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A woman’s health is crucial to the upright health of her baby. Women who eat healthy and exercise frequently along with consistent prenatal care are less likely to have difficulties during pregnancy. They are also more likely to give birth to a healthy baby. In the U.S., women find out they are pregnant at about 5.5 weeks of gestation, which is halfway through the first trimester (Branum & Ahrens, 2017). This is very relevant since the critical development of fetus starts to happen at that period. Nutrition during pregnancy is very diverse among women depending on their age, culture, lifestyle, socioeconomic, and dietary complication factors.
Nutritional Risk Factors
Eating a nourishing diet during pregnancy is related to good fetal brain development, a healthy birth weight, and it decreases the risk of birth defects (Hyde, 2017). A recommended weight gain during pregnancy is usually 25 to 35 lb. Women should gain 2.2 to 4.4 lb. during the first trimester and 1 lb. per week for the last two trimesters. Underweight women are advised to gain 28 to 40 lb.; overweight women, 15 to 25 lb. (Murray, 2019).
Nutrition differs for a woman depending on her age. Women who are 35 years old or older are prone to more complications during pregnancy. The article “Advanced Maternal Age: Adverse Outcomes of Pregnancy, A Meta-Analysis” shows that older women, in general, have a higher BMI compared to women less than 35 years of age (Pinherio, 2019). A high BMI consequently places any women during pregnancy in risk for hypertension or preeclampsia, pregestational and gestational diabetes, stroke, and liver disorders. Then, the main concern for older women in nutrition during pregnancy is to control and decrease the risks, while the focus in nutrition for young women less than 35 years of age is more nutritional counseling including healthy weight gain, prenatal vitamins, and folic acid intake.
Culture and Lifestyle Related Factors
Culture also plays an important role in determining a pregnant woman’s nutrition. During pregnancy, women need to increase their intake of folic acid, calcium, vitamin D, iron, and protein. Being a vegan can make this task difficult. Cultures like in Buddhist, Jains, and Brahmins do not eat meat. Vegan food is largely plant-derived: no meat, milk, or eggs, with added mineral and vitamin supplements. The article “vegans, vegetarians and pregnancy” talks about five pregnancy cases. In these cases, pregnant women failed to accomplish the required intake needed to preserve the development of a healthy newborn, delivering a low-birth-weight baby (Winter, 2019). Also, the same article presented two cases in which two vegan families endangered the life of their infant causing them to suffer malnourishment and rickets. One of the infants died from rickets and the other one was saved.
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Lifestyle also plays a role during pregnancy. A lifestyle is a way of living, a choice a person makes for their life and adheres to it. Drinking alcohol during pregnancy cause a probability that children may be born with a fetal alcohol spectrum disorder, which is an umbrella term that covers all alcohol-related diagnoses, of which fetal alcohol syndrome is the most severe and visibly identifiable form. Some signs and symptoms of fetal alcohol syndrome are atypical facial features, such as a smooth ridge between the nose and upper lip, shorter than average height, underweight, poor motor coordination, small head size, hyperactive behavior, attention deficit, and poor memory. The study in The Lancet Global Health estimated that one out of 67 women who consume alcohol during pregnancy will deliver a child with fetal alcohol syndrome (counting the costs of drinking alcohol during pregnancy, 2017). This article also gives information about children born globally every year, about 119,000 with fetal alcohol syndrome.
Economic factors can provide a healthy pregnancy or risks in pregnancy. A study conducted in Spain showed the difference between high and low economic status during pregnancy. Some of the findings were that control and adherence to recommendations on weight gain during pregnancy were better among women with a higher socioeconomic status. The overall results of the study indicate that women with lower socioeconomic status live in a more obesogenic environment, favoring sedentarism, less balanced and higher energy diets, and excessive weight gain during pregnancy. It means that low socioeconomic status group are more vulnerable to adverse health effects both for themselves and their offspring (Larrañaga, 2013).
Pregnant women can be at risk of developing complications during pregnancy if an appropriate diet is not followed. The amount of carbs during pregnancy should be 45 to 65 percent of daily calorie intake. The study “Maternal sugar consumption and risk of preeclampsia in nulliparous Norwegian women” suggests that women who developed preeclampsia had higher consumptions of the sugar-sweetened drinks. Also, the study revealed that women who developed preeclampsia had lower ingestions of fresh and dried fruits, honey as a spread, jam, and sugar or honey in tea or coffee. The findings sustenance the overall dietary guidance to contain fruits and lessen the intake of sugar-sweetened drinks during pregnancy. Preeclampsia is the main cause of morbidity and mortality among both pregnant women and their offspring.
Another dietary complication is anemia. A study done in India reported anemia prevalence in pregnancy ranges 50-90% (Ramachandran, 2002). This is mainly due to low dietary intake and poor bioavailability of iron from the diet. Poor intake of folic acid and coexisting folate deficiency also contribute to the problem. Anemia before pregnancy is aggravated during pregnancy and is perpetuated by blood loss during labor. Anemia continues to be responsible for a substantial proportion of perinatal and maternal morbidity and mortality.
Appropriate nutrition during pregnancy helps to keep the mother healthy and develops a healthy baby. The need for certain nutrients, such as iron, iodine, and folate, is increased at this time. Many factors such as age, culture, lifestyle, socioeconomic status, and dietary complications, can alter the amount needed and received to carry on a healthy pregnancy. A varied diet that contains the right amount of healthy foods from the five food groups usually provides our bodies with enough of each vitamin and mineral each day. However, pregnant women need supplements of particular vitamins or minerals and an increase of right foods.
Breakfast: Oatmeal, a fruit (apple, banana, strawberry), 1 slice whole grain toast, 2 tsp honey, 1 cup skim milk
Snack: 1 cup of Greek yogurt, a fruit (grapes, apple, watermelon)
Lunch: Turkey or chicken and cheese or butter sandwich on whole grain bread, small bag of chips, a fruit (pear, pineapple), and 1 cup low fat or fat free milk
Snack: veggies and low-calorie sauce or dip
Dinner: 4 oz chicken, fish, or turkey, 1 cup wild rice or potatoes, 1 cup veggies, 1 cup fat free or low-fat milk
Snack: fresh fruit or Greek yogurt
Keep in mind that 8 to 10 glasses of fluid are recommended daily.
- Grains: 7 ounces a day. An ounce of grains equals one slice of bread, one small corn or flour tortilla, 1 cup of ready-to-eat cereal, or 1/2 cup of cooked cereal, rice, or pasta.
- Meat and beans: 6 ounces a day. This equals about two portions that are each about the size of a deck of cards.
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