According to the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA), about 300 extra calories are needed daily to maintain a healthy pregnancy. These calories should come from a balanced diet of protein, fruits, vegetables, and whole grains with sweets and fats kept to a minimum. A healthy, well-balanced diet during pregnancy can also help to minimize some pregnancy symptoms such as nausea and constipation.
The American Dietetic Association (ADA) recommends the following key components of a healthy lifestyle during pregnancy: appropriate weight gain, consumption of a variety of foods in accordance with the Food Guide Pyramid, and appropriate and timely vitamin and mineral supplementation.
Fluid intake is also an important part of healthy pregnancy nutrition. Women can take in enough fluids by drinking 6 to 8 glasses of water each day, in addition to the fluids in juices and soups. An expectant mother should talk with her physician/midwife about restricting her intake of caffeine and artificial sweeteners. All alcohol should be avoided in pregnancy.
The US Public Health Service recommends that all women of childbearing age consume 400 micrograms (0.4 mg) of folic acid each day. Folic acid, a nutrient found in some green, leafy vegetables, most berries, nuts, beans, citrus fruits, fortified breakfast cereals, and some vitamin supplements can help reduce the risk of birth defects of the brain and spinal cord (called neural tube defects). The most common neural tube defect is spina bifida (in which the vertebrae do not fuse together properly, causing the spinal cord to be exposed) which can lead to varying degrees of paralysis, incontinence, and sometimes mental retardation.
Folic acid is most beneficial during the first 28 days after conception, when most neural tube defects occur. Unfortunately, many women do not realize they are pregnant before 28 days. Therefore, folic acid intake should begin prior to conception and continue through pregnancy. Your physician/midwife will recommend the appropriate amount of folic acid to meet your individual needs.
Most physicians/midwives will prescribe a prenatal supplement before conception, or shortly afterward, to ensure all of the woman's nutritional needs are met. However, a prenatal supplement does not replace a healthy diet.
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