Q&A: Nutrition and exercise during pregnancy

Q&A: Nutrition and exercise during pregnancy

Mater dietitian Dr Shelley Wilkinson, physiotherapist Belinda Long and midwife Chris Reily today chatted with mums online about nutrition and exercise in pregnancy.

Our experts answered questions ranging from what foods should you avoid during pregnancy to whether it's okay to take Bikram yoga classes. For those who missed today's chat, we have saved the questions and answers for you below.

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Questions and Answers

We just found out we are three weeks pregnant after years of trying and two cycles of IVF. I’m so scared something is going to go wrong and just want to be doing everything right. Should I be eating anything in particular? I’m on Elevit but should I be taking anything else? Are you allowed to eat superfood vege powders ect?
Taking Elevit is a great start. Healthy eating when you are pregnant is important—a balanced diet (plus a supplement that contains folate and iodine) is essential for good health, as well as for your growing baby. Vitamins and minerals are important – but we tend to think about foods and meals. Aim to eat foods from the five food groups rather than any extra supplements (like powders). Fresh fruit and veges are the best super foods for you and your baby!

I am, by my count, 7 weeks pregnant. My last pregnancy resulted in diastasis recti which I think I should have seen a physio about because the muscles started to heal sticking out a bit. Anyway I'm wondering if there is anything I can do whilst pregnant this time for my muscles? Do you know if I will be able to heal it after this one since it didn't heal properly the first time?
Congratulations! The best thing for you to do is avoid strain where you can, and avoid exercise that's going to strain your abdomen. There aren't really specific exercises to help prevent separation. You're probably best to come and see a physiotherapist so you can be assessed (now or after you have your baby) and talk about options. You can come in now if you're already having concerns, you don't need a referral if you want to see a Mater physio.

I’m wondering what the best thing to do about sciatica is during pregnancy, I suffer from it without being pregnant, but now being 23.5 weeks with my 2nd pregnancy I am finding it hard to do task like hanging out washing and stacking and unloading the dishwasher.
The best thing would be to come in and see one of our physios so you can be assessed in person. You can self-refer, whether you're a private or public patient. Just give our team a call on 3163 6000.

What exercise is safe to do during pregnancy?
There are lots of exercises you can do while pregnant, but it depends on what you already do. If you are already a runner, you can usually keep with it but take care not to overheat and ensure good fluid intake. Exercise should not be prolonged if strenuous as this can significantly reduce your blood glucose levels, be aware of any pelvic discomfort with exercise and look after your pelvic floor.

What the best supplement is during pregnancy? Do you have any advice?
Best evidence recommends folate and iodine; this can come from a multivitamin (make sure it’s a pregnancy one- not too much vitamin A) or these can come from I-fol which is half the size of a pea. Also, remember to ensure you get all the nutrients, vitamins and minerals you need for pregnancy, you should include foods from all food groups in your daily diet.

I currently do Pilates. I assume this will be ok to continue? What are your thoughts about Bikram yoga during pregnancy?
Pilates is fantastic as long as there is supervision and avoid prolonged periods on your back. Bikram yoga I would not recommend as you can overheat.

Can you eat TOO much fruit during pregnancy, with natural sugar etc? I always find myself going straight for fresh fruit as it is so hot and muggy.
We recommend going for '2 and 5' two fruit and 5 serves of veges a day. This is to keep a healthy balance and make sure that you don't miss out on the extra vitamins from the other food groups. But going over that quota occasionally won't hurt you or your bub!

Despite having very good diet, I remained Iron deficient throughout my pregnancy and I had a hard time because of it.
It would be best to speak your GP about this and if they can't determine the cause, they can refer you to a specialist.

Are there any foods I should be avoiding whilst pregnant?
It’s important to be careful with food that might be contaminated with Listeria or other bacteria. Good food hygiene storage and preparation practices are ESSENTIAL.
Foods that might carry Listeria and should be avoided include:
-raw/uncooked/smoked meat and seafood, ready to eat chilled seafood
-deli meats, cooked cold meat, pate, meat spreads
-leftovers (more than 24 hours after cooking)
-pre-prepared salads, smorgasbords, buffets
-unpasteurised milk and soft serve ice cream
-soft cheeses (brie, camembert, ricotta, feta, blue).
-unwashed raw fruit and vegetables
-raw eggs or foods containing raw or partially cooked eggs.
Hard cheeses like cheddar and tasty are safe. Processed cheese, plain cream cheese and plain cottage cheese are fine if purchased sealed and stored in the fridge. The soft cheese mentioned above can be eaten if cooked (on a pizza, in a pasta bake, etc). While these are important issues – and if advice is not followed, it may have serious consequences, it’s also important to focus on the bigger problems of not eating enough fruit and, especially vegetables during pregnancy, as well as the problems that women can face if they gain weight too quickly or too much over their pregnancy.

I’m experiencing morning sickness for most of the day and wondered if there was anything I can do to help this?
Most women suffer from sickness early in their pregnancy. This is usually due to hormonal changes of pregnancy and can affect you at any time of the day. Symptoms usually disappear or become much milder by around 16 weeks. Some tips to help you manage your morning sickness include: eating small amounts every two hours as an empty stomach can cause nausea; avoiding smells and foods that make you feel worse; eating healthier carbohydrate foods such as dry toast, crackers, breakfast cereals or fruit; eating fewer fatty and sugary foods. Speak to your doctor or midwife if it goes on beyond the end of your first trimester.

What are the symptoms of listeria?
The symptoms of listeria can be similar to a stomach upset or as severe as food poisoning. If you are worried, please see your GP.

How can I prepare myself for breastfeeding, is there anything I should know?
A good healthy diet is the right start. Our antenatal classes incorporate a section on breastfeeding. You can also make an appointment to see one of our dietitians to discuss your diet ahead of breastfeeding or you can see a lactation consultant at our Breastfeeding Support Centre. To book in for an antenatal class, please call 07 3163 2505.

How can I help my cravings for ice cream and chocolate cakes, lately at times I feel like a crazy woman for these items.
There are no good or bad foods but when you have a 'sometimes' food, make sure you enjoy it! And don’t eat it for every meal!

How much weight is ok to gain during each trimester of my pregnancy? I'm not eating much at the moment but want to make sure I’m gaining the right amount.
The amount of weight to gain in pregnancy depends on how much you weigh or weighed before pregnancy. This advice comes from big studies from overseas and in Australia that have shown that, based on your pre-pregnancy BMI (or body mass index), there’s different amounts of weight to gain for the healthiest pregnancy possible. Gaining within your target range means you are at the lowest risk of high blood pressure, gestational diabetes, having to have a c-section because your baby has grown too big, and/or retaining weight after you deliver. It is also linked to how successful you will be with breastfeeding. Women who do not have enough weight are more likely to deliver their baby too early.
If you're a little unsure of whether you're putting on too much weight (or not enough), we have developed a Personalised Pregnancy Weight Tracker which should be in the booklet you received at your first visit. It was designed with a healthy pregnancy in mind and can be used to take the guesswork out of an important part of pregnancy. We're hoping to also get it online soon!

How can I increase my Iron absorption?
Improving iron absorption is achieved by consuming foods rich in iron with vitamin c. We always think of citrus but capsicum and tomato are also good. Iron rich foods are meats, chicken and fish and leafy green vegetables and fortified breads and cereals. For example, have a tomato and spinach sandwich or try a stir-fry with capsicum, leafy greens and meat. Or have a glass of orange juice with your breakfast.

Is the weight tracker available to people who aren't having their baby at Mater? I have some friends that might find it useful.
Women who aren't birthing at Mater can still see our dietitians at Mater Health and Wellness and the personalised pregnancy weight tracker is available to them in the booklet we give out.

Studies say Australian women are mildly deficient in Iodine which is essential for brain growth so do you recommend start using iodized salt or pregnancy supplements?
You are right, iodine is a nutrient we need in very small amounts; it is part of thyroxine, a hormone of metabolism, growth, and development (especially of a baby’s brain). We need more iodine when pregnant (and breastfeeding). Australian guidelines advise all pregnant women take a supplement that contains 150 µg of iodine. As well as taking a supplement you will get some iodine from your diet; breads/cereals, fruit, vegetables, and fish are good sources. Although iodised salt, as the name suggests, contains iodine, for overall health we don’t recommend adding salt to your diet.



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For urgent assessment at any stage of your pregnancy, please present to your nearest emergency centre or Mater Mothers’ 24/7 Pregnancy Assessment Centre in South Brisbane.

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