Healthy Eating

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Importance of Healthy Eating Before and During Pregnancy
•Introduction
•Why maintain a healthy diet before and during pregnancy
◦Importance of a healthy diet before becoming pregnant
◦Importance of a healthy diet during pregnancy
•Women at risk of poor nutrition

Introduction
Maintaining a healthy balanced diet is important for maintaining optimal health throughout life. For women of childbearing age, good nutrition is important for preparing the body for the demands of pregnancy. During pregnancy, a woman’s macronutrient (energy) and micronutrient (e.g. vitamins, mineral) requirements increase, and it is even more important that she consumes food which will give her both the energy and the specific micronutrients which are essential for maintaining her and her growing baby’s health. For example, women require an additional 240 calories of energy per day in the second trimester and 452 calories per day in the third trimester of pregnancy to account for foetal growth. An additional 975 milligrams of iron is required in the course of the pregnancy to form foetal and additional maternal blood. While nutritional supplements can provide large quantities of particular micronutrients, a healthy balanced diet should form the basis of a woman’s nutritional intake. Good nutrition is most important immediately prior to conception and during the first 12 weeks of pregnancy (including the very early stages, when the woman is unaware she is pregnant). It is therefore important for women to maintain a healthy diet throughout their childbearing years, and particularly if they are planning to become pregnant.

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Why maintain a healthy diet before and during pregnancy
Maintaining a healthy diet before and during pregnancy helps to protect both the pregnant mother and her developing baby from immediate and long-term health risks.

Importance of a healthy diet before becoming pregnant

A woman’s nutritional status during pregnancy depends on the availability of nutritional reserves, that is, stores of particular micronutrients such as calcium and iron, which have been built up in her body from prior consumption of foods containing those micronutrients. As these reserves build up before a woman becomes pregnant, maintaining good nutrition prior to conception is vital for ensuring adequate nutritional status during pregnancy. Women who are underweight or overweight, or who have deficiencies in particular micronutrients rarely “catch-up” by improving their diet once they are pregnant, as at this stage their body already faces additional nutritional demands because of the growing baby. Maintaining a healthy diet prior to conception is also important because the ongoing development of the baby depends on the health of the embryo from which it is formed. The embryo is the name of the first cells which reproduce when a sperm and egg meet and conceive. The embryo then implants in the wall of the woman’s uterus (womb) and goes on to divide into two types of cells; those that form the foetus and those that form the placenta (which provides nutrition to the foetus during pregnancy). Evidence suggests that maternal nutritional status has an important influence on the proportions of cells which go on to form the foetus and placenta. In undernourished women (women who do not consume enough energy or calories), a greater proportion of cells are likely to form the placenta compared to the foetus, which means the foetus will be relatively small when it begins growth and its development in the womb will be restricted. This increases the likelihood that the baby will be too small (weigh less than 2.5kg) when it is born. Not consuming enough of particular micronutrients can also retard foetal development in the early stages of pregnancy. In particular, there is strong evidence of an association between folate deficiency and deficits in the development of the neural tube....
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