What a woman eats while she's pregnant has a significant effect on both her baby and her body. While it's important to avoid some foods that may lead to health problems, it's also vital that women eat enough. But not too much, that is, since unnecessary weight gain can linger and lead to obesity after pregnancy. So what is a pregnant woman to do? Nutrition Notes columnist Karen Collins answers questions on healthy eating for two.
How early should a pregnant woman start gaining weight?
A: Long-term weight control difficulties can begin if women gain excessive amounts during pregnancy. But the healthiest pattern of weight gain depends on a woman’s weight before pregnancy and her individual health risks.
Each woman should consult her physician. In most cases, since there is little “baby weight” gained in the first three months, a gain of just one-and-a-half to three pounds is advised during the first trimester.
After the first three months, general recommendations suggest that women who start pregnancy at a healthy weight should gain a little less than a pound a week. Underweight women are urged to gain slightly over a pound a week, and overweight women should gain no more than about two-thirds of a pound per week.
Some pregnant women are so nauseous early on that it’s hard for them to eat enough. They should do their best to find nutritious foods they can tolerate.
Other pregnant women overeat in an attempt to cope with a lack of energy. These women should try to rest to conserve energy and select healthy, low-calorie foods instead of empty-calorie choices.
Q: Is it true that pregnancy makes women more vulnerable to food poisoning?
A: Yes. Immune function changes place pregnant women at greater risk for some food-borne illnesses. Food safety experts say that the greatest risks come from three sources.
First, listeriosis risk (from the bacterium L. monocytogenes) increases 17-fold in pregnancy. That is why pregnant women are urged to avoid cold smoked fish (including lox), cold deli salads and soft cheeses, like Brie and feta. Harder cheeses, like cheddar and mozzarella, are fine. It is also important to avoid hot dogs and lunch meats that are not reheated to a steaming hot temperature (165oF) to destroy this bacterium.
Second, pregnant women are no more susceptible to salmonella infection than most healthy adults, but salmonella infection can be passed to the baby and cause serious problems. For this reason, pregnant women are strongly urged to use cheese and yogurt from pasteurized milk only. They should also practice extreme caution and avoid eating foods with raw or undercooked eggs. The white and yolk should both be firm.
Finally, changes in immune function make pregnant women more susceptible to toxoplasmosis from a parasite infection. They should not handle pets when preparing food or clean cat litter boxes. It is also important to cook meat adequately and to wash vegetables well.