Good nutrition is important for pregnant women because it affects the health of their unborn baby. The effects of nutrition on the developing baby last a lifetime, so making wise food choices is critical. Pregnant moms often receive an abundance of advice during pregnancy, but if not factual it could impact on food intake and both mom and baby’s needs for vital nutrients that support growth, development and health throughout life.
Here are a few of the common pieces of advice given, and the truth that exposes why they are in fact myths.
Myth 1: You should eat for two during your pregnancy
The truth: Contrary to popular belief, you don’t need to eat significantly more, or for two, during pregnancy. From about the third month of pregnancy you need a maximum of only 300 calories per day, which amounts to 1-2 extra slices of wholewheat bread plus one glass of milk. You do, however, need to pay more attention to your food choices, to ensure that you supply your body with what it needs for the growth of your baby and to keep you healthy. The key is to ensure that you have sufficient protein (meat, eggs, fish and chicken as well as from legumes or pulses), the right type of fat (DHA and ARA found in fatty fish, meat and eggs) and vital vitamins and minerals (especially iron, folate, iodine, calcium, vitamin B12 and choline). The requirements for the different stages of your pregnancy can vary, but the best way to ensure that your and babies needs are met during all three trimesters is to make certain that you eat a variety of healthy foods and take a pregnancy supplement that includes iron and folic acid.
Myth 2: Pregnant women should avoid all fish
The truth: Fish supplies vitally important nutrients necessary during pregnancy, as well as infancy and childhood. Nutrition is at the core of brain development and omega-3 fatty acids (especially one known as DHA), found in oily fish, is essential in the development of the baby’s brain, central nervous system and eyes. You may be worried about mercury in fish, but as long as you choose a variety of low mercury fish, such as sardines, pilchards, mackerel, tuna, yellowtail, hake and snoek, you and your baby will reap the benefits, without the risk. It is safe (and encouraged) to eat at least two portions of fish per week.
Myth 3: Eating liver or kidney will result in a bald baby
The truth: There is no connection between what you eat and the amount of hair your baby is born with. Some babies are just born without hair, but will almost definitely develop their luscious locks at a later age. Liver, kidney and offal are very nutritious, but they do contain high quantities of vitamin A that should not be consumed in large quantities during pregnancy (especially in the first trimester) as it can be harmful to your baby.
To prevent a vitamin A overload, limit liver and kidney consumption to small portions on special occasions. Also be aware of cod/fish liver oil supplements. However, supplements with beta carotene, a precursor of vitamin A, are safe to take during pregnancy, as the body only converts what it needs to vitamin A.
If you are unsure if you and your baby are getting sufficient nutrients from your diet, talk to your doctor or dietitian as a supplement, especially of iron and folic acid, is generally recommended for most pregnant women.
Myth 4: Eating oranges will cause your baby to have jaundice
The truth: Jaundice in babies is a condition where a naturally occurring yellow pigment, bilirubin is not effectively cleared by the immature liver and builds up in the body causing the skin and eyes to turn yellow. Jaundice is not in any way related to the mother’s diet during pregnancy and is certainly not the result of eating too many oranges. Oranges are, in fact, high in vitamin C that is important for cell division and growth, immune system functioning and iron absorption. This is especially important during pregnancy as iron requirements increase significantly and many women suffer from iron deficiency. Boost your vitamin C intake with brightly coloured fruits and vegetables such as guavas, kiwifruit, oranges, grapefruit, naartjies and berries.