Research shows that the nutrition that a baby gets throughout their first thousand days of life – starting from a month before a woman even falls pregnant through til his or her second birthday – sets up their health for life.
Unfortunately, any mother knows that it’s not as simple as it sounds….between morning sickness, difficulty breast-feeding, exhaustion and fussy eating, providing a nutritious diet for your little one during their first thousand days can be a minefield. As a dietitian who specialises in women’s health, let me share with you some of the most common questions that I get, and my answers:
1. Do I need to take nutritional supplements before conceiving?
In short, yes. It’s important to optimise your nutritional status before conceiving as most mum’s don’t find out that they’re pregnant until they’re about 5 weeks pregnant, and by then most of your baby’s neural tube will have already developed. I always say that a woman should either be on the contraceptive pill or on folate supplements. Guidelines recommend that you take a folate supplement containing at least 400mcg folate per day for at least one month prior to conception. However, it’s important to note that some women such as those who are overweight, those with type 2 diabetes, or those with a family history of neural tube defects may require higher doses. Most women also require 150mcg iodine per day prior to conception too (unless you have thyroid issues). I’d also recommend a blood test to check your levels of other nutrients such as vitamin D and iron. In short, before falling pregnant is a good time for a check up with your dietitian.
2. Is it safe to eat fish during pregnancy?
Many women are concerned about eating fish during pregnancy due to the risks of listeria and mercury toxicity. Although it’s wise to be careful, this doesn’t mean that you should cut out fish altogether. The risk of listeria or mercery toxicity are very low for most women, and the benefits of eating fish regularly are very high. Fish is one of the richest sources of omega 3 fatty acids and has been found to be exceptionally good during pregnancy and breast-feeding for your baby’s brain development, and their future intelligence. Aim for fish 2-3 times per week, but ensure that it is well cooked and prepared hygienically. It’s also important to limit your intake of high mercury fish such as shark (flake), swordfish and marlin, and opt for salmon, tuna, flounder, hake or mackerel.
3. My baby has colic. Will diet help?
Although the cause of colic is unknown, dietary modifications can sometimes help. Over-feeding, and food allergies and intolerances can often contribute to an unsettled baby. Changing from demand feeding to a breast-feeding routine or ‘block feeding’ (feeding one breast per feed) can sometimes help. If formula feeding, a change in formula can sometimes help. Your dietitian can help you diagnose and treat allergies and intolerances.
4. How do I get my toddler to eat….?
Children can be a little fussy, or should I say ‘selective’, at times. It is no wonder if they are picking up their habits from mirroring what their parents or older siblings are doing. Setting a good example, such as eating together at the table or all having vegetables with your meal, is important for your newest family member to see. This way, they won’t feel confronted when they alone are presented with broccoli, or are told to do something that no-one else is doing. Improving the dietary patterns of the entire family will have flow on effects to your child innately enabling them to foster a more positive relationship with food, which will furthermore only have positive ramifications as they grow older in life.
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