Pregnancy Health—FAQ

As featured in Edition 02 of Moss Magazine.

Pregnancy is an exciting, exhilarating and at times nauseating 9 months, with its fair share of physical and emotional ups and downs. I support women in my Caringbah and Leichhardt clinics every week who are pregnant, planning on being pregnant or in the post-partum period, and this special time of a woman’s life requires specific consideration and care. Here I have answered some of the most asked questions by mums-to-be surrounding diet, exercise, sugar cravings and stretch marks! First up…

Should I be eating for two’?

When it comes to serving sizes and “eating for two”, this concept is commonly misinterpreted as a pregnant mother needing to double her food intake to support her growing child. This is completely incorrect. Your body does need more kilojoules (or calories) to grow a baby, however the truth is a pregnant woman probably needs an additional snack, or two, compared to a non-pregnant woman each day (about 300 extra calories per day).

Instead of thinking about how much more you can eat during pregnancy, instead focus on getting the best quality nutrition in to support your baby’s AND your health. Filling up on ‘empty calories’ isn’t doing baby or you any favours. Focus on 3 main meals per day, and 2 protein-rich snacks. If main meals are difficult to get in, split them up into 2 smaller portions. Keeping your blood glucose stable with regular protein intake is important, so aim to eat a meal or small meal/snack every 3 hours, and it should feature a form of protein such as pasture-raised chicken, grass-fed meat, organic eggs or tofu, nuts and seeds, organic dairy or small wild-caught fish. Use each time to eat as an opportunity to provide your body with the nutrients it needs to support growing another human!

How much should I be exercising during pregnancy?

Exercising during your pregnancy is important for your cardiovascular health, your mental and emotional wellbeing, your immune health and to prepare you for labour. Statistics show that only 23-29% of pregnant women get the recommended amount of exercise in per week, highlighting that perhaps many women are unsure if they can safely exercise, or how much they are supposed to be doing during their pregnancy.

The recommended amount of exercise for pregnant women is 30 minutes daily, most days of the week. Or 150-300 minutes per week of moderate intensity aerobic exercise. If you didn’t exercise much at all before falling pregnant, it is best to work up to this amount by starting with walking for 30 minutes most days of the week, or trying a pre-natal yoga or Pilates class once or twice per week along with walking or swimming. Women who exercised more intensely before pregnancy can safely continue with their exercise after checking in with their GP or obstetrician, to ensure the form and intensity of exercise is safe for them depending on their pregnancy health status.

The most beneficial type of exercise to focus on during your pregnancy is endurance exercise – after all, labour is the end goal and often is no quick feat. Try brisk walking with some hills in your track, or swimming laps at your local pool. Yoga and Pilates classes specifically designed for pregnancy are also a great option and will include poses and sequences designed to test your limits physically and mentally to help prepare you for labour.
Exercise is also beneficial for mood and emotional wellbeing, so make an effort to prioritise it every week and commit to a form of exercise you enjoy. Classes are also a great way to meet other mums-to-be, and you may continue with a mums-and-bubs class post-partum which can assist with recovery, bonding with your baby and socialising with other mums.

What can I do about my sugar cravings?

Looking for a sweet treat (or ten!) every day? Sugar cravings are common in pregnancy and can be due to blood sugar fluctuations and fatigue. Our brains look for glucose as the number one fuel, so when your energy dips and you haven’t had sufficient food (especially protein), you start to look for a quick-fix; cue sugar. Aim to eat a snack or meal every 3 hours, and ensure there’s a form of protein there – a small handful of mixed nuts, a boiled egg, some hummus and crackers, Greek yoghurt and berries and a protein source in every main meal. This will help to keep your blood sugar stable for longer, avoiding those dips where we start craving sugar. Magnesium deficiency can also increase sugar cravings, so increase your daily intake of magnesium-rich foods such as green leafy vegetables, nuts and seeds, legumes, dates, bananas, avocado and cacao (dark chocolate anyone?!) or ask your healthcare provider to recommend a pregnancy-safe magnesium supplement (also great for any restless legs or poor sleep!)

Can I prevent stretch marks and scars during my pregnancy and breastfeeding?

Yes you can! Adequate hydration, topical oils massaged into the skin as well as getting the right nutrients to support skin elasticity and collagen production are key.
The earlier you begin supporting the nutrients that prevent scars and stretch marks developing the better your chances are at avoiding them altogether, or at least drastically reducing the severity of them. In order to avoid the skin marking or scarring as it’s stretches to compensate for your growing body, you need to support skin elasticity and collagen production.

The key players here when it comes to nutrients are zinc, vitamin C, vitamin E, omega-3 essential fatty acids and a key component of quality protein – collagen itself! If your protein intake is not sufficient for your daily needs, your collagen intake will be inadequate, and your skin will be more vulnerable to tearing and stretch marks. Include good quality protein daily in your diet such as free-range chicken, grass-fed red meat, white fish, organic eggs, nuts, seeds, legumes and organic dairy too if you tolerate it.

In supplement form, the doses of nutrients such as vitamin C, E, zinc and omega-3’s used to efficiently prevent stretch marks and scarring varies woman to woman and is dependent on her dietary intake first and foremost, along with her unique health needs. So please check in with your healthcare provider and avoid self-prescribing without professional advice.

Nourishing your skin from the outside with a pregnancy-safe oil will also help to keep the skin hydrated and soft and reduce any itchiness commonplace when the skin is stretching. Coconut oil or a rosehip oil are great options, or there are plenty of beautiful pregnancy tummy oils available to purchase – a favourite of mine is the Weleda Stretch Mark Massage Oil and is great for tummies, breasts, thighs and butts! If using an oil on the skin during breast-feeding, make sure there is no residue of the oil on your nipple or breast before feeding baby.

I’m planning on trying to conceive – should I undergo ‘Preconception care’?

Ideally, yes! Getting your body ready for pregnancy is an important step you can take to increase the chances of a successful pregnancy and set yourself up for a healthy pregnancy and baby. Getting some basic bloods done in the 3-4 months prior to conceiving is important to determine what your nutrient stores look like, enabling you to identify any levels that may need supporting before you fall pregnant, rather than trying to top them up once you’ve already conceived.
Discuss your pregnancy plans with your GP and request to have your vitamin D status, iron stores, iodine levels and your thyroid function checked. Using a clean, nutrient-rich diet and a good prenatal vitamin (and any extra supplements you may require) to improve your health in the 3-4 months before falling pregnant means you can confidently enter pregnancy with optimal nutrients levels, improving the health and wellbeing of yourself and your baby. Abstaining from alcohol prior to conceiving is another important step to take to ensure the health of your baby, so give yourself a good 3-4 months before you’d like to be pregnant and start focusing on cutting out the drinks and optimising your (and your partners!) health.

* Please check in with your healthcare provider for more advice specific to you and your health. This information is intended for general purposes only and is not individualised pregnancy advice. Or book an appointment with Claire. Recommended products are not sponsored.

Image Credit — Photo 1 by Dexter Chatuluka
Image Credit — Photo 2 by Lucas Favre
Image Credit — Photo 3 by Michael Fallon