in the middle of your chest—can occur because your baby’s weight is pushing on your stomach and intestines. Because stomach acids are squeezed into the esophagus and the muscle at the top of the esophagus relaxes, it creates the uncomfortable   burning sensation we know as “heartburn.”   

Try making these diet changes to ease heartburn: 

  • Eat smaller meals more frequently and eat your meals slowly.
  • Avoid greasy and spicy foods.
  • Try to wait at least an hour after you eat to lie down.  


Check with your doctor before taking any over-the-counter antacids because many contain high levels of sodium.  

Being vegetarian
Vegetarian and vegan diets are safe during pregnancy—if they’re well planned with high-quality proteins and a good balance of whole grains, fruit, vegetables and healthy fats.  

Supplements providing Vitamin B12, Vitamin D, Folic Acid, Iron, Calcium and Zinc will add the nutrients that might be missing from your diet. Let your obstetrician know if you are (or planning to become) vegetarian or vegan. 

Avoiding dairy foods
If you don’t eat dairy, Calcium-fortified products like orange juice, soy milk, almond milk and cereals are good non-dairy choices. Non-dairy sources of Calcium are not absorbed as well as dairy-based Calcium, so a Calcium supplement might still be needed. Vitamin D is found mostly in dairy products, so this, too, may need to be supplemented, if you are not in the sunlight most days.  

High blood pressure
Gestational hypertension (high blood pressure that occurs during pregnancy) requires the attention of your healthcare provider. In the meantime:   

  • Try to keep to the proper rate of weight gain.
  • Stay active. 
  • Of course, avoid alcohol and tobacco. 
  • Tell your healthcare provider if you’re taking any over-the-counter or prescription medications.   


Gestational diabetes

If you have gestational diabetes, always follow the advice of your doctor. No one knows for certain, but it seems that pregnancy hormones interfere with Mom’s insulin. This, in turn, causes an imbalance with your baby’s insulin, resulting in high blood glucose (sugar) levels. Babies born with imbalanced insulin can be at greater risk of becoming obese or diabetic.   

  • Treatment for gestational diabetes aims to keep blood glucose levels equal to those of pregnant women who don’t have gestational diabetes. Treatment for this condition always includes special meal plans and scheduled physical activity. 
  • Ask your doctor for a referral to a registered dietitian. A registered dietitian specializing in gestational diabetes can customize a meal plan and teach you how to manage the condition.   


Having more than one

Having twins or other multiples means needing more calories. If you started pregnancy under- or overweight, these values may differ, so ask your healthcare provider. However, here’s a good rule of thumb:

Daily Calorie Guidelines for Multiple Babies 

  • Twins – 3,000-3,500 calories 
  • Triplets – 4,000 calories 


Eating for more than one baby
 

  • Your protein, Folate, Iron and Calcium, plus other nutrient needs, have gone up. Adding calories doesn’t mean making up the difference with junk food. 
  • Increase your food intake equally across all the food groups by about 30%. This will get you to about 3,000 calories per day. Add from there, based on your specific needs.
  • Add several substantial snacks to your day rather than bulking up meals.
  • Consult with a registered dietitian in your community who has prenatal expertise.   


Leg cramps

Leg cramps, often occurring at night, can be a pregnancy side effect, more often in the third trimester. Most likely caused by all the additional weight you’re carrying, these cramps can be relieved in a few ways: 

  • Stretching calves and flexing ankles.
  • Getting enough Calcium. Yes, it’s good for bone health, but it also plays a role in muscle contractions. If your healthcare provider recommends a Calcium supplement to help relax the muscles, it may also contain Magnesium, a mineral that works to balance Calcium. 
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