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Nutrition during pregnancy – what you should be mindful of

Nutrition plays an important role during pregnancy: it affects the health of the mother and has a long-term impact on the health of the child. We reveal what you should be mindful of when it comes to eating during pregnancy.

Do you need to eat for two during pregnancy?

A pregnant woman enjoys her food in a restaurant
When you are pregnant, you are eating for two – this old rule is not entirely correct, as during the first three months, expectant mothers do not need more energy. This does not change until the beginning of the fourth month of pregnancy. Then the mother needs about 250 more kilocalories of energy a day. As of the seventh month, the additional daily requirement then increases to a total of 500 kilocalories.
250 kilocalories equate to:
  • a slice of wholemeal bread with cheese + sliced cucumber or
  • a pot of natural yoghurt + a handful of fresh berries + a tablespoon of pumpkin seeds.
500 kilocalories equate to:
  • a large Birchermuesli (with milk or a calcium-rich soya drink) or
  • an egg omelette (2-3 eggs) + cottage cheese + a handful of small tomatoes.

Nutritional requirements during pregnancy

The need for protein, certain vitamins and iron, etc. increases during pregnancy. However, not all nutrients can be obtained from the diet. Find out here how you can ensure that you get all the nutrients you need.
Protein
Expectant mothers have an increased need for protein, as this is important for building new cells. As of the fourth month of pregnancy, they should therefore eat an extra portion of a protein-rich food each day. Examples include:
  • a pot of low-fat quark,
  • a portion of tofu (120 grams),
  • a glass of milk or
  • a pot of a vegan yoghurt alternative made of soya (calcium-enriched).
You can find more information on this in our guide entitled “Protein requirements while pregnant and breastfeeding”.
Folic acid
A pregnant woman needs twice as much folic acid. But even the normal daily requirement for folic acid is often not met here in Switzerland. Women who are planning to become pregnant or could become pregnant should start taking a folic acid supplement early on.
Folic acid is involved in numerous growth processes, but especially in the development of the nervous system. Consuming too little folic acid during pregnancy can lead to deformities in the child’s spinal cord. One example is ‘split spine’, the technical term for which is ‘spina bifida’. Thirty percent of these deformities could be prevented by taking folic acid early on.
Iodine
The need for iodine increases during pregnancy. This need can be met mostly through the diet. In some cases, however, it is necessary to take iodine tablets. Clarify with your gynaecologist whether it makes sense for you to supplement your intake.
How to get the iodine you need from your diet:
  • use iodized salt
  • choose foods containing iodized salt (indicated in the list of ingredients)
  • eat foods containing iodine on a regular basis (e.g. fish, dairy products or eggs)
Iron
The volume of blood in the mother’s body increases so as to ensure that the child has an adequate supply of oxygen and nutrients. Blood cell formation requires a lot of iron, increasing the need for iron during pregnancy significantly. To meet this need, you should consume sufficiently iron-rich foods. Oats, soya flakes, tofu, nuts, seeds, wholegrain products and meat, for example, contain a lot of iron.
It is important to note that if too little iron is consumed, the body’s priority is to ensure that the child has enough iron. The mother can therefore become iron deficient during pregnancy. Symptoms may include constant tiredness, headaches, problems concentrating and pale skin. You should consult your doctor if you start to show such symptoms.
Omega-3 fatty acids
A good supply of omega-3 fatty acids is extremely important during pregnancy. Docosahexaenoic acid (‘DHA’ for short) plays a particular role here: it is involved in the development of the child’s brain and is contained mainly in oily sea fish (e.g. salmon, herring, mackerel and ocean perch). The recommendation in Switzerland is to eat oily sea fish once a week. Alternatively, you can take capsules containing DHA made of fish or algae oil. You should also use rapeseed oil in the kitchen as standard – it is particularly rich in omega-3 fatty acids.
Vitamin D and calcium
Yellow vitamin D capsules supplement the diet during pregnancy
Both vitamin D and calcium are involved in bone formation. Our skin is able to produce vitamin D itself with the help of sunlight. The supply of vitamin D here in Switzerland is often insufficient, however, especially during the winter months. Expectant mothers are therefore advised to take 15 micrograms of vitamin D a day (in the form of drops or tablets, for example).
Calcium is contained mainly in dairy products, green vegetables, nuts, seeds and calcium-rich mineral water. If the mother consumes too little calcium during pregnancy, the body releases calcium from the bones and makes this available for the child’s bone formation. It is advisable, therefore, to have your calcium level determined by a doctor. If your supply is too low, you should specifically take a calcium supplement.

Are there any forbidden foods during pregnancy?

You should forgo certain foods during pregnancy in order to protect the health of your unborn child – these include alcohol and products containing alcohol (e.g. chocolates containing alcohol).
Also consume as little caffeine as possible, as too much caffeine can slow down the child’s growth. You can drink the occasional cup of coffee, green or black tea – however, you should forgo energy drinks throughout your pregnancy.

How to protect yourself against a food infection during pregnancy

A plate of green salad, smoked salmon, red onions and capers.
Foods can contain bacteria or parasites that can lead to a food infection. Such an infection can harm your health and that of your baby. If you make sure to maintain a certain standard of hygiene in the kitchen and also bear in mind a few key points, you can reduce the risk of an infection significantly.
As raw animal-derived foods can contain pathogens such as salmonella and toxoplasmosis, these foods should be avoided completely during pregnancy. Examples include:
  • dishes containing raw egg (e.g. tiramisu or mousse)
  • smoked salmon
  • raw or undercooked meat
  • raw or undercooked fish
  • sushi and sashimi
  • tartare
  • carpaccio
  • raw sausage products (e.g. salami or Landjäger)
  • raw milk and products made from it (except hard cheese)
  • soft cheese and semi-hard cheese made from pasteurized milk
  • feta
  • blue cheese (e.g. Gorgonzola)
The surface of fruit and vegetables can also harbour listeria. So always wash fruit and vegetables very thoroughly.

Gaining weight without feeling bad about it

Weight gain during pregnancy varies from individual to individual and depends on a number of factors. So do not compare yourself with other mothers. How much weight is gained during pregnancy depends not just on eating habits, but also on the weight of the placenta, the baby and the amniotic fluid.
If the mother is of a normal weight, the optimum weight gain during pregnancy is between 11.5 and 16 kilograms. For women with a body mass index (BMI) of over 25, a healthy weight gain is 7 to 11.5 kilograms; for women with a BMI of under 18.5, it is between 12.5 and 18 kilograms.
You should not diet during pregnancy. The risk of a nutritional deficiency and the associated consequences for the child is too great. If you would like to reduce your weight, you should do so before becoming pregnant or after breastfeeding.

What should you do if you have morning sickness?

Nausea plagues a number of pregnant women. It occurs mostly during the first few months of pregnancy, often during the morning hours.
Tips if you experience nausea:
  • Eat several small portions rather than a few large portions.
  • Drink enough, preferably small amounts on a regular basis.
  • Forgo highly carbonated drinks.
  • Avoid heavily seasoned, spicy or fatty dishes.
  • Drink herbal teas (e.g. mint or camomile) and fennel tea.
  • For some people, ginger alleviates the nausea (e.g. freshly sliced in hot water).
  • Relax on a regular basis and avoid stress.
As well as tips on nutrition during pregnancy, you can also find further interesting articles on “Healthy eating at every stage of life” in our range of guides. Learn more about nutrition while breastfeeding or healthy eating for children, for example.