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The importance of good nutrition and exercise during pregnancy for a healthy mom and baby!

Pregnancy and Breastfeeding

A few tips to better address this happy period

A healthy diet during the nine months of gestation is the first gift a mother can give to her baby as it will affect their constitution and health. No coincidence that the Italian Ministry of Health has dedicated a specific page to this topic to provide pertaining guidelines. The right combination of healthy eating and exercise in pregnancy may also help the expectant mother to stay healthy without putting on to much weight. In this article we will go through a few eating guide-lines and the appropriate sports during pregnancy.

Why is it important to eat healthy during pregnancy?

Unfortunately today there is an increasing tendency to consider pregnancy as a pathological condition. Actually, this period of a woman's life is something absolutely natural and as such should be lived, taking care of your body and what you eat, without anxiety and excessive worrying. First of all, let us try to understand why it is so important to pay attention to what we eat.

First of all it should be recalled that consumption of certain foods, for example, can facilitate the transmission to the foetus of pathogens or germs (responsible for poisoning). Food cannot only affect the baby's health, but also the following elements:

  • a pregnant woman's health;
  • her emotional balance;
  • sleep quality;
  • postpartum recovery.

That's why it is good that the expectant mother follows a proper diet during pregnancy. In the following paragraphs we shall have a deeper understanding of the rules to follow for nutrition and exercise in pregnancy. First, however, we shall try to understand "what" a pregnant woman should eat, and then consider the foods to be preferred and those to avoid.

When you are pregnant, do you really have to "eat for two"?

The false belief that a woman during pregnancy should "eat for two" is still very widespread. In fact, energy requirements during pregnancy increase in the first months by only 200 calories a day, which roughly corresponds to an extra snack, for example an apple or a yoghurt.

Only during the last months, to cope with your child growing up, you should increase your caloric intake by about 500 calories a day. Therefore, "binge eating" has no justification, so it's advisable to check the calorie intake and reduce the weight gain to 10-12 kilograms. A balanced diet, which is important at any time of life, becomes essential in this sensitive period.

What to eat during pregnancy: yes and no foods

As mentioned above, paying attention to what you eat during pregnancy is essential for the health of the mother and the unborn baby. The diet of a pregnant woman should be balanced but also healthy and safe. So, let us take a look at the healthiest foods to eat during pregnancy and which ones to avoid or consume carefully.

1)      Thoroughly rinse vegetables and fresh fruit

Fruits and vegetables should always be present in the diet of a pregnant woman. These foods are rich in vitamins, such as vitamin C and folic acid, which are essential for proper foetal growth. However, we should take some precautions. First of all, carefully wash all fruits and vegetables before eating. Women who are immunosuppressed or likely to contract toxoplasmosis should always wash fruits and vegetables with a no-rinse produce wash.

2)      Dairy are OK, but the right ones!

Intake of calcium and protein ensured by cheese is very important both for the mother and the child. However, you must choose the right dairy products. However, it would be good to avoid soft or semi-soft cheeses (gorgonzola, camembert etc.) because they may contain a bacterium that causes listeriosis. As for milk, however, one should avoid drinking raw and unpasteurized milk.

3)      Beware of fish and raw shellfish

During pregnancy, one should avoid raw fish and shellfish. Green light, instead, to cooked fish. Recommended trout, salmon or cod, sardines or anchovies, as they supply a good amount of protein and Omega-3s. Be careful with tuna, swordfish and large fish in general as in their meat they can store a certain amount of mercury.

4)      Avoid under-cooked meat and eggs

Raw meat and eggs should absolutely be avoided, the latter in particular for the risk of salmonella. Mayonnaise can be consumed in moderation only if packaged, avoiding fresh homemade one.

Meats are to be consumed well cooked and not very rare, preferring the less fat ones. These necessary restrictions, however, may make it difficult to ensure the right amounts of iron. Let us recall that a woman's body, especially in the last months of gestation, needs additional intake of this substance (at least 30 mg per day). For this reason, it might be helpful to supplement it with natural products rich in iron, B vitamins and vitamin B9 (folic acid).

5)      Salami and cured meats? No thanks

Fresh or slightly seasoned meats (such as sausages) should be avoided, especially if you have a low level of immunisation to toxoplasmosis (verifiable through toxo-verifiable tests). To be in no doubt, you should avoid cured meats such as ham, speck, cured pork neck etc. On the contrary, you may consume, but in moderation, the cure meats obtained with cooked meats, such as cooked ham.

We also recall that, as pointed out by a special campaign to raise awareness promoted by the Italian Ministry, it would be better not to drink any kind of alcohol during pregnancy. Indeed, in this period, even small doses of alcohol may endanger the health of the unborn child.

8 dos and don'ts: diet tips for pregnancy. Keep weight gain under control!

A weight gain during pregnancy is normal and physiological, even from the beginning of gestation. This increase is caused, in fact, by the progressive growth of the foetus; the extra pounds are also due to the presence of placenta and amniotic fluid. Water retention caused by hormones also contributes to weight gain.

However, you should try to limit this increase within a range of 10-12 pounds (16-20 for a twin pregnancy). An excessive increase may, in fact, cause problems to the pregnant woman as diabetes, pre-term birth, preeclampsia. Understanding that it is essential to follow the advice of a trusted gynecologist, a great help can come from following some simple rules. Let's have a look at some tips to follow for properly eating during pregnancy: simple suggestions to be implemented in the course of the week, which allow you some exceptions in the weekend.

1) Frequent, small meals

First, divide your calories intake into several meals a day (2 main meals and at least two snacks), so as not to overload the digestive system and control your "hunger pangs";

2) Green light for fruit and vegetables in season

Your diet should be very rich in fresh foods, fruits and vegetables (carefully washed), to cope with the increased need for vitamins and minerals necessary for proper foetal development. The green leafy vegetables (such as spinach or cabbage), for example, are excellent sources of folic acid, a vitamin essential for the proper development of the foetus. If food alone is not sufficient to ensure the right doses of this substance (often degraded by food cooking), it is also possible to resort to a specific product supplementation.

3) Limit simple sugars

It would be better to limit the consumption of simple sugars or carbohydrates, or of packaged snacks and sweets, not to introduce too many calories. It would be better if you consumed, without exaggerating with portions, complex carbohydrates (bread, pasta, potatoes etc.).

4) Cut down on salt

Excess salt should always be avoided, even more so during pregnancy. In fact, this substance promotes water retention. Be careful not only with condiments but also with packaged bakery products, which may contain high doses of salt.

5) Beware of animal fat and saturated fat

It would be good to avoid or limit the consumption of animal fats. Therefore, give priority to lean meats (veal, beef, turkey, chicken), lean fish and legumes (which have a good protein intake). To flavour your dishes, prefer extra virgin olive oil or corn oil (without exceeding so as to limit calorie intake).

6) Drink plenty of water

Drinking plenty of water is essential, both to keep the body hydrated and to counteract water retention (favoured by hormonal changes). The right amount of fluids also helps fight constipation, which can be accentuated during pregnancy.

7) No "junk" and fried food

The so-called "junk food" (chips and snacks of various kinds) gives us just "empty calories" and is unhealthy for both the mother and the unborn child. Therefore, it should be avoided, as well as fried foods, which can also be difficult digesting.

8) Give in to cravings but intelligently

Who has never heard of the "cravings" that affect pregnant women? You cannot always resist. Every now and then, you may indulge in them.
But it is always good to wisely choose the foods to enjoy and some "small exceptions to the rule" are not a problem. You can compensate in following meals. If, for example, you grant yourself a slice of cake, in the next meal, it would be better not to eat too much pasta but rather have steamed fish or grilled poultry.

Sports to practice in pregnancy: benefits and precautions to be taken

When a sporty woman finds out she is pregnant, she often tends to automatically eliminate any type of workout. On the contrary, those who are more sedentary, carefully avoid starting exercising in this period. In fact, except for high-risk pregnancies, it is advisable to do some exercise even when you are expecting a baby. The important thing is to choose the most suitable one and adjust the intensity to the body changes.

Sport can indeed be a useful ally for pregnant women, because it guarantees many advantages:

  • promotes circulation and helps prevent retention and swelling, caused by hormonal changes;
  • helps control weight gain, which, as we have seen, should not exceed certain thresholds;
  • increases muscle tone, helping the body (especially the back) to support the weight of the "bump"
  • prepares the body to face "labour and childbirth";
  • helps you boost your mood, causing the release by the body of substances that generate a feeling of well-being for mother and child.

Before beginning any exercise program, it is always good practice to ask the advice of your gynaecologist, who will probably evaluate the need to do some tests, to get the full picture of the health condition of a pregnant woman.

Exercising in pregnancy: what activities should I avoid during pregnancy and which ones should I do?

Once your gynaecologist has given you the green light, if you used to exercise before getting pregnant you can continue it, but at a slower pace, even in the first trimester of pregnancy. For other women, more sedentary, it is rather advisable to wait until the end of the first three months.

So, what are the activities to prefer and those to avoid during pregnancy?

Generally speaking, all physical activities are ok, exception made for those that can expose you to the risks of falls or abdominal traumas (as well as those involving "melee" activities). Also, be careful with sports involving too much jumping or intense running, as they may encourage an increase in uterine contractions.

The activities to be preferred are the aerobic or medium-light intensity ones, such as:

  • walking;
  • practising yoga;
  • water activities.

Since the difficulties encountered by women in this period are mainly related to body mass gain, all anti-gravity activities (such as swimming, underwater treadmill running or water gym for example) are ideal. As a matter of fact, weight is not felt as a problem under water and joints are less stressed as well.

When do you stop exercising when pregnant?

In the course of normal pregnancy, in the absence of specific problems, you can practice physical activity until the end of gestation, including the ninth month. In any case, we should always listen to the signals our body sends and stop the exercise (and consult a doctor) in case of:

  • dizziness;
  • altered heartbeat;
  • severe fatigue;
  • bleeding.

During sports it would be also important to keep your heart rate monitored. In a woman over the age of 35, the max heart rate shouldn't exceed 130 Bpm. For younger ones, the optimal frequency, instead, is included between 140 and 150 beats per minute.

Conclusions: balance and right choices for a happy pregnancy

Finally, we can therefore say that the period of pregnancy is definitely a delicate moment in a woman's life. However it is also a happy time that should be experienced as naturally and peacefully as possible. Pregnancy is not a "disease" and as such should be lived: learning how a woman's body changes during pregnancy to prepare itself for them is one of the best ways to do this. Furthermore, to ensure a safety and healthy development  to the mother and the unborn child, diet and exercise are most effective when done together as compared to either strategy alone.

Remember that, in this period, the female body must meet an increased demand for nutrients, more so if you do physical activity. That is why eating properly and choosing the right foods is essential. Often, however, diet alone is not enough, since the amount of many nutrients present in foods is "reduced" by cooking. To effectively meet the growing needs of the mother's body and her unborn baby, you can enlist specific supplements.
In this case, the most suitable supplements are those  containing vitamins, iron  and folic acid (this vitamin is very useful in pregnancy as it contributes to the growth of maternal tissues and takes part in the processes of cell division, affecting the development of the foetus).



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