Eating fish during
pregnancy could help your baby reach his or her developmental
milestones, according to researchers from the Danish National Birth
Cohort study. Over 25,000 women in Denmark were asked about their fish
intake during pregnancy and their babies’ development at 6 and 18
months of age. Developmental scores for the babies of fish eaters were
then compared with those of babies whose mothers ate little or no fish
(less than one portion per week). Babies whose mothers ate about one
and a half portions of fish each week were found to have 10% higher
developmental scores. What’s more, babies whose mothers ate about three
and a half portions of fish a week scored 30% higher. Studies in the
past have highlighted the benefits of fish, but these results really
add to the evidence showing early nutrition may affect later brain
During pregnancy, it’s
easy to focus on what you shouldn’t eat, but this shows there’s
something positive you can do and something you can eat to really
benefit your baby.
Ten ways to boost your fruit and vegetable intake
- Mix some chopped fruit, such as banana or strawberries, with your breakfast cereal.
- Have a piece of fruit ready for a mid-morning snack.
- Keep some raisins, dried apricots, figs or prunes in your desk drawer or handbag ready for when hunger strikes.
- Add plenty of salad (washed well) to sandwiches.
- Buy some frozen vegetables. Then, even
if you’re too tired for peeling and chopping, you can microwave them to
go with your evening meal.
- Make a fruit pudding such as fruit salad, apple crumble or raspberry fool.
- Mix up a fruit smoothie with bananas, strawberries, blueberries or mangoes.
- Have some vegetable soup for lunch or make a really chunky soup for supper.
- Have a glass of pure fruit juice with your evening meal (if you choose a high vitamin-C juice, it’ll help iron absorption too).
- Add extra vegetables when cooking dishes such as shepherd’s pie, pasta, fish pie and pizza.
Time for a little something
During pregnancy you
are more likely than usual to be rubbing your tummy and looking for a
little snack. It may be that you are suffering from morning sickness
and can’t face proper meals, and so you are trying to eat small amounts
rather than nothing. Or perhaps snacking seems the only way to keep
nausea at bay. Eating little and often can also be helpful towards the
end of pregnancy if you are suffering from heartburn or if large meals
just leave you feeling uncomfortable.
When you eat snacks, try
to make them as healthy as possible. Avoid always choosing chocolate,
biscuits and crisps, as these contain ‘empty calories’. This means that
they provide energy (calories) but not the essential nutrients,
particularly the vitamins and minerals, that you need. Also, research
suggests that if you eat a lot of junk food during pregnancy, your baby
is likely to turn into a lover of unhealthy food too. So, instead of
picking up a fatty or sugary snack, go for something that will provide
you with a slower release of energy and plenty of vitamins and minerals.
Ten healthy snacks
- A low-fat yogurt.
- A piece of fresh fruit or a handful of dried fruit with nuts and seeds.
- A bowl of breakfast cereal, preferably a high-fibre one with added vitamins and iron.
- Oatcakes with some low-fat cheese.
- Lentil and vegetable soup.
- Wholemeal toast with yeast extract, low-fat cream cheese or mashed banana.
- Houmous with vegetable sticks.
- Wholemeal pitta bread filled with ham or chicken and salad.
- A milkshake made by blending milk with a banana, strawberries, mango or peach.
- A bowl of muesli with fruit and yogurt.
Ice cream with gherkins and other taste changes
Cravings are quite
common in pregnancy, especially during the early stages. They are
usually seen as quite a fun part of being pregnant. When you eat
whatever it is you have been longing for, you might be surprised at
just how delicious it tastes – whether it’s ice cream with gherkins or
something more ordinary. You might find that nothing hits the spot
quite like the cream crackers you’ve been dreaming of all day.
The most common cravings
are for fruit, sweet or salty foods, and foods with a strong flavour,
such as pickles. Nobody can explain exactly why cravings occur, but it
is thought that changes in hormone levels, particularly oestrogen, are
partly responsible. Psychological factors also play a role. In some
cultures, pregnant women do not experience cravings. Women sometimes
admit that ‘cravings’ are a good excuse for eating things they always
fancy. It’s usually fine to eat the foods you crave, unless they are on
the ‘avoid list’ or are likely to result in you gaining lots of weight.
If you have a craving for something
that wouldn’t usually be considered a food or drink, it is called
‘pica’. Studies of pica during pregnancy have found women craving (and
consuming) items such as chalk, ice, raw potato, mud, clay, coal, baby
powder and laundry starch. Although most of us have heard of pregnant
women eating things like this, pica appears to be more of a myth than a
reality in well-fed populations – one Danish study found the incidence
to be just 0.02%. However, pica appears to be more common among certain
ethnic groups, including African Americans and less affluent
populations around the world. Several studies have found that pica
among pregnant women is associated with lower iron levels. So, if you
do find yourself craving something unusual, talk to your midwife or
doctor. If your iron levels haven’t been tested yet, it may be a good
idea to have blood tests done as soon as possible. Also, your doctor or
midwife should be able to advise you about the safety or otherwise of
eating particular substances.
As well as
experiencing cravings, many women find they develop an aversion to
particular foods or drinks during pregnancy. Even the smell of
something such as wine that they enjoyed previously might make them
feel nauseous. Again, hormonal changes that affect the sense of taste
and smell are probably to blame. Aversions to tea, coffee, alcohol,
fried or spicy food, and strong flavours and odours are all quite
normal. For some women, these are the first signs of pregnancy.
Aversions to certain items such as alcohol have an obvious role in
protecting your baby from exposure to potentially harmful substances.
However, it’s not uncommon for women to develop an aversion to more
healthy foods, such as meat, fish, eggs or vegetables. This sometimes
happens during periods of morning sickness. You are likely to feel more
normal when the sickness subsides. If you go off foods that you feel
you should be eating, then it may help if someone else does the cooking
or if you eat those foods cold. Then the smell isn’t as strong, which
can be part of the problem.