Pregnant or breastfeeding? What you eat matters
Healthy eating during pregnancy and when breastfeeding isn’t about eating for two – it’s about eating a nutritious diet. Read on to know the essential nutrients you must include in your diet.
Pregnancy and breastfeeding are the most nutritionally demanding times in a woman's life. Not only does mommy have to focus on her own health and nutritional needs, but she also has to take care of her child’s. So double the effort for double the impact!
Why should pregnant and lactating women pay special attention to their nutrition?
During pregnancy, the need for some key nutrients is increased to:
- Meet the increased energy needs for your own health
- Reduce pregnancy related symptoms such as nausea, tiredness and GDM (Gestational diabetes mellitus is defined as glucose intolerance of variable degree with onset during pregnancy)
- Nourish the foetus’ growth and development
- Build tissue in the placenta and uterus to support foetal growth
Similarly, nutritional requirements are high during breastfeeding because nutrients:
- Replenish body stores
- Facilitate post-natal recovery
- Help produce breastmilk
- Provide energy needed to meet the physical demand during this period of time
Now, the source of all of the nourishment your child needs both during and after pregnancy (for as long as you are nursing), is you, mom. This nourishment comes either through the food you eat, supplements you take, or combination of both.
With this in mind, below are some of the key nutrients you need during the pregnancy and breastfeeding periods.
During pregnancy, protein plays a key role in the development of your developing baby’s body and organs such as muscles, nerves and brain.1,2 Protein also helps to create skin and hair.
Crucially, adequate intake of protein is necessary to lessen the risk of stillbirth and pre-term births.3
According to the Recommended Nutrient Intake for Malaysia (RNI) 2017 guidelines, in your first trimester, your protein requirement stays more or less the same, with a slight increase of 0.5g/day. As your developing baby grows, your protein needs also increase.
RNI of Protein for Pregnancy:
- 1st Trimester: +0.5 g/day
- 2ndTrimester: +8 g/day
- 3rd Trimester: +25 g/day
Why does your protein intake increase as the foetus grows larger? This is because additional protein is required during pregnancy to provide support for the synthesis of maternal and fetal tissue. Maternal protein requirement increases from early gestation period and reaches its maximum level during the third trimester.
During lactation, you need to consume more protein-rich food to support breast milk production.
RNI of Protein for Lactation:
- 1st 6 months: +19 g/day
- 2nd 6 months: +13 g/day
(Source: Recommended Nutrient Intake for Malaysia (RNI) 2017)
Calcium is a crucial nutrient during pregnancy. It helps to build and maintain strong bones and teeth for you and your developing baby.
Your body also utilises calcium for other metabolic functions4 and is crucial for mediating vascular contraction and vasodilatation, muscle function, nerve transmission, intracellular signaling, and hormonal secretion in the circulatory system, extracellular fluid, muscle, and other tissues.5
Your developing baby’s need for calcium is especially great during the last trimester of your pregnancy. That’s when most of his or her bone development occurs.
The intake of adequate calcium has been linked to a reduced risk of pre-eclampsia in pregnant women.6
If you don’t take adequate amounts of calcium through your diet or through supplements, your body will take calcium from your bones to pass it to your foetus!7 That’s why having enough calcium in your pregnancy diet is essential to your own health as it can also decrease your risk of osteoporosis8 later in life.
Depending on your age, you should be getting between 1g and 1.3g of calcium each day, which is about four servings of calcium-rich foods:
RNI of Calcium for Pregnancy & Lactation:
- 13-19 years: 1,300mg/day
- 20-49 years: 1,000mg/day
(Source: Recommended Nutrient Intake for Malaysia (RNI) 2017)
It is a key nutrient for mothers to consume during pregnancy. It supports foetus’s brain development9 and strengthens the structure of cell membranes.10
Choline also contributes to the synthesis of acetylcholine, an important neurotransmitter involved in memory and learning.
Choline may also help protect your foetus against neural tube defects9, thus making it one of the important nutrients you should be taking to give him or her a healthy start in life.
It is during pregnancy and lactation when the demand for choline is especially high. In this phase, due to high demand, transport of choline from mother to foetus depletes maternal plasma choline. Also, since milk contains choline in good quantities, lactation further increases maternal demand for choline. This results in the further depletion of tissue stores. If a woman has low dietary choline intake, her risk of having a child with neural tube defects increases markedly.
RNI of Choline for Pregnancy & Lactation:
Folate or its synthetic form—folic acid—is a type of Vitamin B (Vitamin B9) that helps the body to form red blood cells and promote healthy cell division.
The human body loses a considerable amount of folate through biochemical processes in the body and through excretion from the urine, skin and bile. Therefore, there is a need to replenish the body’s folate content from the diet.
This nutrient offers benefits to your own body, too. Together with iron, folic acid helps in the formation of red blood cells as blood volume during pregnancy increases. It may also lower your risk of labour complications, such as pre-eclampsia and early labour.11
It is a crucial nutrient especially during the first 28 days of pregnancy when the foetus central nervous system begins to develop.12 Most brain and spinal defects occur during this period if the mother’s folate nutrition is poor as she enters pregnancy.13
According to Recommended Nutrient Intake for Malaysia (RNI) 2017, pregnant mothers should take 600mcg of this essential nutrient per day. During lactation, the recommended amount is 500mcg.
RNI of Folate:
- Pregnancy: 600 mcg/day of Dietary Folate Equivalent (DFE)
- Lactation: 500 mcg/day of DFE
DHA stands for docosahexaenoic acid, a type of omega-3 fatty acid that is an excellent aid in the development of the foetus brain and eyes.14
It plays a key role in the structure and function of human tissues, immune function, and brain and retinal development.15
Consuming DHA early in pregnancy is important as the foetus brain begins to develop soon after conception. DHA accumulates most rapidly in the foetus brain during the last trimester of your pregnancy and continues to be passed on while breastfeeding.16 In other words, you are the main source of DHA for your child, during and after pregnancy. Pregnant and lactating moms needs DHA in their dietary intake because during pregnancy itself, there is a huge foetal demand for DHA and it depletes the maternal DHA stores by up to 50%.
Recommended DHA intake
Pregnancy & lactation: 200mg/day15
Are you eating a balanced diet?
Mums, eating a healthy balanced diet that has all the above nutrients is important. While we are sure that you are trying your best to eat well, you may miss out on key nutrients or find it challenging to obtain the right combination of nutrients at the right levels.
Moreover, nausea and vomiting that affects 70-80% of pregnant women can also influence your food and nutrient intake. As nausea prevents consumption of certain kinds of food that provide important nutrients, vomiting can cause nutrient and weight loss.
In a scenario like this, a milk supplement designed for pregnant and breastfeeding moms can help you get the mix of essential vitamins and minerals needed to help meet recommended levels.
Enfamama A+ is an everyday prenatal milk supplement designed for pregnant and breastfeeding moms.
It is scientifically formulated with the highest levels of DHA* and Choline**, in just two convenient glasses a day.
Enfamama A+ also helps provide other essential nutrients such as Folic Acid, Calcium & Iron while supporting appropriate weight gain.
- Proteins are the Body's Worker Molecules. (n.d.). Retrieved April 10, 2017, from https://publications.nigms.nih.gov/structlife/chapter1.html
- Good Nutrition During Pregnancy for You and Your Baby. (n.d.). Retrieved April 10, 2017, from http://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/diseases_conditions/hic_Am_I_Pregnant/hic_Good_Nutrition_During_Pregnancy_for_You_and_Your_Baby
- Balanced energy and protein supplementation during pregnancy. (n.d.). Retrieved April 10, 2017, from http://www.who.int/elena/titles/energy_protein_pregnancy/en/
- Beto, J. A. (2015, January). The Role of Calcium in Human Aging. Retrieved April 25, 2017, from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4337919/
- Pregnancy, Breastfeeding, and Bone Health. (2015, April), Retrieved April 10, 2017 from https://www.niams.nih.gov/health_info/bone/Bone_Health/Pregnancy/default.asp
- Calcium and calcium supplements: Achieving the right balance. (2015, August 5).Retrieved April 10, 2017 from http://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/nutrition-and-healthy-eating/in-depth/calcium-supplements/art-20047097
- Zeisel, S. H. (2013). Nutrition in pregnancy: the argument for including a source of choline. Retrieved April 25, 2017, from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3639110/
- Zeisel SH (2006) Choline: Critical Role During Fetal Development and Dietary Requirements in Adults; Annu Reb Nutr; 26: 229-250
- Greenberg JA, Bell SJ, Guan Y, Yu Y (2011) Folic Acid Supplementation and Pregnancy: More than just Neural Tube Defect Prevention; Rev Obstet Gynecol 2011; 4(2): 52-59
- Coletta JM, Bell SJ, Roman AS (2010) Omega-3 Fatty Acids and Pregnancy, Rev Obstet Gynecol 2010 Fall; 3(4): 163-171 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4848685/
- FAO (2010). Fats and fatty acid in human nutrition.Report of an expert consultation. FAO Food and Nutrition Paper no. 91. FAO: Rome
- Carlson, Susan E., (2009). Docosahexaenoic acid supplementation in pregnancy and lactation. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 89(2): 678S–684S.
*In 2 servings/day. Based on recommended serving per day compared to other maternal milk brands as of Sept 2017. It is recommended to take 2 servings Enfamama A+ per day
**Compared to other key maternal milk brands in the market as of Sept 2017. Enfamama A+ Choline levels: 560mg per 100g powder