During pregnancy, most women experience cravings for unhealthy foods, which, unfortunately can be harmful to the unborn baby.
However, Dr Theodomir Sebazungu, a doctor at University Teaching Hospital, Kigali (CHUK), says good nutrition is one thing every mother should take seriously even before conception.
“Eating the right food help the baby to form normally and grow. So, taking the right supplements such as folic acid help in preventing some of the fetal malformations like birth defects,” he says.
Sebazungu says during pregnancy the best diet for the mother and the foetus should include vegetables, fresh fruits (mangoes, oranges, pawpaws, and passion fruits), low-fat dairy products (evaporated skimmed milk, yoghurt and meat), whole grains (rice, wheat- bread, millet) and a few protein-rich foods such as eggs, meat, fish, peas and beans.
He adds that mothers who do not take dairy products need to get calcium from other sources, whereas mothers taking vegetarian diets should get the necessary supplements for missing nutrients that are important for foetal development.
“Pregnant mothers need to be extra careful while preparing their meals by ensuring germs do not contaminate it. Getting an infection while pregnant can cause serious problems, including miscarriage,” he says.
Sebazungu says washing hands with soap and water before handling food is important, adding that fresh fruits and vegetables should be rinsed before being eaten, while animal products such as eggs, fish and other meats should fully be cooked.
“When pregnant mothers don’t get the right foods, they require nutritious supplements with iron to prevent anaemia, folic acid for normal brain formation and avoiding birth defects, as well as calcium for bone and teeth growth,” Sebazungu explains.
The kind of food to avoid
Sebazungu says certain types of food such as fish, which contain a lot of mercury, should be avoided during pregnancy as mercury is known to prevent the baby’s brain from developing normally. All forms of alcohol and tobacco should also be avoided because they could harm the developing baby.
Dr Stephen Rulisa, an obstetrician gynecologist at CHUK, says alcohol and smoking should be completely avoided as they have teratogenic effects on the development of the baby.
He adds that a diet that is not balanced should be dealt away with because it has no value for a pregnant woman and the developing baby.
“Foods to avoid while pregnant are some types of cheese that contain listeria, raw or undercooked meat. Meat and poultry should be cooked thoroughly until there is no trace of pink or blood,”says Dr Iba Mayele of Galien Clinic in Kigali.
Mayele urges pregnant women to take maximum care with poultry, pork, sausages and minced meat to avoid toxoplasmosis, an infection caused by parasites found in meat, faeces and untreated water.
Sebazungu adds that coffee intake should also be limited to one or two cups each day since it is thought to be associated with low birth weight and increases the risk of miscarriage.
Mayele explains that caffeine is found in a lot of food such as coffee, tea and chocolate. He adds that energy drinks are not recommended as they may contain high level of caffeine which would cause miscarriages.
“Pre-packaged fruits or vegetable salads are more prone to listeria contamination. Also, cured meat containing salami is perilous since it harbours listeria and toxoplasmosis,” he adds.
Sebazungu advises women on pre-conception weight, saying gaining much or less weight during pregnancy are both associated with some maternal and fetal complications.