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Building healthier babies

January 24, 2017

Healthy and happy! A smiling Jennifer Sturm holds her nearly six-month-old son, Barrett. Sturm took a prenatal nutrition workshop early in her pregnancy to learn what foods are safe for her and baby.

Prenatal nutrition classes deliver mealtime savvy to expectant moms

Story by: Lisa Squires

“You are what mom eats” pretty much says it all when you’re an unborn baby who relies on mom’s meal choices for all your nutrition and development.

This is where Alberta Health Services (AHS) prenatal nutrition classes can offer valuable information and dietary insights to moms-to-be.

“Nutrition information changes, so it’s good to get a refresher even if you’ve taken the class before,” says Jennifer Struble, a registered dietitian with AHS Nutrition Services, who provides free monthly Healthy Eating for Pregnancy classes to expectant moms in Medicine Hat.

“We want to make sure mom and baby are the healthiest they can be during pregnancy and after, and nutrition is a big part of that.”

For expectant moms, there are many nutrition considerations. Struble says that during pregnancy a woman’s immune system is compromised, making both her and baby more susceptible to food-borne illnesses or food poisoning.

“An unborn baby’s immune system is not developed enough to fight off bacteria and infections,” says Struble.

With this fact in mind, getting the most up-to-date prenatal information was important to AHS Public Health Nurse Jennifer Sturm, who gave birth to her baby boy, Barrett, last July 31.

Sturm registered for a class shortly after learning she was pregnant. She didn’t trust online sources, and wanted to sort fact from fiction. 

“I didn’t know pregnant women should not be eating rare steak … and I love rare steak,” says Sturm, who learned rare or undercooked meats can carry food-borne illness. Prior to her class, she was eating it two or three times a week.

“I also had no idea one eight-ounce steak is your entire serving of meat for the day, or that I was eating way too much meat,” she adds.

Sturm felt equal surprise to learn her favourite herbal tea, which contains chicory root, was also not recommended for expectant mothers. Some herbal teas can cause adverse effects during pregnancy; others simply don’t present enough evidence about their safety. 

These types of information, as well as changes to nutritional guidelines for pregnant women, are covered in the Healthy Eating for Pregnancy classes.

Some may also be surprised to learn, says Struble, that the guidelines on eating soft cheeses while pregnant have changed.

“We encourage women to stay away from anything unpasteurized, as well as soft or semi-soft pasteurized cheeses like brie, feta, blue vein cheese or Havarti,” she says, adding that these cheeses bring a higher risk of listeria contamination.

Struble offers free monthly Healthy Eating for Pregnancy classes to groups of six to 12 pregnant women. Partners and support people are also encouraged to attend. The two-hour interactive session teaches participants about prenatal multivitamin/mineral supplements, healthy pregnancy weight gain, food safety, how much food to eat and strategies for managing common concerns like nausea, vomiting, constipation and heartburn.

While dietary education is important, the classes also give moms more peace of mind.

“I was anxious at the beginning of my pregnancy,” says Sturm. “Meeting with the dietitian put my mind at ease. No matter what your education background is, we can all benefit from learning something new.”

For more information about prenatal nutrition, visit: www.healthyparentshealthychildren.ca/. To register for a prenatal nutrition workshop, please contact your local public health office and ask to speak with a dietitian.