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How Diet Can Make a Difference

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Your diet can make a difference to how well you cope with the demands of pregnancy. A good diet can improve the health of your unborn baby, as well as your capacity to deal with family, work and social commitments during and after pregnancy. Pregnancy is a time when you are more likely to gain excessive weight. Whilst most women gain weight during pregnancy, some have trouble maintaining healthy weight. Gaining too much weight can have an effect not only on your health. For example, it can raise your risk of developing high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, or other illnesses, and it could also affect the health of your child. Eating a healthy diet can help you to:

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Manage Constipation

Facts

    • In pregnancy the hormone progesterone can slow down your gut movements.
    • The longer food stays in your gut the more nutrients can be absorbed but also the more fluid is absorbed leading to dehydrated stools that are difficult to pass.

Tips

    • To reduce constipation, increase your fibre intake. Fibre increases the bulk and watercontent of stools making them easier to pass. Foods high in fibre include fruit, vegetables, legumes, wholemeal and grainy bread, brown rice, wholemeal pasta and wholegrain cereals
    • Drink plenty of water throughout the day as fibre needs fluid to have a beneficial effect
    • Exercise regularly as it promotes gut movement and therefore regular bowel movements. More about physical activity
    • If you are taking an iron supplement try switching to a liquid form, but make sure you  speak to your health professional for advice.
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Ease Morning Sickness

Facts

    • Morning sickness, including nausea and vomiting, during pregnancy is caused by the hormonal changes.
    • Morning sickness is most common during weeks six to 12 of pregnancy, although some women suffer for longer.
    • Nausea and vomiting may occur at any time of the day.

Tips

    • Eat regular small meals every two to three hours including some dry crackers before you get out of bed in the morning.
    • Snack on protein foods between meals (e.g. nuts, reduced-fat hard cheese or yoghurt).
    • Keep hydrated by drinking at least two litres of fluid a day. Water is best but other beverages do count. Limit those high in sugar such as juices, flavoured milks and soft drinks, unless they are all you can tolerate. Foods high in water like yoghurt, fruit and vegetables will also contribute to your fluid intake.
    • Both prevent a full stomach (try to drink between meals rather than with them, avoid large portions, and fatty foods) and empty stomach.
    • Avoid strong tasting or smelling foods.
    • If you are taking an iron supplement but they are causing you an upset stomach, try switching to a liquid form or children’s chewable iron tablets and folic acid, but make sure you speak to your health professional for advice.
    • See the Morning sickness pamphlet (external) for more information and tips to manage nausea.
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Reduce Heart Burn

Facts

    • Heart burn also known as acid reflux or indigestion occurs when your stomach acids rise. This is caused by hormonal changes that relax the sphincter that closes your stomach off from your throat.  In later pregnancy your growing baby may press on your stomach which will worsen heart burn.

Tips

    • Eat small, regular meals or divide your meal into two smaller portions, reserving one for a snack later.
    • Avoid fatty, fried foods, or processed foods by choosing reduced fat dairy products, lean meats, fruits and vegetables.  Also use low fat cooking methods such as boiling, baking, or grilling instead of frying and try a spray oil instead of liquid oil.
    • Avoid caffeine containing drinks like tea, coffee (choose decaff’ options instead), cola and chocolate. Caffeine also relaxes the sphincter between your throat and stomach, as does spicy food.Keep upright when eating and for an hour after a meal to allow gravity to take effect. When lying down keep your head and shoulders propped up on a couple of pillows so gravity can help keep the ‘acid’ down. See other foods to be cautious of during pregnancy.
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Boost Your Immune System

Facts

    • Being pregnant affects your immune system and this can leave you more vulnerable to certain infections such as colds and influenza.
    • A balanced diet with a variety of nutrients can help you to maintain your immune system.

Tips

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Enhance Your Energy levels

Facts

    • Your energy comes from what you eat (protein, carbohydrate and fat), as well as from the breakdown of carbohydrate and fat stored in your body.
    • The glycaemic index (GI) (external) is a way of ranking carbohydrates according to the extent to which they raise your blood sugar levels after eating. High GI foods provide quick energy but the slower energy release of low GI foods is more beneficial to general health.
    • A variety of nutrients such as B group vitamins and iron are needed to maximise your body’s production and use of energy.

Tips

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    • Eat regular meals and snacks to maintain your body’s store of ‘ready’ energy.
    • You will feel more energetic when you eat healthy foods. 
    • Choose a variety of foods, such as fruits, vegetables and foods high in protein and carbohydrates with a low GI. These will provide all of the nutrients you need to maximise your body’s production and use of energy.  
    • For more information see Pregnancy healthy eating guide
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Prevent or Delay Diabetes

Facts

    • Pregnancy can affect how your body uses insulin, the hormone that regulates the carbohydrate and fat metabolism in your body.  So those predisposed to diabetes by family history, ethnicity, lifestyle and/or advanced age are more likely to develop gestational diabetes during pregnancy.
    • Gestational diabetes puts you at an increased risk during pregnancy and, if not controlled, can also have a negative effect on your baby’s health.
    • If you are diagnosed with gestational diabetes you are at increased risk of developing type 2 diabetes after pregnancy.

Tips

    • A healthy lifestyle can reduce the chances of developing gestational diabetes or at least delay its onset including small changes to your diet (see the diet-related tips in the gestational diabetes section).
    • Keeping physically active helps your insulin work more effectively during pregnancy. See the activity section for recommended physical activity during pregnancy.
    • Controlling your weight gain during pregnancy is very important to avoid diabetes. See the weight section for healthy weight gain amounts during pregnancy.
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Improve Your Mood

Facts

    • Research indicates strong links between the intake of folate, vitamin B12, calcium, iron, selenium, zinc, and omega 3 fats with improved mental health and mood.

Tips

    • Consuming a variety of healthy foods each day is sufficient to ensure adequate intake of vitamins and minerals that improve mood. See the pregnancy healthy eating guide
    • Eating regular meals can help avoid mood swings.
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Maintain Your Nutrient Stores

Facts

    • During pregnancy your body adjusts to ensure that your baby is top priority. Any nutrients available will be directed to ensure your baby’s optimum development. If a nutrient is not readily available then your stores will be used for your baby. 

Tips

    • To ensure your nutrient stores are sufficient for you and your baby, regularly consume foods rich in iron, folate and calcium (vitamin D from exposure to sunlight will promote your body’s uptake of calcium).
    • Eating a variety of healthy foods will help you and your baby meet nutrient requirements (and more), except for folate and iodine which you should take as supplements during pregnancy.
    • If you take multivitamins, ensure that they are formulated specifically for pregnancy. Normal multivitamins can have high levels of Vitamin A (retinol) that are dangerous in pregnancy.
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>> Special nutrient needs during pregnancy >>

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