What women really eat in pregnancy

It's not always possible to have a healthy diet when you're pregnant, especially when those cravings kick in. Three mums-to-be confess all...

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Pregnant woman eating fruit

Despite having access to a wealth of healthy-eating information, a recent survey by Cow & Gate found that 67% of mums-to-be still think they should double their food intake during pregnancy. In fact, an extra 300 calories a day is plenty. The resilience of this old wives’ tale shows just how confused we are.

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‘Eating well during pregnancy can be quite straightforward,’ says dietician Fiona Ford, of the University of Sheffield’s Centre for Pregnancy Nutrition. ‘There’s no such thing as unhealthy food, only an unhealthy diet. Don’t worry about the odd treat, as long as your overall nutrition is balanced.

‘If you accidentally eat something you’re advised not to, such as soft cheese or shellfish, don’t panic. These carry a higher risk of food poisoning, but they’re not guaranteed to harm you or your baby, especially if just a one-off. If you can’t resist food such as prawns, store and cook them properly and they’ll be safe.’

Pregnancy craving confession: ‘I’m already desperate for a prawn balti!’

Ceri Jenkins, 25, from Cardiff, is 8 weeks pregnant with her first baby. She’s married to Nick, and works as a bank clerk.

‘I didn’t plan the pregnancy so changing my eating habits overnight was a shock to the system. I’ve been on and off diets for years, and I know how to eat healthily, but I didn’t have a clue about what I should be eating during pregnancy. I was surprised by the amount of food you’re supposed to avoid, such as shellfish, pâté and certain cheeses. I do feel limited when I’m deciding what to eat.

‘In the first few weeks my energy levels were low and I started tucking into comfort food and home-cooked treats such as pasties and mashed potato. I’ve always had a sweet tooth and that’s now accelerated; I’ve already put on weight as a result.

‘I’m trying to get a grip on it because I’m conscious of my size, and I don’t want to put too much weight on. I’ve started taking food into work to eat, such as homemade pasta salads, because it’s difficult to avoid junk food and ready-made sandwiches when I’m buying lunch. I also prepare fresh fruit and cut-up pieces of raw vegetables such as carrot and bring that in with me.

‘I’ve been shocked by the strong opinions people have about a pregnant woman’s diet, and also by all the contradictions. I have a book on family health from the 1980s, and the advice back then seemed to be that “anything goes”.

‘My older relatives still believe that, and they tell me to eat and drink whatever I want. Other pregnant women and mums my own age are much more opinionated about the food I should avoid.

‘Nick and I have done our own research, but it’s a steep learning curve. I’m determined to eat healthily for the rest of my pregnancy, and I keep to a glass of shandy when we go out. I’m trying to eat food cooked from scratch, lean meat and tons of fresh fruit and veg. Fatty food has been giving me terrible indigestion, anyway. But I really miss prawns – I can’t wait to have a prawn balti!’

Pregnancy craving confession: ‘My husband has turned into the food-police!’

Kate Edwards, 27, from Torfaen, Wales, is 20 weeks pregnant. A part-time supermarket supervisor, she’s married to Christopher. They have three sons, Dylan, 7, Joss, 5, and Llewi, 3.

‘All my pregnancies have been different, including the cravings. With Dylan, I was mad on milk, gulping it down by the pint, and I couldn’t eat enough satsumas – my friends said I stank of oranges!

When I was expecting Joss it was chocolate bars and curries. I knew they weren’t the healthiest cravings, but I only put on two stone, the same amount as with Dylan.

During my third pregnancy, I didn’t crave food. Instead, I loved the smell of a specific brand of furniture polish and sniffed it constantly. Some people seem to worry if they don’t crave certain foods, but with Llewi, I was so relaxed about being pregnant that it simply didn’t bother me.

‘As with all my pregnancies, Christopher has turned into the “food police” and slips spinach and cabbage into my meals. I’ve had different cravings this time, including pink marshmallows and sweet-and-sour gums. I’m not worried about eating sweets, as I don’t go overboard, but I can be naughty: I haven’t been able to resist peanut butter, Crunchy Nut Cornflakes or peanut sweets.

‘I have half a glass of wine if I go for a meal, because the occasional drink hasn’t done any harm during my previous pregnancies, and I’m a great believer in everything in moderation. I remind myself that I’m not eating for two and eat normally, balancing my cravings for sweets with green veg, fruit and lentils.

‘If you make sensible decisions and take your midwife’s advice, you’ll be fine. I may be an experienced mum but when my new baby arrives and things have settled, I’ll be ready for a good night out with the girls!’

Pregnancy craving confession: ‘I can’t stop gorging on roast potato sandwiches.’

Lianne Bertelli, 30, from Cheshire, is 36 weeks pregnant with her first baby. She works as an account director for a PR firm, and is married to Mike.

‘I tried for a year to get pregnant. It was a stressful time and I put on weight through comfort eating. Ideally, I’d have preferred to have weighed less when I got pregnant, but the minute I found out, I tried to be as healthy as possible.

‘The night before my pregnancy test, I felt really premenstrual and ate goat’s cheese and drank wine. When it turned out to be positive, I was overjoyed but scared that I’d already eaten the wrong things and had damaged the baby somehow.

‘I did some research on the web and found a list of food to avoid such as shellfish and peanuts. I was constantly reading books about pregnancy and nutrition. Mike persuaded me to calm it down because I was frightening myself and being far too strict about food.

‘I had terrible morning sickness and craved sweet things. I even took sugar in my tea, which I’d never done before. My mum had gestational diabetes when she was carrying me, so I kept my sugar consumption in check. I didn’t want to deny myself completely because it helped with the nausea, but I was careful.

‘As the sickness faded, I craved bread and found myself devouring roast potato sandwiches with butter. I even ate things I’d been avoiding, such as a well-cooked prawn-and-ginger stir-fry. I let my body tell me what I needed, but kept everything in moderation. I went off old favourites like garlic and curry.

‘For my 30th birthday recently we went to Vienna on the Orient Express. The meal that should have been wonderful was a nightmare. The staff decided what I could and couldn’t eat, so I didn’t get the shellfish starter, my fillet steak was overcooked and I wasn’t offered anything from the cheese board. I was gutted!

‘On another occasion in my third trimester, I ordered scampi for lunch and my friend, who’d recently had a baby, advised me to change my order. She made me realise that I’m not the only pregnant woman in the world who worries about what she eats.

‘Now I’m 36 weeks I get full quickly and don’t know what I want to eat. As soon as the baby is born I’m celebrating with a glass of Champagne and a lovely prawn mayonnaise sandwich!’

More mums-to-be share their pregnancy cravings…

*‘I’d love to say my diet is 100% healthy, but I can’t resist fast food. I ease my guilt by making a veg casserole after I’ve indulged’
Annabel Smith, 31, Fleet, 32 weeks pregnant

*‘Watercress! Four bags a day, followed by ruby grapefruit. It’s hugely satisfying’
Mary Salmon, 38,London, 37 weeks pregnant

*‘ ‘I think weird cravings for chalk or charcoal are a myth – but in my first trimester I couldn’t eat enough boiled eggs or curry’
Laetitia Clapton, 30, London, 25 weeks pregnant

*‘For the first 3 months I was eating everything and anything every two hours. Now it’s chicken soup!’
Katie Parmar, 36, Harrow, 22 weeks pregnant

Expert advice on pregnancy nutrition

Practical Parenting’s pregnancy nutritionist, Victoria Greaves, has this list of foods you can tuck into any time from 0 to 40 weeks…
*Eat as much organic fruit and vegetables as you like, the more colours the better. They’re packed with essential vitamins and minerals.
*If you really do crave something ‘naughty’, then some organic dark chocolate or a health-food-shop cereal bar every now and again is the best option.
*Hearty soups containing pulses (lentils, chickpeas, kidney beans, flageolet beans) are great comfort food, and an excellent source of vegetable protein. Plus they’re low in fat and high in fibre and essential B-vitamins.
*Natural organic yogurt provides friendly bacteria – good for the digestive system. Add your own fruit for a tasty treat.
*Mixed fresh nuts (Brazil, almonds, cashews, pecans, hazelnuts) are ideal snacks, as are pumpkin and sunflower seeds. Good sources of protein and essential fats.
*Cheese oatcakes are a super snack. They balance blood-sugar levels and sustain energy.

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For more on your pregnancy, expert antenatal advice, and real mum-to-be stories, don’t miss Practical Parenting magazine each month.

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