Pregnancy comes with many questions, and it can be challenging to make sure you're making the right choices, especially regarding your health. Eating the best foods for your health and your baby's growth is one of the main things you should be sure about when you're pregnant. By guiding you to make the best choices for your body and your baby, a pregnancy nutritionist can help you have the healthiest pregnancy possible.
Although you may have encountered nutrition advice from other sources in the past, a registered dietitian nutritionist specializing in pregnancy is the ideal professional to help you during this critical time. Unlike most fitness coaches and weight loss influencers, pregnancy nutritionists have completed extensive training to understand what foods are safe and provide the optimal nutrition for a mother and her growing baby.
Read more about how a nutritionist can promote a healthy pregnancy by helping you understand the best food choices for your body.
How a pregnancy nutritionist works with you
A nutritionist is an excellent resource for anyone who is expecting, whether it's your first birth or your fourth. Every pregnancy is unique, and a nutritionist trained to help pregnant women can help you understand the best foods for your body and growing baby. Your nutritionist will consider your health history, food allergies, and other relevant factors to develop a nutrition plan that fits your needs. A nutritionist can provide an overview of healthy meals and snacks for pregnancy and advise you about other prenatal health topics.
Your nutritionist will advise you to avoid certain deli meats, artificial sweeteners, added sugars, unpasteurized milk, soft cheeses like goat cheese, and more. They'll also give you a good idea of delicious foods you can add to your diet, like leafy greens and healthy snacks. They can also suggest new ways to incorporate nutritious ingredients into your pregnancy diet.
Your nutritionist may recommend specific vitamin and mineral supplements to ensure you get enough micronutrients, such as iron. If your doctor recommends weight gain during your pregnancy, your nutritionist will be able to advise you on the safest way to gain weight and inform you about ideal portion sizes. They may recommend certain high-protein foods for a healthy lifestyle and balanced diet.
Qualities to look for in a pregnancy nutritionist or dietitian
There are a few things you should keep in mind when you begin to look for a nutritionist or dietitian. Most importantly, there are certain qualities that a nutritionist should have to help you achieve success in your wellness journey, especially during pregnancy.
A compassionate dietitian or nutritionist will understand why you're seeking professional nutrition guidance, and they'll want to give you the tools you need to succeed and reach your goals. You deserve to work with a dietitian who roots for you to succeed because they view you with compassion and not just as another source of income. Working with a kind and caring nutritionist makes you more likely to get in-depth help centered on your specific challenges and needs.
Being a good listener is another quality that all nutritionists and dietitians should have. Unfortunately, some busy professionals may overlook or diminish your concerns. The best nutritionists and dietitians will address your fears and help you find ways to overcome them. They'll give you the information you need to move forward in your health journey with confidence and purpose. If you're working with a nutritionist who does not validate your feelings, concerns, or fears, you should consider finding someone else.
Good customer service
If you find a nutritionist or dietitian who is a good listener, they probably also provide excellent customer service. You want someone who can communicate well with you and treat you with kindness and respect while giving you the necessary information for your pregnancy. Ultimately, you are paying for specific knowledge and service that will benefit your health. The nutritionist or dietitian who provides that expertise should treat you with respect and kindness and go the extra mile to ensure your needs are met.
Knowledgeable and research-backed
Another essential quality for nutritionists or dietitians is whether they're knowledgeable and committed to finding the most relevant and up-to-date information. You want to be able to trust your nutritionist because your well-being is vital to supporting the health of your growing baby. Your nutritionist should know the best pregnancy nutrition practices and how to adapt those for your situation. It's vital that if your nutritionist doesn't know something, they spend the time and effort to find answers for you. You should be able to trust your nutritionist to know where to find the sound and well-researched information whenever you have questions or concerns.
In addition to providing guidance and support, your nutritionist should have the right educational background and training to help you achieve optimal health in your pregnancy journey. Most nutritionists or dietitians must have at least a bachelor's degree in nutrition, and many will also need a particular emphasis on prenatal nutrition. Working with someone with the proper credentials is one of the best ways to promote a healthy pregnancy.
Health information and medical research are constantly evolving, adapting, and changing. Your nutritionist should be adaptable in several ways. First, they should adjust their practices to incorporate up-to-date information and research. Your pregnancy nutritionist or dietitian should also be willing to adapt the health and nutrition plan they've made for you based on your feedback and progress. Nothing should be set in stone, and your nutritionist must be willing to work to ensure you're getting the best health advice for your unique pregnancy.
Your nutritionist or dietitian will likely have several clients they're working with, not just you. To juggle these responsibilities, your nutritionist must have excellent organization skills to ensure you get the correct information for your specific pregnancy. If you have food allergies or your doctor has instructed you to avoid certain foods, your nutritionist must give you a plan that accommodates those needs. If they aren't organized and don't spend the time to understand your unique circumstances, you and your baby could find yourselves in a dangerous situation, especially if food allergies are involved.
Other pregnancy professionals who can help meet your nutrition goals
Pregnancy nutritionists and dietitians are not the only professionals who can help women achieve optimal health in their pregnancies through specific nutrition goals. Other professionals also work with pregnant women and can give nutritional advice, though these professional roles differ from nutritionists in certain ways.
Your gynecologist or obstetrician
Your OB-GYN will be able to answer detailed medical questions regarding your pregnancy, your health, and your baby's health. While your obstetrician will provide you with knowledge regarding your overall health and nutrition, they likely don't have the time to provide you with a tailored plan to meet your nutrition goals. Your doctor can give you a generic list of foods that all pregnant women should avoid, whereas a nutritionist can create a plan tailored to your body and your pregnancy.
Midwives are very knowledgeable about best practices regarding pregnancy. A midwife will likely have a good idea of what foods to avoid and what foods to incorporate to get the necessary nutrients you need for a growing baby. However, a midwife may have limited knowledge on specific ways to help you meet your nutritional goals. A nutritionist will help you set realistic objectives and decide how to achieve them.
Doulas are trained to help women through pregnancy by offering emotional, physical, and informational support. A doula can help expectant mothers before, during, and after labor and delivery. Doulas provide valuable assistance, but they differ from nutritionists in a few significant ways. A nutritionist trained to help pregnant women will focus on providing an individualized nutrition plan for each pregnant woman. In contrast, a doula will primarily help expectant mothers with their emotional and physical needs.
Watch out for these red flags when considering pregnancy coaches, dietitians, and nutritionists
Your health is essential, especially when you're pregnant. You need someone you can trust to help you get the nutrition you need to thrive when pregnant. If you're interested in learning more about the role of a pregnancy nutritionist, read more here.
On the other hand, here are a few red flags you should watch out for when seeking professional guidance during pregnancy.
Success linked to specific products
In your search for a nutritionist, you may come across companies or individuals guaranteeing optimal health and nutrition if you use their products, such as nutritional supplements. These companies often push expensive (and sometimes useless) products by promising success if clients purchase them and use them throughout their pregnancy. These companies see potential clients as dollar signs and try to capitalize on a mother's desire to do what is best for her growing baby, no matter the cost.
Sounds too good to be true
Some companies may say what they think clients want to hear to get them to sign up for their programs, use their products, or commit to their services. Rather than spending the time to help women achieve optimal pregnancy health, they simply know what to say to reel in new clients. These companies know the best phrases, promises, and buzz words to use when trying to catch the eye of potential clients. Many companies will guarantee success in achieving nutritional goals with little to no work on your part.
This is unrealistic and potentially dangerous. If something seems too good to be true, it might be. Make sure to read real customer testimonials and reviews to avoid companies that sound too good to be true.
Advice isn't backed by scientific research
Some companies may try to get clients to sign up for their services by using trendy tactics that aren't backed by scientific research. Pregnancy nutrition is constantly evolving, but that doesn't necessarily mean that every current trend is well researched and accurate. Some companies jump on the trend bandwagon to attract potential clients by demonizing certain food groups or pushing alleged superfoods. These practices don't always have the necessary research to back up their purported benefits, so it's best to avoid a company that promotes health fads that could be potentially dangerous for you and your baby.
Use of unregulated terms
Another red flag to keep an eye out for is a company that uses unregulated terms and makes claims and promises. These terms appeal to a client's emotions, and anyone making these claims isn't relying on scientific outcomes. Some companies will use phrases like "miracle cure" or "immunity boost," even though these aren't related to measurable results.
There are many ways that companies use unregulated terms to play on a pregnant woman's emotions. Suppose a company uses these terms without any medically-supported claims. In that case, it's a clear red flag to avoid this company and instead find one that uses real nutritional, medically-safe practices.
Rigid or generic nutrition plans
To save time, some companies and nutrition professionals may use generic plans that aren't specific to your pregnancy or health needs. It's best to avoid a nutritionist who gives you a plan without understanding your needs first. If your nutritionist gives you a plan in your first trimester and doesn't adjust the plan as your baby grows and develops, you may want to reconsider working with them. You should avoid any company or nutritionist suggesting a program before discussing your nutritional concerns or needs. These steps are crucial for a nutritionist or dietitian to understand your goals and objectives.
What is the cost breakdown of working with a pregnancy nutritionist or dietitian?
If you decide to work with a nutritionist or dietitian, it may be tempting to choose the least expensive program available. However, considering the preventative costs of a nutritionist compared to the reactive costs of pregnancy complications, you can save money by working with a highly qualified nutrition professional and staying healthy.
Preventative cost: Taking the proper supplements
Healthy food choices help mothers get the proper nutrients during pregnancy. Foods like olive oil, citrus fruits, green leafy vegetables, sweet potatoes, and brown rice contain vital nutrients such as folic acid that are essential for prenatal health and fetal development.
However, even the healthiest diet may not meet all of your nutritional needs. You can always speak to your nutritionist about taking a prenatal vitamin or supplement. These supplements are an excellent way to get enough essential nutrients like calcium and iron. A nutritionist or dietitian can advise you on the best supplements for your baby's development. Taking the right supplements during pregnancy can help lower the risk of complications and congenital disabilities. You don't always need to purchase the most expensive multivitamins available, and your nutritionist may be able to recommend a supplement brand they trust.
Preventative cost: Lowering the risk of gestational diabetes
Gestational diabetes occurs when a woman can't make enough insulin during pregnancy. Gestational diabetes can raise a pregnant mother's risk of high blood pressure and preeclampsia. When a woman develops gestational diabetes, additional costs go into her pregnancy care.
When you work with a nutritionist or dietitian, they will create a nutritional plan to lower your risk of developing gestational diabetes. Your nutritionist will create a program focusing on healthy eating and nutrient-dense foods rather than simply counting how many calories are in various food items.
Working with a pregnancy nutritionist or dietitian is an excellent preventative measure that can help you avoid complications and save money in the long run by lowering the risk of developing gestational diabetes as your pregnancy progresses.
Preventative cost: Protection from foodborne illness
Food safety is one of the most important aspects of maintaining a healthy pregnancy. Avoiding foods that can hurt your baby is one of the best preventative measures you can take. A nutritionist can help you avoid harmful foods, which is an excellent way to reduce the risk of foodborne illnesses during pregnancy. Certain foods, such as unpasteurized cheeses and undercooked meat, may contain harmful bacteria. By guiding you towards healthy, safe food choices, a pregnancy nutritionist can reduce your risk of getting sick, thus helping you avoid large hospital bills or emergency room costs.
Reactive cost: Extra doctor visits for gestational diabetes
Without a nutritionist's guidance, you might develop gestational diabetes. Expectant mothers who develop gestational diabetes are at increased risk of short-term and long-term pregnancy complications. Some complications of gestational diabetes that babies can experience include excessive birth weight, early or preterm birth, breathing difficulties, hypoglycemia, obesity, and type 2 diabetes later in life. Tragically, there is also an increased risk of stillbirth. These complications can create a significant financial and emotional burden on families.
Pregnant women may also experience complications from gestational diabetes, such as preeclampsia, a greater chance of a C-section, and an increased risk of developing type 2 diabetes later in life. These complications can add up to high medical bills and treatment costs in the long run.
Reactive cost: Pregnancy complications or a high-risk birth
If you don't take measures to ensure a healthy pregnancy, you could be more likely to have a high-risk birth. The conditions that qualify as "high risk" vary. Some women who have experienced a history of miscarriage, preterm labor, or C-sections could be considered high risk. Some women with high blood pressure, diabetes, an autoimmune disease, kidney disease, or obesity could also be regarded as high risk. Some of these risk factors can be controlled with the help of a nutritionist, alongside appropriate medical care.
Reactive cost: A more complicated recovery
If you don't prioritize your health and nutrition when you're pregnant, you could set yourself up to have a longer and more complicated recovery after you give birth. Giving birth is tough on the body, but there are measures you can take to prepare yourself for such a daunting task. A registered dietitian nutritionist can help you prepare for one of the biggest physical challenges you will likely face in your lifetime.
Although pregnancy can be intimidating, it doesn't have to be scary. A nutritionist can be a valuable asset to your health care team by guiding you through the challenges of pregnancy nutrition and promoting the healthiest pregnancy possible.
Mariel is a writer based in the San Francisco Bay Area, where she lends her talents to creating valuable content that enriches communities, strengthens cultures, and moves people to change. With over ten years of writing experience and as an advocate for physiological well-being, her breadth of work extends from parenting podcasts to health and wellness pieces.