Guest Post By Elana Natker, MS, RD
Eating well during pregnancy is important for a healthy birth and healthy baby – makes perfect sense, right? But emerging research suggests that mom’s diet may have lifelong effects on the baby – such as increasing risk of heart disease and other later-in-life chronic conditions. Known as the “Barker Hypothesis” and named after researcher David Barker in the United Kingdom, the theory is that environment – namely the environment of the uterus – plays a critical role in the development of the fetus. If the mother does not eat enough, that could activate genes to create cells in the growing baby’s body which are programmed to hold onto as much nutrients as possible. So while the baby might be born small and underweight after living in essentially a starved environment (in his mom’s belly), he might quickly catch up and then become overweight, since his body may have adapted to storing nutrients (such as fat) to draw upon later in the event of future starvation. This so-called fetal programming may also increase the baby’s risk for developing heart and coronary diseases in adulthood.
While this is still very much a hypothesis and much more research needs to be done, there is one thing we can’t argue: a healthy pregnancy resulting in a normal-weight baby is critical.
So what should a mama eat when she’s pregnant? For starters, don’t eat for two! A baby isn’t a second adult and doesn’t need the same number of calories as his mom. According to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, a pregnant mom should:
- Not increase daily calories at all in the first trimester;
- Have about 340 additional calories per day in the second trimester; and
- Take in about 450 additional calories per day in her third trimester.
The additional calories should all be high-quality calories that promote growth and development. Foods like beans which provide folate to prevent neural tube defects, fatty fish like salmon or mackerel which provide EPA and DHA fatty acids to support brain and eye development, lowfat dairy foods like milk and yogurt for bone-building calcium and vitamin D, and lean red meat for iron which keeps blood healthy.
Of course, eating healthy foods can be challenging when pregnant and dealing with food aversions and overpowering smells (since the sense of smell is heightened during pregnancy – great for popcorn, bad for kimchi). Your best bet is to meet with a registered dietitian who can help create a plan based on your personal preferences and meal patterns. An online research I like is this meal plan developed by RDs and featured in Parents magazine: http://www.parents.com/pregnancy/my-body/nutrition/prenatal-meal-plan/.
Elana Natker, MS, RD, is a nutrition communications consultant in the Washington, D.C. area. Find her online at www.enlightennutrition.com and @elanaRD on Twitter.