With diminished stomach space, pre-delivery jitters and a mile-long to-do list, expectant moms may be tempted to slack off on healthy eating as delivery day nears. It's completely understandable; after all, you're busy, tired and you've got other things on your mind. Who has the time or energy to whip up healthy meals when you've got a birth plan to finish and diapers to buy?
The reality: While you may have zero interest in cooking as your due date nears, your nutrition is still as important as ever. According to registered dietitian Pamela Schoenfeld, good nutrition in the third trimester is vital to both mom and baby. Eating well in the final weeks of pregnancy gives you sustained energy for labor, increases the quality of your breastmilk, and helps you avoid third-trimester ailments like anemia, gestational diabetes, fatigue and swelling. And during the third trimester, your body is providing your baby with stores of essential nutrients, like calcium and iron, for its first months of life.
While you're waiting for your bundle of joy to make his or her debut, fill your plate with essential nutrients like these.
One of the biggest nutritional challenges in late pregnancy? Consuming enough iron to keep up with your blossoming body and your baby's demands. "In the third trimester, your blood volume increases, so iron is the name of the game," said Paola Mora, registered dietitian with the Division of Maternal Fetal Medicine at Montefiore Medical Center. When expectant moms are low on iron, they run the risk of anemia, a condition that causes fatigue and dizziness. "We also worry about hemorrhage during delivery, because anemic blood won't clot as well," said Mora.
Your own well-being isn't all that's at stake: Your own iron consumption affects your baby's health, too. "A mom provides her baby with full stores of iron for the first six months of life," said Mora. And research shows that pregnant women with low iron are more likely to deliver prematurely and have low-birth-weight infants.
A typical prenatal vitamin contains 27 milligrams of iron - 150 percent of the iron you need - so keep on taking it. In addition, aim to consume at least three sources of iron per day.
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Red meat, low-fat poultry, wheat bran, enriched rice, seeds and beans are good sources. Maximize iron absorption by consuming it with foods high in vitamin C.
PROTEIN: THE BABY BUILDER
Protein is essential throughout pregnancy, but it's especially important in the final stages of pregnancy, when your baby is growing rapidly and adding layers of cute baby fat. The amino acids in protein form the basic building block for cell growth, fueling your body and organs as they grow to accommodate the needs of your baby. Consuming enough protein also helps to stabilize blood sugar, which is especially important to women at risk for gestational diabetes, noted Schoenfeld.
Pregnant women should aim for 70 grams of protein per day, about 35 grams more than the recommended daily limit for non-pregnant gals.
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Meat and poultry, dairy foods and legumes are protein powerhouses. A medium-sized chicken breast has 30 grams of protein, 1/2 cup of tofu packs 20 grams, and 1/2 cup of cottage cheese has 15 grams.
Late pregnancy is not the time to skimp on your calcium: All of the calcium in your baby's skeleton is laid down during the third trimester, said Michael Hobaugh, M.D., Ph.D., chief of medical staff at La Rabida Children's Hospital. Consuming enough calcium also helps to get breastfeeding off to the best possible start; in order to produce the perfect food for your little one, your body will pull calcium from your own bones if your own stores are insufficient.
Dietitians recommend 800 milligrams of calcium daily for pregnant women.
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Dairy foods like yogurt, milk and cheese all contain at least 300 milligrams of calcium per serving. Many non-dairy foods are also calcium rich, including salmon, oatmeal, tofu, rhubarb, spinach, almonds and calcium-fortified orange juice.
While you're boning up on calcium, don't forget its super sidekick: magnesium. This mineral aids calcium absorption and performs a host of other important functions. Magnesium helps build and repair body tissues, relaxes muscles, eases leg cramps and may help prevent preterm labor.
Pregnant women should consume 350-400 milligrams per day; breastfeeding moms should aim for 300-350 milligrams per day.
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Black beans, artichokes, barley, pumpkin seeds, oat bran and almonds all provide at least 100 milligrams of magnesium per serving.
During the third trimester, your baby's brain is burgeoning, adding mass and forming millions of neural connections. So consuming enough DHA - linked to better cognition in infants in numerous studies - is as important as ever, said registered and licensed dietitian Gina Hill, Ph.D., associate professor of nutritional sciences at Texas Christian University.
The Journal of Perinatal Medicine recommends 200 milligrams of DHA per day during pregnancy.
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Now that many grocery-store staples such as eggs, milk and juice are fortified with DHA, it's not hard to meet your daily requirement. Hill likes expectant moms to have two servings of fish per week. Many obstetricians now recommend DHA supplementation; check with yours to see if you should pop a daily DHA pill.
Malia Jacobson is a nationally published health journalist and author of "Sleep Tight, Every Night: Helping Toddlers and Preschoolers Sleep Well Without Tears, Tricks, or Tirades."