In the last weeks of gestation, baby’s development is nearly complete, but your healthy-eating duties are far from over. With diminished stomach space, predelivery jitters, and a mile-long to-do list, expectant moms may be tempted to slack off on healthy eating as delivery day nears. After all, you’re busy, tired, and you’ve got other things on your mind. Who has the time or energy to whip up healthy meals when there’s a birth plan to write and diapers to buy?
The reality: While you may have zero interest in cooking as your due date approaches, your nutrition is still important as ever. Late-pregnancy eating habits will impact your energy levels and your body’s ability to recuperate from labor and delivery. According to Pamela Schoenfeld, RD, good nutrition in the third trimester is vital to both mom and baby as it provides sustained energy for labor, increases the quality of your breast milk, and helps avoid ailments like anemia, gestational diabetes, fatigue and swelling. Plus, during the final trimester, your body is providing your baby with stores of essential nutrients, like calcium and iron, for his first months of life.
While you’re waiting for your bundle of joy to make his debut, fill your plate with five essential nutrients sure to satisfy both you and your budding babe.
Protein: The baby builder
Protein is essential through-out your nine months, but it’s especially important in the final stages, when your little one is growing rapidly and adding those layers of cute baby fat. The amino acids in protein form the basic building block for cell growth, fueling your body and organs as they grow to accommodate the needs of your baby. Consuming enough protein also helps to stabilize blood sugar, notes Schoenfeld, which is especially important to women at risk for gestational diabetes.
Expectant women should aim for 70 grams of protein per day, about 35 grams more than the recommended daily limit for nonpregnant gals.
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Meat and poultry, dairy foods, and legumes are protein power- houses. A medium-sized chicken breast has 30 grams of protein, 1/2 cup of tofu packs 20 grams, and 1/2 cup of cottage cheese has 15 grams.
Iron: Pumping it
One of the biggest nutritional challenges as you near the big day? Consuming enough iron to keep up with your blossom-ing body—and your baby’s demands. “In the third trimester, your blood volume increases, so iron is the name of the game,” says Paola Mora, RD, CDN, of the Division of Maternal Fetal Medicine at Montefiore Medical Center in New York. When expectant moms are low on iron, they run the risk of anemia, a condition that causes fatigue and dizziness. “We also worry about hemorrhage during delivery, because anemic blood won’t clot as well,” says Mora.
Your own well-being isn’t all that’s at stake—your iron consumption affects your baby’s health too. “A mom provides her baby with full stores of iron for the first six months of life,” says Mora. And research shows thatpregnant women with low iron are more likely to deliver prematurely and have low birth weight infants.
A typical prenatal vitamin contains 27 milligrams of iron—150 percent of the iron you need—so keep on taking it. In addition, aim to consume at least three sources of iron per day.
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Red meat, low-fat poultry, wheat bran, enriched rice, seeds and beans are other good sources. Maximize iron absorption by consuming it with foods high in vitamin C.
Calcium: Bone up
Late pregnancy is not the time to skimp on calcium: All the calcium in your baby’s skeleton is laid down during the third trimester, says Michael Hobaugh, MD, PhD, chief of medical staff at La Rabida Children’s Hospital in Chicago. Consuming enough calcium also helps to get breastfeeding off to the best possible start; in order to produce the perfect food for your little one, your body will pull calcium from your own bones if your stores are insufficient. “The [physical] impact of breastfeeding will be greater for the mother who is not well nourished,” says Hobaugh.
Dieticians recommend 1,000 milligrams of calcium daily for pregnant women.
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Dairy foods like yogurt, milk and cheese are great options; all contain at least 300 milli-grams of calcium per serving. Many nondairy foods are also calcium rich, including salmon, oatmeal, tofu, rhubarb, spinach, almonds, and calcium-fortified orange juice.
Magnesium: Mighty mineral
While you’re filling up on calcium, don’t forget its super sidekick: magnesium. This mineral aids calcium absorption and performs a host of other important functions. Magnesium helps build and repair body tissues, relaxes muscles, eases leg cramps, and may help prevent preterm labor.
Pregnant women should consume 350 to 400 milli-grams of magnesium per day; breastfeeding moms should aim for 300 to 350 milligrams per day.
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Black beans, artichokes, barley, pumpkin seeds, oat bran and almonds all provide at least 100 milligrams of magnesium per serving.
DHA: Mental muscle
During the third trimester, your baby’s brain is burgeoning, adding mass and forming millions of neural connections, so consuming enough docosahexaenoic acid (DHA)—which is linked to better cognition in infants in numerous studies—is as important as ever, says Gina Hill, PhD, RD, LD, associate professor of nutritional sciences at Texas Christian University.
The Journal of Perinatal Medicine recommends 200 milligrams of DHA per day during pregnancy.
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Many grocery store staples, such as eggs, milk and juice, are fortified with DHA, and Hill suggests expectant moms consume two servings of fish per week. Some healthcare providers now recommend DHA supplementation; check with yours to see if you should pop a daily pill.