WORKING women who plan to start a family should pay more attention to their nutritional intake, since most of them eat out during the week.
A woman who eats well is less likely to have morning sickness, said Dr Peter Chew, senior consultant obstetrician and gynaecologist at Gleneagles Hospital. A nourishing diet also minimises the possibility of a miscarriage or stillbirth.
Good eating habits are all the more crucial for Singaporean women, considering that many do not go for health checks before trying for a baby, said Dr Chew. In his survey of about 300 women in June last year, nine in 10 did not go for preconception health checks.
Such a check would pick up on risk factors and nutritional deficiencies that could adversely affect a child in-utero.
Said Dr Chew: "While Singaporeans are not refugees, I see a lot of expectant women who were not conscious of their nutritional intake until they found out they were pregnant.
"It is important to start eating well before pregnancy to minimise the possibility of a miscarriage or stillbirth."
This is because a foetus' vital organs are formed during the first eight weeks of pregnancy, which is usually before the mother realises that she is pregnant, Dr Chew explained.
Poor nutrition can result in changes to foetal genetic material, which can lead to the development of chronic diseases, he added.
For those who constantly eat out, their doctors might recommend a health supplement to ensure adequate intake of folic acid, choline, iron, calcium and DHA, a type of omega-3 fatty acid.
Mr For Wei Chek, a nutrition and dietetics services manager at Mount Alvernia Hospital, pointed out that an expectant woman's diet prepares her not only for the physical demands of delivery, but also the successful production of breast milk for her newborn baby.
Those planning for a baby should increase their intake of folic acid and eat more fruit, vegetables and fortified cereal three months before they try to conceive.
Such healthy eating habits should also continue post-delivery, to provide for the mother's nutritional needs as well as that of the baby's, Mr For added. But he stressed that expectant women should not eat for two - they should take in only an extra 200 to 300 kilocalories per day, while lactating mums need only an extra 500 kilocalories a day.
Pregnant and lactating women need more protein. The former needs an extra 9g, about a serving of meat approximately half the size of one's palm.
Breastfeeding mums need an extra 25g of protein a day for the first six months, said Mr For.
To ensure a healthy weight gain, they should eat more nutrient-dense foods instead of calorie-dense foods. Red-bean soup is an example of a nutrient-dense food, while ice kacang is a calorie-dense food as it is laden with sugar.
Other better food choices include a chicken or egg sandwich, rather than roti prata.
Fresh fruit juice and low-fat milk are also better than soft drinks and coffee. Both pregnant and lactating women should also consume a serving of dairy product daily, said Mr For. This can be fresh low-fat milk, UHT milk or powdered milk.
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