The role of nutrition in pregnancy and fetal development

The role of nutrition in pregnancy is vital for fetal development. Picture: Ivan Samkov/Pexels

The role of nutrition in pregnancy is vital for fetal development. Picture: Ivan Samkov/Pexels

Published Mar 20, 2024


As someone who's navigated the roller-coaster of pregnancy, I can tell you that when it comes to expecting a little one, what you eat is crucial. It's not just about satisfying those wild cravings, it's about fuelling both you and the tiny human you're growing, with the right stuff.

Nutrition during those nine months is a game-changer, affecting not just the health of the mom-to-be but also playing a starring role in the baby's development.

It's no secret that a balanced diet is key for the proper development of the baby. Nutrients like folic acid, iron, calcium, and protein are essential for the healthy growth of the fetal brain and body.

For instance, studies have shown that folic acid, a type of B vitamin, can help prevent neural tube defects, underscoring the vital role of nutrition in fetal development.

But it's not just about the baby. The person carrying that little bundle of joy undergoes a whole host of changes, and their body needs extra nutrition to handle it all without compromising the health of the expecting parent and that of the baby.

It's a delicate balance to keep both mom and baby in tip-top shape.

The fear of complications that could jeopardize the well-being of both the parent and the baby is a common concern.

Adequate nutrition can help prevent pregnancy-related complications such as gestational diabetes and pre-eclampsia, which can have long-term health implications for both the mother and the child.

However, it's not always easy to focus on eating well when you're battling feelings of sickness, and fatigue, and the thought of spending time in the kitchen feels overwhelming.

Also, in a country where consumers are familiar with the concept of "tightening your belt" to navigate a cash-strapped economy, the challenge of making nutritious food choices becomes even more challenging.

Find ways to repurpose and use leftovers. Picture: Tamilles Esposito/Pexels

With the average South African spending around R1 403 per month on groceries, the pressure to balance other monthly expenses while striving to make healthy food choices can be complicated.

Recognising these challenges, Nelisiwe Xundu, Consumer Marketing Lead for Personal Health Africa, offers actionable tips to help expectant mothers maintain a healthy diet without breaking the bank.

By making strategic choices and using available resources, mothers-to-be can ensure that their growing baby receives all the essential nutrients needed for a healthy start in life.l

Plan your meals

Planning your meals in advance will help you make sure you have all the necessary ingredients, avoid impulse buys, and stay within your budget.

You can create a budget-friendly shopping list by including affordable yet nutritious items that provide all the nutrients for your growing baby and provide satiety for the mum.

Look at simple, cost-effective meals by adopting small habits like avoiding pre-packed portions or doing a weekly scan of supermarket savings to stretch your rand further.

Having a written list makes it easier to analyse your food intake and will help you avoid food and financial waste.

Find ways to re-purpose and use leftovers. For example, leftover vegetables can be turned into a stir-fry or soup, and leftover meat can be added to salads or sandwiches.

Keep it home-grown

Local markets and street vendors often offer fresh produce at lower prices compared to supermarkets. By shopping at these places, you can save money while still getting fresh and nutritious ingredients for your meals.

Consider planting a small kitchen garden where you can grow your own fruits, vegetables, and herbs which can be a cost-effective way to supplement your diet with fresh and nutritious foods.

Fruits and vegetables are packed with essential vitamins and minerals such as vitamins A, B, C and E; folic acid and calcium are important for a healthy pregnancy.

Your baby is what you eat

Protein is an essential nutrient during pregnancy, but it can also be expensive. To ensure you are getting enough protein without breaking the bank, opt for affordable protein sources such as beans, lentils, eggs, and canned fish like sardines or pilchards.

Looking after your health during pregnancy doesn't have to break the bank. One way to do this is by avoiding processed foods, which can be pricey and not very nutritious.

Instead, focus on affordable staple foods like maize meal, rice, and potatoes. These options are easy on the wallet and provide the carbohydrates needed for energy.

Staying hydrated is also crucial, especially when expecting. Water should be your go-to drink, as sugary beverages can be costly and don't offer much in the way of nutrition.

For additional support, consider downloading the Philips Pregnancy+ app. This handy resource is designed to guide expectant parents through each stage of pregnancy, offering valuable tips and information, shared Xundu.

Xundu champions the importance of nourishing your body during pregnancy.

"We've been supporting families for over 100 years, and we understand the significance of providing the right nutrients for the health and well-being of both you and your baby.

“By focusing on specific food groups, managing portion sizes, and sticking to a budget, you can ensure that you and your baby receive the essential nutrients needed for optimal health and development, she said.