Mothers-to-be have been cooking up lots of questions about what they should eat to ensure a healthy baby. Let me see if I can provide some food for thought on this topic.

Why is it important to eat healthy during pregnancy? Babies need specific nutrients to have their bodies and brains grow and develop to their fullest.

Pregnant women need to add about 300 extra calories per day to their diet if they’re having a single infant. If twins are on the way, make it closer to 600. That’s about the amount of calories in a glass of skim milk and half a sandwich. But with that said, it’s more important to focus more on quality than quantity. That means eating the right balance of nutritious foods to keep you and your baby healthy.

If you are pregnant or trying to become pregnant, your diet should include carbohydrates, fats, vitamins, minerals and good hydration. Avoiding fish entirely is really a myth, since many cold-water fish contain lots of omega-3 fatty acids. Those omega-3s can help with the development of an infant’s brain and vision.

You should, however, stay away from fish that are high in mercury, such as swordfish. Supplementing the diet with extra folic acid or folate, through a multivitamin, can help prevent some neurologic disorders. This includes spina bifida, a malformation of the spinal cord. Increase calcium consumption to prevent calcium loss from maternal bones and to ensure adequate calcium for infant bone growth.

If you are pregnant and a vegan, you can continue to be on that diet but do it carefully. Make sure you enhance your diet with supplemental protein and vitamins like B12 and D. A dietician can also help make sure you are getting the right nutrients to keep your baby healthy.

Avoid alcohol if you are even thinking about becoming pregnant to insure good brain growth. Avoid caffeine as much as you can, which is easier said than done, of course. High caffeine intake, however, is linked to an increased risk of miscarriage and problems delivering a healthy newborn.

Hopefully, tips like these will be easy ones to digest when keeping you and your baby healthy during your pregnancy.

Dr. Lewis First is chief of pediatrics at The University of Vermont Children’s Hospital and chair of the department of pediatrics at the University of Vermont College of Medicine.

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