(This is the fourth installment in my Nutritional Series.  Please read the previous ones if you are at all interested.)

So, the little stick you just peed on turned blue or gave you two stripes or some other signal that you are pregnant.  Your whole life is about to change, as well as that of your partner (if you’re blessed enough to have one).  Before you make your decisions to breast or formula feed, which vegetables to feed the little girl or guy, you have to make your baby’s nutritional choices for them while you are still pregnant.  It is an important time in their lives, nutritionally speaking, but luckily enough, the human body was designed so that the embryo/fetus would get all of the nutrients necessary regardless of what mom eats.  That means mom has to eat healthily to keep up her own strength and fuel her own body.  And boy will she need it when labor and delivery comes around!

First things first:  Many people say that when a woman is pregnant she is “eating for two”.  Is this true?  Not at all.  A typical 130 lb woman who is moderately active should eat about 2000 calories per day.  When she is pregnant should should not, by any means, be eating twice that amount.  Not only would it be difficult for her to consume that much, but she would gain wait fairly quickly (1 lb = 3500 excess calories so about 2-3 lbs per week in the first trimester!).  During the first trimester of pregnancy there is no nutritional need to increase caloric intake.  The embryo is growing and developing, but it is not using all that much of mom’s energy.  The second trimester is when increased calorie intake begins, but it is only about 200-300 calories per day.  So our example 130 lb woman would eat her usual 2000 calories per day during the first trimester, then about 2200 – 2300 during her second trimester.  By the end of her second trimester, our 130 lb woman could actually weigh over 140 lbs (because the bulk of mom’s weight gain really begins in the second trimester).  In the third trimester, our original woman should be eating about 400 calories more than her usual diet, so about 2400 calories per day.  These extra calories will support the large developments and weight gains that occur during the third trimester.

Well, since you aren’t necessarily using thousands more calories of energy when pregnant, you should make each calorie count.  Some nutrients that are especially important during pregnancy include vitamin A, D, E, B1, B2, B3, B6, and C, folic acid, iron, DHA omega-3, protein, zinc and calcium.  Some foods rich in these nutrients include milk (Vitamins A, D, B3, calcium, and protein), eggs (vitamins A, B1, B2, B3, B6, and protein), and fortified cereals (vitamins E, B1, B3, folic acid, calcium, and zinc).  (For a more complete list of foods suggested for pregnant woman, please visit this site.

If the above paragraph scares you to pieces, focus on the “Big 3”:  calcium, folic acid, and DHA omega-3.  Pregnant women need 4 servings of calcium which may come from dairy or dark leafy greens typically.  Folic acid is usually found in prenatal vitamins in the amounts needed by pregnant women.  Check the bottle before you purchase to make sure.  In addition, fortified cereals also contain folic acid.  Finally, DHA omega-3 can be found in cold-water, oily fish such as salmon.  It could also be taken through a supplement.


Now that we’ve dealt with pregnancy, let’s move on to when you actually have to “eat for two”.  If you choose to breastfeed your baby (which I highly suggest), your body uses a lot of caloric energy to produce milk.  I have read figures anywhere from 500 to 1000 calories per day are used by a new mother’s body in the production of milk.  Mother’s body will continue to burn these extra calories so long as baby is exclusively breastfeeding.  Once you begin to supplement with solid foods, baby usually nurses a bit less.  This means mother’s body doesn’t have to produce as much milk and therefore doesn’t burn as many calories. 

(Although it is not an exact science, the Weight Watchers guidelines for breastfeeding moms suggests that a mother eats 2 points per day for every nursing session up to 10 points per day.  So if baby nurses 6 times in a day, mother adds 10 points to her daily total, but if baby nurses 4 times, mother adds 8 points to her daily total.  One WW point is roughly 50 calories, so it looks like the program assumes mother’s body burns 100 calories per nursing session; if baby is nursing 5 times per day that is 500 calories extra for the day.  Do keep in mind that the WW program is designed to help people lose weight, so mother’s body is using more calories than this in reality, but this is a safe amount for her to consume while trying to lose baby weight).

Well, let’s return to our 130 lb woman, who has now become a 165 lb (ok, 175 lb) woman waddling herself into the hospital to give birth.  After her baby is born and she begins nursing, she should be eating roughly 500-700 calories more than her usual daily allotment.  So she’ll be eating about 2500 – 2700 calories per day, the most she’s been burning since she’s become pregnant.

With all these calories to consume, what is a breastfeeding mother to do?  What should she focus on eating?  The same phenomenon that occurs in pregnancy also occurs in breastfeeding:  baby will get all of the nutrients it needs through mother’s milk, regardless of what mom eats.  So mom needs to eat to replenish and replace what milk uses, and that is predominantly calcium and iron.  In addition, mom should be eating more fiber, because she will need more.  I don’t know why, and I can’t explain well how it makes sense, but please, for your colon’s sake, eat lots of fiber while breastfeeding. 🙂


That concludes my post on pregnancy and breastfeeding nutrition.  Of course, any questions, please feel free to ask.  Stay tuned for the final installment in my nutrition series:  Fitting it All In