How Your Pregnancy Diet Can Ease Side Effects, Complications

16/10/2015 8:11 AM IST | Updated 15/07/2016 8:25 AM IST
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This article is from The Swaddle.


By Dr. Ratnaraje Krishna Thar

Pregnancy can be an uncomfortable business. There is a litany of conditions you can develop before your child is born - most merely troublesome, but some, dangerous. If you know what to watch for, and how to address it, you can have a much more relaxed and comfortable nine months.


Side effects are not life-threatening for you or your baby, but they can make life unpleasant. However, you can often alleviate them through simple changes to your pregnancy diet.

Nausea and heartburn

Often grouped under the blanket term "morning sickness," nausea and acidity result from your body's general adaptation to the presence of a fetus. Consume small, frequent meals; eat dry foods or easily-digested carbohydrates (like bananas); drink fluids between, rather than with, meals; and avoid fatty and spicy foods. (Learn more about morning sickness on The Swaddle!)


No one likes to talk about this, but it's a hard fact of life. As the growing fetus puts more pressure on your organs, and your hormones naturally relax your muscles, you may have more difficult bowel movements. Physical inactivity only exacerbates this problem. Increasing your fluid intake, doing light exercise, and sleeping properly can help alleviate the feeling. Eating foods that are natural laxatives, such as whole grains, fruits, and vegetables, will also help alleviate this problem.

Leg cramps

A painful seizing of leg muscles is common during the second and third trimester. There can be many causes, but one is an imbalance in your calcium and phosphorus levels. Drinking milk, which is rich in calcium, has been known to help alleviate cramps. Also, try eating more magnesium-rich foods, such as whole grains, dried fruits, nuts, and seeds. If cramps persist, discuss a magnesium supplement with your physician.

Edema (Swelling)

Mild edema, or swelling, around your hands, feet, and ankles is normal during pregnancy. As the fetus grows, it puts pressure on your veins. Excess fluid pools in your limbs and seeps into the surrounding tissue. In other words, you retain water. There are many ways to combat the swelling and discomfort - including light exercise - but as far as diet goes, avoid high-sodium, processed foods and resist adding salt to meals. This is especially true if your swelling is accompanied by high blood pressure or hypertension. Also, make sure you are drinking enough water - it actually helps you retain less fluid.

Note that while slight swelling in your extremities is common, sudden swelling or puffiness around your face or eyes could be a sign of preeclampsia, a more serious condition (see below). Also, sudden, rapid swelling of only one leg could be a sign of a blood clot. If you experience either symptom, contact your physician immediately.


Complications can endanger pregnancies. Your pregnancy diet can't solve a complication once it occurs, but it can help prevent some of these serious conditions from developing.


Anemia is by far the biggest complication for Indian women. It occurs when a person lacks hemoglobin, the part of the blood that carries oxygen to the body's organs. For most people, this is caused by a diet that contains too little iron, the nutrient your body requires to make hemoglobin. Pregnant women generally experience lower hemoglobin levels, and an iron-deficient diet can make iron levels dangerously low. I've written a full article on anemia - and how to prevent it - but in sum: It's extremely important for women - especially vegetarians - to follow an iron-rich pregnancy diet.

Calcium deficiency

Your baby requires lots of calcium before and after delivery in order to grow properly. If your pregnancy diet does not contain enough for both of you, the fetus will draw calcium from your body's own stores, weakening your bones and impairing critical functions, like circulation. This leaching of calcium also occurs after birth, as your body produces milk. Dairy is the best source of calcium, so drink lots of milk and eat yogurt or cheeses (but not soft cheeses) regularly.

At the same time, also be sure to get enough Vitamin D, which helps your body absorb the calcium. A daily 20-25 minute walk outdoors in the sunshine will do the trick, and has the bonus of keeping you fit. You can also include Vitamin D-rich foods - such as canned tuna, sardines, or egg yolks - in your pregnancy diet, or discuss taking a Vitamin D supplement with your doctor.

Preeclampsia and eclampsia

These different degrees of pregnancy-induced hypertension aren't directly caused by diet. Rather, your pregnancy diet can lead to conditions that put you at a higher risk. For example, if you have a history of high blood pressure or diabetes prior to pregnancy or if you're obese, you are more likely to develop preeclampsia or eclampsia. Eating healthy meals -before and during pregnancy - that are low-sodium, low-fat, and (in the case of diabetics) that properly manage your sugar level, can help you avoid these serious complications.

There are many symptoms of preeclampsia and eclampsia, but note that a sudden puffiness or swelling around the face or eyes, excessive vomiting, and rapid weight gain over 1-2 days should not be mistaken for more innocuous, diet-related side effects like edema, morning sickness, or natural weight gain.

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