Adhering to a healthy, well-balanced diet before, during and after pregnancy is of the utmost importance to ensure the well-being of both the new mother and the child.

“Women of child-bearing age should consume 400 mcg of folic acid,” said Takara Phillips, a registered dietician and licensed diet nutritionist for Lane Regional Medical Center in Zachary.

“Adequate intake of folic acid can help reduce the risk of neural tube defects. Citrus fruits, dark leafy green vegetables and dried beans are good sources of folic acid,” Phillips said.

Even for women who conscientiously maintain a healthy lifestyle and diet, nutritional needs change when they become pregnant.

“Needs for certain nutrients such as calories, protein, calcium, iron and folic acid increase during pregnancy,” Phillips explained. “Calorie needs increase during the second and third trimester. Protein needs increase by approximately 30 percent. In order to meet the increased need for certain vitamins and minerals a prenatal supplement may be recommended by the doctor.”

To help meet those changing needs, Phillips said pregnant women should eat a variety of nutrient-dense foods, such as grains, fruits, vegetables, proteins and dairy products.

“Select healthier options, such as lean cuts of meat and low-fat dairy products, and make half of your grains whole” she suggested.

“Choose healthy fats such as avocadoes, walnuts, almonds and extra-virgin olive oil. Opt for seafood such as salmon, herring, sardines, pollock and trout. These are higher in omega-3 fats and lower in mercury,” Phillips said.

“Incorporate spinach, asparagus, broccoli, black-eyed peas, white beans, oranges and fortified cereals into your diet. These are all source of folic acid or folate,” she said.

Phillips said that while enjoying healthy foods, expectant mothers should be aware of those foods that could lead to sickness.

“Pregnant women and their unborn child have a greater risk for developing foodborne illness. Certain foods pose a high risk of foodborne illness and should be avoided,” she said.

Meat, poultry, fish, shellfish, eggs and sprouts that are raw or undercooked should be avoided, Phillips said. Pregnant women should also exclude unpasteurized milk, cheese and juices and fish containing high levels of mercury from their diets. Fish such as swordfish, tilefish, king mackerel and shark contain high levels of mercury.

“Good nutrition is vital throughout pregnancy,” Phillips said. “As pregnancy advances energy needs increase, particularly in the second and third trimesters.”

Phillips explained that an additional 300 calories per day is generally recommended during the last six months of pregnancy.

However, she said, “Specific calorie needs are based on an individual basis and depend on factors such as pre-pregnancy weight.”

Phillips also said that just as important as ensuring the sufficient intake of healthy foods is the conscious avoidance of items that can harm the unborn child.

For example, consuming alcohol should be avoided during pregnancy.

“Alcoholic beverages can cause the baby to have behavioral or developmental problems,” she said.

Phillips noted that exercise during pregnancy is also important, and that a minimum of 30 minutes of moderate exercise is suggested for most days of the week.

“Women who are physically active before pregnancy should be able to continue that activity in moderation. Pregnant women who are just starting an exercise regimen should start slowly,” Phillips said.

walking, swimming, cycling and aerobics are all good forms of exercise for pregnant women, while exercise such as tailor sitting, kneeling exercises, pelvic tilt, and squatting are suggested to help prepare for delivery.

“Always check with your physician before starting any type of exercise program,” Phillips said.

Phillips did her undergraduate work at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette, and obtained her dietician degree from Louisiana Tech University in Ruston.