If you have a restricted diet, either by choice or for medical reasons, you will probably be more aware than most people of what you eat. However, you may need to make some changes when you are pregnant in order to ensure that you'are obtaining the correct nutrients in the correct proportions to meet the nutritional needs of both yourself and your baby.
vegetarian and vegan diets
It is not true that a vegetarian or vegan diet is bad for your baby. Like any pregnant woman, you need a balanced diet that supplies all the nutrition that you and your baby require, and you only need to make a few changes to your normal eating habits. Meat, fish and dairy foods supply protein, vitamins, minerals and essential fatty acids. To get the correct balance from a vegan or vegetarian diet simply takes a little ingenuity.
Essential amino acids
Proteins are made up of substances called amino acids, eight of which cannot be manufactured in the body and are called essential amino acids. Vegetarians who eat dairy products and eggs will get all eight from these foods. Apart from buckwheat, quinoa, amaranth, soya beans and soya-based products such as tofu, no single plant source of protein contains all the essential amino acids, so non-dairy vegetarians and vegans need to ensure that they eat a mixture each type every day.
You can boost your iron absorption from plant sources, such as beans, lentils, nuts, breads, fortified breakfast cereals, pasta, spinach, watercress and dried fruit, by eating them with foods rich in vitamin C, such as a glass of orange juice. Eggs also contain iron.
Essential fatty acids
Sesame, sunflower and pumpkin seeds, linseed (flax seed) and walnuts are all rich sources of omega-3 fatty acids. Sesame and sunflower seeds, linseed and walnuts also provide omega-6 fatty acids.
Vitamins and minerals
By eating a balanced vegetarian or vegan diet you should get enough vitamins and minerals. If you are unsure, ask your doctor, who may suggest a suitable supplement to take during pregnancy.
Choose cereals and breads fortified with vitamins and minerals. If you are not eating dairy foods, you must obtain sufficient calcium elsewhere - try fortified soya milk, soya yoghurts and tofu instead. Vitamin B12 is difficult to obtain in a vegan diet so eat foods such as yeast extract and fortified breakfast cereals and soya products, or ask for a supplement with vitamin B12.
If you suffer from a food allergy or intolerance, you should avoid eating the food in question while you are pregnant or breast-feeding because you could pass on the allergy to your baby. If the baby's father, anyone in your immediate families or any of your older children has eczema, asthma, hay fever or a medically diagnosed food allergy, avoid peanuts and foods containing them while you are pregnant or breast-feeding.
Diets for diabetes
For any person suffering from diabetes, managing blood-sugar levels is essential. In early pregnancy, this can be difficult because pregnancy sickness may prevent you from eating regularly. It is important to ask for advice about adjusting your calorie intake and eating habits to suit your changing requirements. If you develop diabetes during your pregnancy (see gestational diabetes, page 81), you should be referred to a specialist team that includes a dietician.