Nutritional needs during pregnancy and lactation

Nutritional needs during pregnancy and lactation

When a woman is expecting a child, she is often told to eat “for two” during pregnancy. Women must follow a few dietary tips during pregnancy and while breastfeeding to cover their increased need for folic acidiron, magnesium or vitamin E. However, simply doubling the amount of food is not advisable. In the following, you can read about which vitamins and minerals you should pay particular attention to and what you can do to meet the increased nutrient requirement.

Increased need for macronutrients during pregnancy?

The term “nutrients” includes both the macronutrients, i.e. fats, proteins (proteins) and carbohydrates, and the micronutrients, i.e. vitamins and minerals.

Macronutrients provide the body with energy. However, the energy requirement is only slightly increased if physical activity remains the same during pregnancy. If physical activity decreases, you can reduce your energy intake. The increased energy requirement during pregnancy is mainly due to the growth of the fetus – the body, therefore, needs more energy, especially in the second and third trimester of pregnancy.

Women can increase their energy intake by around 200 to 500 kilocalories per day during this time. That’s about the equivalent of two bananas, 150 grams of cooked rice (200 calories), 200 grams of bread or 75 grams of almonds (500 calories). The average daily requirement for adult women is around 1,900 kilocalories. However, this average value can be influenced by various factors such as body size or activity.


Micronutrient requirements during pregnancy

On the other hand, the need for micronutrients increases significantly during pregnancy. Many minerals and vitamins are only needed in increased quantities from about the fourth month.

The following table shows which micronutrients the daily requirement changes  in the first and third trimester of pregnancy :

The daily requirement during pregnancy does not change to any relevant extent for all other micronutrients.

Nutritional needs during breastfeeding

Even when breastfeeding, the new mother has an increased need for some nutrients. Since energy is required to produce breast milk, breastfeeding women can consume about 650 more calories than the average daily requirement of 1,900. That corresponds to about 150 grams of Gouda.

If you want to lose some weight again after a possible weight gain during pregnancy, increasing the daily intake by about 400 kilocalories is recommended. That would be about six apples or six slices of toast (without toppings). In any case, a diet should be avoided so as not to endanger the well-being of mother and child.

The need for the following micronutrients also increases significantly during breastfeeding:

The requirement for all other micronutrients remains the same to any relevant extent.

It should be noted that the need for iodine, iron and folate, in particular, increases during pregnancy. During breastfeeding, this decreases again slightly.


Avoid iron deficiency & Co.: Nutrition during pregnancy and breastfeeding.

A few tips can help you eat a balanced diet during pregnancy and breastfeeding. In this way, women can meet the increased need for micronutrients in the best possible way and simultaneously not unnecessarily consume too many calories. It can also prevent you from gaining a lot of weight during pregnancy.

You should note the following:

  • Drink enough liquid every day. For example, water, unsweetened teas or fruit juice spritzers are ideal. About two litres should be drunk every day.
  • Eat primarily plant-based foods like fresh or gently prepared fruit or vegetables.
  • Consume foods of animal origin, such as dairy products, eggs, meat or fish, in moderation.
  • Limit your consumption of greasy or sugary foods.

The following applies: A colourful mix of nutrient-rich foods is particularly good for mother and child during pregnancy and breastfeeding.

Vegetarian or vegan diet during pregnancy

With a balanced diet, vegetarians can get enough nutrients through food, even during pregnancy and breastfeeding. However, special care should be taken to consume foods high in iron to avoid iron deficiency during pregnancy and breastfeeding. Vegetable foods with a lot of iron are, for example, oatmeal, legumes, spinach or fennel. Combined with vitamin C, the body can better absorb vegetable iron.

The need for the long-chain omega-3 fatty acid DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) is also more difficult for vegetarians to meet during pregnancy, as these fatty acids are mainly found in fish. It is, therefore, advisable to consume foods enriched with DHA or corresponding dietary supplements if necessary.

During pregnancy and breastfeeding, vegan women often have problems covering the significantly increased need for micronutrients through their diet. In particular, the need for iron and vitamin B12 can often not be taken up in sufficient quantities through food for vegan women during this time.

Professional nutritional advice and dietary supplements may be necessary to prevent deficiency symptoms.

Necessary: After consulting a doctor, high-dose food supplements should only be taken since side effects and interactions can occur.

Dietary supplements during pregnancy and lactation

In addition to a balanced, healthy diet and sufficient sunlight (to produce vitamin D), dietary supplements can be helpful during pregnancy and breastfeeding. This targeted absorption of nutrients is also referred to in medicine as “supplementation”.

The intake of iodine and folate (the synthetic form of the vitamin known as folic acid) via dietary supplements is now standard since both nutrients cannot be ingested in sufficient quantities through food alone. Folic acid should be taken after medical consultation if you already want to have children. This can reduce the risk of defects in the unborn child’s nervous system.

In some cases, a balanced diet is not possible during pregnancy, for example, due to nausea, altered cravings or loss of appetite. Sometimes, the body cannot process the nutrients properly, resulting in diarrhoea during pregnancy. Then, taking holistic, low-dose dietary supplements can be a helpful supplement. However, as already mentioned, high-dose food supplements should only be used in consultation with the doctor treating you.


Positively influencing child development: theory of the first 1,000 days.

The theory of the first 1,000 days states that this phase of life (i.e., the time between conception and the child’s second birthday) of a fetus and later infant can strongly influence its development and future health. Both the infant’s and mother’s nutrition during pregnancy and breastfeeding play an essential role.

The mother’s calorie intake during pregnancy is particularly emphasized. Consuming too many calories over a long period can also affect the health of the fetus in the long term. According to information from the World Health Organization, fetal overnutrition can increase the likelihood that the unborn child will later develop diseases such as asthmadiabetes mellitus, high blood pressure or tend to be overweight. Therefore, a significantly increased food intake should not cover the increased need for micronutrients.

Consuming foods with omega-3 fatty acids (such as DHA) during pregnancy is said to impact the child’s later cognitive performance positively.

Apart from that, the nutrition of both parents can also serve as a positive role model for the offspring.

A balanced diet and food supplements (if necessary after consulting a doctor) are promising building blocks in many respects to protect the health of mother and child during pregnancy and breastfeeding – and beyond.

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