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As the saying goes, “You are what you eat.” While mothers are highly concerned about the diet of their children, they often neglect their own nutritional needs in the name of time, convenience, and sometimes beauty. Yet, a mother’s diet plays an essential role in her own wellness as well as that of her child. Even if you have had a child already, these tips are good to bear in mind for your next child or for your girlfriends and family members who are moms-to-be!

What to Eat During Pregnancy

Many moms may have heard of the “first 1000 days of pregnancy” nutrition concept. These 1000 days begins during pregnancy, as your baby is depending on you for all his/her nutritional needs, till when your child hits the age of 2.

Some of the essential nutrients required during pregnancy will include folic acid, iron, calcium, protein, Vitamin C and fibre.

1. First Trimester Foods

First Trimester Foods

In the first trimester, folic acid is an important element that should be consumed as it helps to prevent neural and spinal cord defects (neuro-tube defects) in the baby. In fact, all women planning to have a baby or in the first trimester of pregnancy should have a daily intake of folic acid amounting to 5 to 8 mg per day. This can help to make the mother and pregnancy to be healthy throughout the pregnancy. Apart from taking the folate in supplements or tablets, one can also consume food sources rich in folate, which include leafy green vegetables, fortified or enriched cereals, breads, beans, and citrus fruits.

Vitamin A is also useful in helping mums to stay healthy and fight off infections during pregnancy. For those who suffer from morning sickness, ginger is a great natural option to reduce nausea symptoms. There are now preparations made from ginger oil which can decrease nausea and vomiting in the first trimester of pregnancy.

2. Second Trimester Foods

Second Trimester Foods

In the second trimester, mothers will require more calcium as the baby’s bones and the whole skeletal system is getting bigger. Calcium can be found in our daily food products including red meat, eggs, seafood like prawns, fish and dairy products. Vitamin D is also an important element that helps your body with calcium absorption. Natural source of Vit D can be obtained when your body is exposed to the sun and the recommended duration is 20 to 25 mins per day. Other sources include fatty fish like Salmon, tuna, and eel.

Expectant women also require more iron to produce more red blood cells as there is a relative blood dilution effect when there is more water retention in the blood circulation producing a relative anaemia in the mother, which can make the mother more easily fatigued and an increased risk of infections. Dietary sources of iron alone are often insufficient during pregnancy, hence most pregnant women are given supplements to increase their iron intake. Consuming a source of Vitamin C together with iron-rich foods such as meat, poultry, fish or iron-fortified cereal can also aid in the absorption of iron.

3. Third Trimester Foods

Third Trimester Foods

In the third trimester, Vitamin C is a helpful nutrient to help protect cells against damage due to its anti-oxidant effect. Thiamine can give you an energy boost as it functions by releasing energy from food – definitely helpful in the third trimester as you feel more fatigued. Water and fibre also play an increasingly important role as they help to prevent constipation, a common issue faced by pregnant women in their last trimester.

A higher amount of protein is also required during pregnancy, as this is necessary for the ever-developing baby in the womb.

What to Eat after Pregnancy

After Pregnancy Foods

In the immediate post-delivery period, most mothers in Asian cultures will observe a confinement period varying from culture to culture. The aim of the confinement period is to allow the mother to recover from childbirth.

Depending on cultural beliefs, certain confinement foods have been recommended to help the new mother to boost their immunity and regain their strength. These include dishes with “heaty” ingredients such as tonics brewed with herbs, pig trotters in ginger and vinegar, and papaya fish soup which is believed to increase breast milk supply. Foods which are “cooling” are often avoided, such as cold drinks, cucumber, pineapple, sugarcane, etc. as these are considered to prolong the recovery.

Pregnancy, coupled with breastfeeding, often drains the mother of calcium. Thus, it is important for women to continue including calcium-rich food in their diet. This can help to reduce the effect of osteoporosis which occurs after childbirth and breastfeeding.

While many young mothers are concerned with weight loss after pregnancy and may tend to avoid certain food groups to lose weight, it is still important to take in the right type and amount of nutritious foods. Of course, it is helpful for mothers to limit their intake of refined sugars e.g. sweet beverages or food. Exercise is also an important component in the recovery of the body to increase the stamina of the mother to take care of an ever-growing baby and also help to slim down the body. Exercises must be done wisely so as not to injure the body when it is not ready. So be mindful of the body as it will pass messages to you to how much you can exercise. Do not overdo it.

Remember! A well balanced and wholesome diet will help you in the long run. Wellness is not the end goal of a short sprint, but a life-long journey that can be achieved with the right frame of mind and education.


Dr Henry’s Place of Practice

Dr Henry Cheng is an Obstetrician & Gynaecologist with a sub-speciality in fetal medicine. He was instrumental in laying the foundation for the OSCAR test, an international test used to screen for Down's syndrome in the first trimester of pregnancy.

Incorporated in 2005, Singapore Medical Group (SMG) is a healthcare organisation with a network of private specialist providers across four established pillars - Aesthetics, Diagnostic Imaging & Screening, Oncology and Women's & Children's Health. Within Singapore, SMG has more than 40 clinics strategically located in central Singapore and heartland estates. Beyond Singapore, SMG also has an established presence in Indonesia, Vietnam and Australia. Learn about our privacy policy here.

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