Nutrition matters for everyone at all stages of life. But it is especially important for you during your pregnancy. Your body is busy creating another human being at the same time the pregnancy might be giving you nausea, weird food cravings, and maybe some intense food dislikes. Your need for some extra nutrients will continue after your baby’s birth if you choose to breastfeed and as you recover from childbirth.
During your pregnancy, you need more of certain nutrients to ensure your health and that of your baby. For example, you need more iron to supply your baby and to ensure that you don’t become anemic. You need more calcium because your baby is developing teeth, bones, and muscle tissue. You need more folic acid to reduce the risk of birth defects of the spinal cord and brain.
To help make sure that you are getting enough of the nutrients you need, your healthcare provider will often prescribe prenatal vitamin and mineral supplements.
But where can you go if you want extra professional advice about your diet before, during, and after your pregnancy? While you certainly can get information and brochures about nutrition during pregnancy from your obstetrician or midwife, you might want to meet with a dietitian or nutritionist.
Dietitians and nutritionists are healthcare professional who work with patients to help them create a healthy realistic diet, one that works for them. They are the go-to people for information about nutrition and best practices for helping with many medical conditions, or in maintaining good health.
There is a difference between dietitians and nutritionists. How big that difference is depends on where you live. Dietitians have the letters RD or RDN after their name, which stands for registered dietitian or registered dietitian nutritionist. Dietitians are certified to treat health conditions, like diabetes, while nutritionists may or may not be certified.
In the United States, dietitians receive certification from the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, which allows them to use RD or RDN after their name. They have a bachelor’s degree or higher and have completed 1,200 hours of supervised practice. They have also passed a national examination and must keep up with continuing education.
The title nutritionist is a bit different. In some states, anyone can call themselves a nutritionist and may have little experience or have extensive training and experience. There are organizations that certify nutritionists, including the Clinical Nutrition Certification Board. A certified clinical nutritionist or a certified nutrition specialist can provide personalized recommendations for diet and exercise and can have a bachelor’s degree or higher in nutrition.
Because the requirements for being a nutritionist vary from state to state, ask your obstetrician, midwife, or general physician for a recommendation or referral to a nutritionist whom they trust and have worked with before. Often, hospitals will have a dietitian on staff.
There are dietitians who specialize in advising women before and during their pregnancies and while they are breastfeeding, but any dietitian can help you go over your eating habits and assist with any problems that you are having.
If you are experiencing a lot of nausea, heartburn, and vomiting during your pregnancy, a dietitian can show you what foods and beverages can help manage those symptoms. Dietary choices can also help you deal with fatigue, bloating, and constipation. If you are having food aversions during your pregnancy a dietitian can suggest alternatives that give you the nutrients you may be inadvertently skipping.
A dietitian will work with your healthcare provider to make sure that you are not at risk for any vitamin or mineral deficiencies. Dietitians can evaluate your food intake and look at information from blood tests to see what can be adjusted to get you into the best health.
Several complications that can occur during pregnancy can be prevented or minimized by working with a dietitian. Up to 10% of women can develop gestational diabetes, and it is more likely to recur if you had it during a previous pregnancy.
Your special nutritional needs don’t stop when you give birth. A healthy diet can help you recover more quickly after you give birth. During breastfeeding, a dietitian or certified nutritionist can help you determine whether you are taking in enough of the right nutrients and water to help you supply all the milk your baby needs. They can also help you get down to your pre-pregnancy weight quicker and safely.
Many health insurance companies will cover the fee for seeing a dietician or certified nutritionist, especially if your obstetrician or midwife gives you a referral. In some cases, your insurance company will require you to see a dietitian or nutritionist who is in their network, so it might be wise to call your insurance company before your meet with the dietitian.