Until recently it was considered that nutrition should be given attention only in the second half of pregnancy, when the baby gains the most weight. Thus, it was thought that the importance of nutrition during pregnancy increases with the fetus, which seemed logical at the time, and was confirmed by several studies. It was also a practical thing since pregnant women received no prenatal care until about the second half of pregnancy. This situation is about to change due to new research in the field, the care and interest of the woman for the preconception periods and the first trimester of pregnancy.
Nutrition during the first months of pregnancy is much more important than previously thought. This is an extraordinary asset because women have begun to know and apply it since the preconception.
Nutrition from the preconceptional period and the first months of pregnancy is essential, as studies have shown that the effects of nutrition during these periods affect the formation and development of fetal tissues and thus its health after birth. Since most tissues and organs are formed in the first months of pregnancy, the idea of waiting until pregnancy is confirmed to make the necessary changes in nutrition would mean wasting precious time. For the benefits of a healthy diet to be visible, it must start from the preconceptional period.
Thus, when the pregnancy is confirmed the woman's body will already be ready to cope with the first months of pregnancy. This article presents the fetal development from the first months of pregnancy and the changes that occur in the body of the future mother. It will also give specific recommendations regarding the nutrition of the woman during the preconception period and the first trimester of pregnancy.
The first two months of pregnancy
Each being begins its life from a single cell. This period, however, lasts very little. Shortly after conception, the fertilized cell begins to divide, forming new cells. By birth it will multiply billions of times. But not every new cell becomes an exact replica of the first. Although all cells contain the same genetic material, cell groups will specialize in a particular function. This specialization allows them to form tissues and organs. The brain will thus be able to memorize and judge, our body will learn to digest food and eliminate residues, fight infections, regenerate bones and perform thousands of other functions precisely because of the differences between these cell groups.
Not all cell groups specialized in a particular function will form tissues and organs simultaneously. Each tissue and organ will appear at a scheduled time. The spine appears 23 days after conception; at 30 days a group of cells will form that will form the heart, which also starts to beat weakly. The hands, feet and fingers are also formed within the first 30 days after conception. Within two weeks, the cells that will form the liver, pancreas, stomach, ears, eyes and lungs appear. All these spectacular changes occur before the embryo exceeds 5 grams and the size of a coin. Each tissue or organ develops according to a strict and well-established program.
For all tissues and organs to develop properly, their "ingredients" must be present at the time of formation. If there is not enough oxygen, water, glucose, vitamins and minerals at the time of tissue formation then their development will be deficient. Exposure to drugs (anticonvulsants, antibiotics or chemotherapies), toxic agents in the environment (such as DDT, mercury, lead), radiation, infectious agents, alcohol and increased amounts of certain nutrients can lead to abnormal fetal development.
The action of these substances during the formation of tissues and organs can lead to abortion, malformations or alteration of the physical and mental development of the fetus. Exposure to these substances is considered the most dangerous between implantation (approximately five days after conception) and the first eight weeks after conception.
Once formed, the tissues and organs begin to develop, but the most important increase in weight of the fetus occurs during the last months of pregnancy. Also, after the tissues and organs have formed, they are no longer as vulnerable to harmful factors. The action of harmful substances in the last trimester of pregnancy, such as different toxic substances or poor nutrition, no longer causes malformations, but causes the formation of sub-sized organs with abnormal function. Because there are many factors that can influence the development of tissues and organs, it is almost impossible to say which of them are responsible for a certain malformation. Not every pregnancy is affected in the same way by exposure to harmful substances. Trying to isolate a certain factor that has caused a certain fetal anomaly is a futile exercise.
Despite fetal susceptibility in the first months of pregnancy, most children are born healthy and normal. The chances of a woman giving birth to a healthy baby become excellent if she does everything possible for her during pregnancy. The main purpose is for the fetus to have a more harmonious and healthy development. The result, however, cannot be guaranteed.
Modifications of the organism
Modifications of the body during pregnancy
A woman's body goes through major changes during pregnancy. These changes occur throughout pregnancy and begin shortly after conception. In the first weeks of gestation, the hormones responsible for implanting the embryo on the wall of the uterus, for the growth of the uterus and the placenta, as well as for the expansion of the mother's circulatory system are abundantly produced. This avalanche of hormones has side effects. They are responsible for breast augmentation, cramps, nausea, vomiting, changes in taste and odor, all appearing in the first months of pregnancy. Around the third month, when nausea and vomiting disappear, fatigue occurs due to blood volume expansion. It usually takes several weeks until the woman's body gets used to this blood surplus.
In the first half of pregnancy, when the fetus is still small, a number of changes occur in the maternal body that lead to fat and nutrient accumulation. The direct consequence is the increase of the fatty layer (fat), so that most women feel that they become fat and not pregnant. As the pregnancy evolves a large part of women will no longer store fat, but will start using those already accumulated. The fat layer grows around the thighs, breasts and trunk. It is important to remember that fat surplus during the first months of pregnancy is a preprogrammed phenomenon.
Changes in appetite
Most women notice that their appetite increases during the first months of pregnancy. It seems that they are biologically programmed to gain weight before the baby needs this surplus. Weight gain may be greater than anticipated, as many of the future mothers eat to ease the feeling of nausea and vomiting, but sometimes they eat because they are simply hungry.
Weight gain in the first months of pregnancy worries most women. Probably the most common phrase of this period is "I will reach a ton if I continue to eat at this pace", although this is not true. Appetite during pregnancy has periods of exacerbation and stagnation. Thus, one week may be dominated by permanent hunger, followed by another week in which the woman loses interest in food. So hunger and weight during pregnancy vary.
The above applies to tasks with normal evolution and which are not affected by restrictive nutritional practices, appetite disorders or exaggerated fear of weight gain. Every woman is worried about weight gain during pregnancy. However, a reasonable weight gain, between 12 and 15 kg, is of particular importance for fetal growth and development.
Diet in the preconception period and in the first trimester of pregnancy
A healthy diet, which prepares the body for a future pregnancy, includes the following:
- food intake should be in recommended quantities
- regular tables (no tables should be skipped)
- administration of at least 0.4 mg of folic acid daily
- avoiding alcohol consumption
- avoiding the abuse of nutritional supplements
- every meal must be enjoyed.
These basic rules also apply in the first two months of pregnancy with one mention: the future mother must gain weight in this period from 1 to 2 kg.
Follow the recommendations - food pyramid
The cornerstone of a healthy diet is the selection of a variety of foods that, together, provide energy and nutrients for the mother and baby. Because many components of food are not found in nutritional supplements, the healthy diet is mainly based on food.
The best guide available, which promotes a healthy diet for the preconception and first trimester of pregnancy is "Food Pyramid". This guide "builds" your daily diet from the bottom of the food chain upwards. The food pyramid provides an interval of the number of meals that can be served on a valid day for each food group. The lowest number of meals is recommended for people with minimal caloric needs, and the maximum number of meals is for those with a high calorie requirement, such as very active, growing, pregnant or breastfeeding women.
The snacks are smaller in quantity than the main meals. The basis of the Food Pyramid is for cereals, such as bread, rice and pasta, in 6 to 11 daily snacks. To emphasize their importance, vegetables (three to five snacks a day) and fruits (two to four snacks daily) form the second largest section of the food pyramid. Milk and dairy products, meat and vegetable proteins occupy a smaller space in the pyramid, as the number of recommended snacks is smaller (two or three snacks daily) compared to cereals, vegetables or fruits. The basic products should be chosen for each of this food group. For example, products made from whole-grain flour are preferred to refined flour, and fresh meat is preferred to processed meat.
At the top of the Food Pyramid is a small triangle in which the fats, oils and sweets are placed. This does not mean that products such as butter, margarine, salad dressings or cakes cannot be part of a healthy diet. The fact that they occupy a small space in the food pyramid just means that they have to be a small part of the daily diet.
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