Having been pregnant and watching what I eat (for the most part) for two trimesters now, I can’t lie – I’m looking forward to Christmas parties where I can sink my teeth into festive delights. However, Christmas foods are known to be rich and indulgent (probably why we love them so much) – not the best combination for pregnant mothers, who have to pay attention to proper nutrition.
Being pregnant over the holidays indeed makes Christmas extra special, but it won’t be as much fun having to rein yourself in while everyone around you is stuffing themselves with food. Fighting the temptation is hard enough on a daily basis, but at Christmas with so much of delicious food around? Ouch!
So how do we preggies ensure that we eat healthy at Christmas without dampening our festive mood? Here are some tips on smart festive feasting while you’re pregnant!
1. Know Your Nutritional Do’s & Don’ts
While you may usually be great at eating clean for your baby, Christmas delicacies can prove to be extra challenging to resist. Strengthen your conviction by brushing up on pregnancy nutritional guidelines this time of the year. It is important to know what you can and cannot eat so that you can choose wisely at the party table.
Foods to avoid:
- Raw and undercooked meats contain harmful bacteria and parasites that could cause serious infections, such as toxoplasmosis and listeriosis in pregnant women. The danger of these infections is that they affect the unborn baby too, with devastating effects such as neurological damage and hearing loss. Avoid sashimi, as well as smoked, dried and cured meats such as smoked duck and Parma ham.
- Blue and soft cheeses are also a source of listeriosis infections.
- Raw eggs are potential sources of salmonella infections and should be avoided too. Foods that may contain raw eggs include desserts and truffles.
- Alcohol is a toxin and directly affects your baby via the bloodstream. Consequences include miscarriage, premature birth, permanent damage and higher risk of your baby being stillborn.
- Caffeine is a stimulant and has been linked to birth defects. Foods containing caffeine include coffee, tea and chocolates.
Perhaps your Achilles heel is alcoholic drinks, and giving up the Christmas cocktail is simply Mission Impossible. Well, it depends on how far into your pregnancy you are. Here’s what our doctor says: “It is recommended that you do not drink alcohol during the first 3 months of pregnancy. After this time period, drinking small amounts of alcohol does not appear to be harmful for the unborn baby.” The advised amount? One small glass of alcohol (not more than 2 units), which is equivalent to 20 ml or 16g of pure alcohol.
So as long as you’re past the first trimester, a small glass should not pose too much harm to your baby. But if you’re still in the first trimester, or have been trying for a baby, it’s best to avoid alcohol completely.
What about coffee and chocolates? Is there no leeway around them? The daily cuppa is a habit that’s hard to kick, and while I don’t drink coffee, I like to enjoy a chocolate treat once in a while. A guideline to follow is to limit caffeine intake to below 200 mg per day, roughly one cup of coffee. Opt for dark chocolate as a healthier alternative to milk chocolate; avoid chocolate mousse though, as mousse contains raw eggs.
2. Adjust Your Eating Habits
During pregnancy, the enlarging womb could press onto the stomach, increasing acid reflux during which stomach acid is regurgitated into the oesophagus. This leads to a burning sensation in the chest, commonly known as heartburn. To prevent heartburn, you can avoid spicy food and beverages containing caffeine. In addition, take smaller portions of food as overeating can worsen heartburn symptoms.
For mothers in the first trimester, especially those struggling with morning sickness, overeating is probably the least of their concerns. To manage the nausea and have the appetite to enjoy some of that good food, consume smaller portions of food and drink plenty of water to stay well hydrated.
3. Find Out What’s On The Menu
Christmas is a time when people tend to overindulge. Healthy eating? Thrown out of the window! As much as you don’t want to be a foodie Grinch and make everybody eat the same things as you, your pregnancy means you can’t follow in their footsteps. Work around this by asking what will be on the menu beforehand. This will let you know whether there are dishes you need to abstain from, as well as whether they cover your nutritional needs.
If you’re planning a potluck, this information will also allow you to plan the dishes you’ll be bringing. For example, if the Christmas menu is laden with meats and carbohydrates such as pasta and desserts, you can bring a salad or a vegetable dish that will provide a healthy balance to the table. Fruits are also a good, fibre-rich option and are easily incorporated into well-received foods such as pies and sorbets.
Otherwise, if you know that food options will be limited, it may be a good idea to have a small meal at home before heading to the Christmas party. This not only fulfils your nutritional requirements, it also satiates you so that you’re less likely to steal a bite from the party table.
4. Get Your Doctor’s Clearance
Last but not least, consult your gynae if you’re still concerned. He or she knows your pregnancy best and will be able to best advise you if there are certain things you need to take note of.
I think I won’t give myself too much pressure and just eat a tiny bit of everything. It’s not often we get to enjoy the company of our loved ones and indulge in delicious festive food at the same time. Avoiding alcohol and caffeine won’t be difficult since I seldom consumed those even prior to my pregnancy, and since Christmas is a time for merrymaking and celebration, I’m going to enjoy myself (without going overboard with indulging). Happy Holidays!
Special thanks to Dr E.K. Tan, Senior Consultant, NUH Women’s Clinic for providing his medical expertise on this topic.