Pregnancy diet: Why you should focus on essential nutrition

Food cravings are sudden urges to eat a particular type of food. They are a real occurrence and affect many women during pregnancy. / Net photos

Pregnancy is a critical period where nutrition requirement increases in that the expectant woman needs extra nutrients to sustain herself and the foetus.

Private Kamanzi, a dietician and nutritionist at Amazon Nutrition Cabinet in Kigali that deals with diet, physical wellness and lifestyle, says healthy nutrition has to be balanced.


He says that although a balanced diet for a pregnant woman is not quite different from that of any other person, there are some nutrients that are needed in plenty.


Some of the diet requirements needed, he says, include energy giving food, body protective and bodybuilding food; all these, however, should be consumed appropriately.


What you need to know

When pregnant, Kamanzi says it’s advisable for a woman to increase the intake of foods that are rich in iron.

This, he notes, is to ensure the woman has blood reservation before and after giving birth.

A balanced diet is essential to the well-being of a pregnant woman. 

“When a woman gives birth, in the process, she loses a lot of blood, and this blood has to be reserved. The volume of the blood should be maintained before, and even after giving birth,” he says.

Alexis Mucumbitsi, the head of the Nutrition and Hygiene Department at National Early Childhood Care and Development Program (NECDP), says the foetus has to be born with blood and at least have the packages for six months after birth.

He notes that this is because breast milk doesn’t have enough iron for the blood.

“Iron is the essential element for blood production, without enough iron; the body can’t produce enough of a substance in red blood cells that enables them to carry oxygen (haemoglobin). As a result, one can have iron-deficiency anaemia,” explains Mucumbitsi.

The nutrient requirement for pregnant women, Mucumbitsi says, keeps changing depending on the trimester they are in.

For instance, he cites that for the first trimester, this is where some of the foetus’s body parts such as the brain start to develop.

For this reason, he says, some special nutrients such as folic acid and omega 3 are needed to help in the process of brain development of a child.

In the second trimester, Mucumbitsi says the bones of the foetus start to develop.

“At this stage, there is need for the expectant woman to ensure she is taking in foods that are rich in calcium to ensure that the bone density is maintained,” he says.

In the last trimester, he says, because the woman is now about to give birth, it’s essential to concentrate mostly on the foods that help produce extra blood.

He says this is to ensure that the lost blood during delivery process is able to be recovered or restored.

“We normally recommend extra folic iron-rich food at this period. In a nutshell, any pregnant woman should ensure they balance their diet throughout the process of pregnancy,” he says.

Controlling weight

According to experts, weight gained during pregnancy should be controlled. 

For instance, Kamanzi says a woman who was underweight before conceiving, when pregnant, is recommended to gain between 16.5 kilogrammes (kgs) to 18.

For those with normal weight, he says, the recommended weight gain during pregnancy should not exceed 12kgs.

Overweight women, he says, shouldn’t exceed 9kgs, while those who are obese, more than 6kgs is risky and not recommended at all.

For these reasons, he advises that expectant women should consult health experts, including nutritionists, to help monitor their weight and guide them on the nutrition that is essential throughout the pregnancy period.

Be cautious

Iba Mayele, a gynaecologist/obstetrician at Galien clinic in Gasabo District, says that women who lose weight during pregnancy should avoid this as it comes with health complications.

“Once you are pregnant, everyone regardless of their previous weight, needs to add some weight,” Mayele advises.

This, he explains, is so because when one loses weight, the foetus will also be affected, thus the possibility of bearing an underweight or premature baby.

He, however, notes that one should keep in mind that gaining weight should be kept in the above ranges, explaining that when one gains more weight than expected, the foetus as well becomes overweight, therefore, higher chances of bearing an overweight child.

“A child born overweight is likely to become overweight in adulthood stage, which can expose them to non-communicable diseases,” he says.

Other consequences that come with gaining too much weight during pregnancy, Mayele says, are high risks of complications during childbirth.

To avoid this, he says, balancing the diet is key as well as doing moderate exercises, such as jogging and walking, among others.

How to manage food cravings

Food cravings are sudden urges to eat a particular type of food. They are a real occurrence and affect many women during pregnancy.

Kamanzi says craving is a sign that one is lacking some nutrients (a sign of some of the micro-nutrient deficiency).

“For someone to crave a certain food, it means that they are not balancing their diet,” he notes.

The cravings, he says, can come with health complications, including gaining too much weight, especially if they were craving for unhealthy junk foods.

He says there is a high risk of having a baby with micronutrient deficiency because craving is a sign of malnutrition.

Still, Kamanzi says, everything goes back to balancing the diet.

Mucumbitsi says that eating frequently but in smaller quantity can help one stay away from food cravings.

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