A mother’s eating habits during pregnancy is very important. This is why adopting a wholesome and well-balanced diet can be of great benefit to both the baby and the expectant mother.
Medics indicate that ensuring proper nutrition sets a solid foundation for the child’s growth and overall health.
Whereas this is all significant, finding the right information on how best to implement this remains a challenge for some.
Evodia Mutimucyeye, a mother and resident of Kimisagara, says when one is expecting, they receive a lot of conflicting advice on what to eat and what not to eat, something she says brings confusion, yet at times they lack information altogether.
“It’s hard to know what to eat or not, when it comes to feeding the baby, I just know that a baby needs breast milk in the first six months, but I am not aware of what comes next. Some tell us to give the baby food, others say it’s good to give them milk only, this causes confusion,” Mutimucyeye says.
But Dr Felix Sayinzoga, the head of the child maternal health care department at Rwanda Biomedical Centre, says that a bid against this is to seek a common understanding of a reliable diet for a pregnant woman and the new born baby.
This, he says, is being enhanced by campaigns aimed at sensitising mothers about the ideal diet when expecting.
“We are doing our best to sensitise citizens, especially parents, to get a real sense of reliable nutrition for pregnant mothers and new born babies,” Sayinzoga says.
THE IDEAL DIET
Private Kamanzi, a nutritionist at Amazon Nutrition Cabinet, a clinic in Kigali that deals with diet, physical wellness and lifestyle, says that outlining good nutrition habits for a woman depends on the pregnancy trimester/stages.
He explains the trimesters; the first comprising of the first 12 weeks after conception, the second which ranges from the 13th to 27th week, and the third that starts from the 28th week till birth.
THE FIRST TRIMESTER
In this phase, the baby’s brain is developing, so according to Kamanzi, consumption of several types of nuts such as sesame, chia seeds and macadamia are a great place to start, as well as fish, as it is rich in folic acid.
“This provides the building blocks needed to construct every cell in a baby’s brain. Folic acid also helps in crucial early spinal development,” Kamanzi says.
THE SECOND TRIMESTER
At this stage, it is important that a mother includes carrots and other foods such as sweet potato in their diet, as they are rich in beta carotene, a source of vitamin A which provides good eye health and vision — for at this stage, the baby’s eyes are starting to develop their functional components, Kamanzi explains.
“If you’re craving dairy, go for it, as this is the perfect time to boost your calcium reserves to strengthen your baby’s bones. You can get it from milk, yoghurt as well as beef fillet with the bones. You can eat this at least three times a week,” says Erick Matsiko, a lecturer in the Department of Human Nutrition and Dietetics at the College of Medicine and Health Sciences, University of Rwanda.
He also explains that vitamin D is important to obtain for it helps one to absorb calcium which is used in bone formation. However, apart from getting it from the sun, one can also choose to eat mushrooms, as they contain a decent dose. Zinc found in fish is another must-have at this stage, Matsiko says.
THE THIRD TRIMESTER
“When one hits 30 weeks, they are advised to add a side serving of spinach, pigweed and organ meat like liver, for this will help in the formation of the baby’s blood that will be used for the first six months after birth,” says Matsiko.
After birth, the mother is recommended to eat sesame seeds as they are rich in copper, a mineral that is helpful in reducing inflammation, soreness and aches after labour.
FOODS TO AVOID DURING PREGNANCY
Certain foods should only be consumed rarely when expecting, while others should be avoided completely, according to Justin Ntaganda, a nutritionist at Rwanda Biomedical Centre.
Matsiko says pregnant women are advised to completely avoid drinking alcohol as it increases the risk of miscarriage and stillbirth.
“Even a small amount can negatively impact the baby’s brain development. It can also cause foetal alcohol syndrome, which involves facial deformities, heart defects and intellectual disability. Since no level of alcohol has been proven to be safe during pregnancy, it’s recommended to avoid it altogether,” he adds.
Matsiko also says that uncooked, partially cooked or any undercooked foods should be abandoned, reasoning that these may carry a risk of bacterial or viral contamination which can cause food poisoning.
Some bacteria and viruses can also cross the placenta and harm the baby or bring up infections from other pathogens. In rare cases, the infection may cause cramps in the uterus, leading to premature birth or stillbirth, he adds.
Empty calorie foods such as cakes, biscuits, cookies, chips and candy should be kept to a minimum. Many of these options are high in sugar and fat, have little nutritional content and may undermine a pregnant woman’s efforts at maintaining a healthy body and weight.
Sayinzoga recommends that women eat healthy food when pregnant and when breastfeeding.
“This will prevent the baby from stunting. Visit a doctor regularly to inform you more about the food you need to maintain good health for mother and baby.”