Optimum nutrition is of great importance for woman, due to the special nutritional needs associated with physiological changes such as menstruation, pregnancy, lactation and menopause. The most critical time for optimum nutrition is during pregnancy and lactation.
Pregnancy is a period of great physiological as well as psychological stress for the women. She has to maintain her health at optimum level for proper development of fetus, to prepare for delivery and then for lactation. Fetal development is accompanied by many physiological, biochemical and hormonal changes in the maternal body which influence the needs for nutrients and the efficiency with which the body uses them. To overcome all these changes and to meet the extra nutrient demand during pregnancy a well balanced diet that is high in energy, carbohydrates, proteins, iron, vitamins and minerals should be consumed by the mother. A balanced diet provides adequate nutrients for proper growth and development of fetus and ensures mother’s own health during pregnancy.
In the full term of pregnancy the weight gain by the mother is about 10-12 kg. The two factors- fetal development and extensive changes in maternal body composition is responsible for the gain in weight during pregnancy.
Energy requirement during pregnancy is increased for maintaining the growth of fetus, placenta, and maternal tissues and increases basal metabolic rate. It is minimal in early pregnancy but rises sharply towards the end of the first trimester and remains more or less constant for the second and third trimesters. The energy requirement for a moderately active adult woman is about 2225 kcal/day. An additional 150kcal/day during first half and 350 kcal/day during the second half of pregnancy is required. The energy requirement can be met by including whole grain cereals, pulses, milk and milk products in the daily diet.
The demand of protein during the second half of pregnancy is increased. On an average an adult woman requires 1g/kg body weight. There is an additional requirement of 15g/ day during pregnancy. The foods rich in proteins are milk and milk products, egg, meat, fish, poultry, nuts, pulses and legumes.
Fats are concentrated source of energy. The requirement of essential fatty acids during pregnancy is necessary as these fatty acids are transferred by the placenta to sustain total cell division and brain growth of the fetus. The recommended daily allowance of fat is 30g/day for the full term of pregnancy. Olive oil, canola oil, soybean oil, rapeseed, mustard, sunflower and groundnut oil contain an appreciable amount of essential fatty acids.
During pregnancy, a mother’s need for several vitamins increases to support growth of both maternal and fetal tissues. Vitamins are substances that are required in very small amounts for specific metabolic tasks. The demand for folates during pregnancy increases as they are required for DNA synthesis in the rapidly growing tissues. The recommended daily intake for pregnant women is 400 microgram. All the green leafy vegetables are rich sources of folic acid.
Vitamin A is required for normal growth and development of the fetus. The current recommended daily allowance (RDA) for pregnant women is 2700 IU.
Vitamin C aids the iron absorption and development of connective tissue. The minimum requirement is 40 mg. The rich sources are citrus fruits and vegetables, cabbage and lettuce.
Calcium is one of the important minerals required during pregnancy. It is essential for the calcification of fetal bones and teeth. Use of calcium reduces muscular cramps of pregnancy. An average adult woman requires 400 mg/day and that remains the same during first trimester. During the second trimester and additional 1000mg/day of calcium and phosphorus is required. Around 500ml of daily intake of milk and milk products is recommended.
Women need additional iron during pregnancy for the growing fetus as well as to make up for the increased maternal blood volume. A daily intake of 38-40mg is recommended during pregnancy.
The iodine deficiency during pregnancy increases the risk of still birth and miscarriage. The recommended oral dose of iodine for fertile women is 400-600mg.
The human body contains 2-3 gm of zinc. Adequate levels of zinc are required for normal fertility and normal fetal development.
Child bearing imposes both physical mental stress on the body and mind of the women. Adequate nutrition before and during pregnancy is very important for a long term health. A woman who has been well nourished before conception begins her pregnancy with good reserves of several nutrients.