Preparing for labour is a bit like preparing for a race - it's a big test of your strength and stamina, so you'll want to fuel up with nutrient-rich food to give you the energy you need without upsetting your already-full-feeling tummy. While from 37 weeks onwards your baby is mostly fully developed, he will still be gaining weight to help prepare him for the outside world. Keep eating the extra calories you've needed throughout the whole pregnancy (an extra 300-500 per day depending on your activity level), but make sure they're loaded with the nutrients that will help you and your baby stay strong. Nutritionist Fiona Donald gives us the key components to look out for, as well as a suggested meal planner for your final weeks of pregnancy...

Protein

Protein is a vital nutrient used by the body to create skin, muscle, bones and hair, and your recommended daily intake goes up by about 25g per day when you're pregnant. It's also important in the run-up to your due date as it helps strengthen muscles and is a nutrient-rich way of making you feel satisfied without being bloated. In general, aim to consume 1g of protein for each pound of your body weight - if you weigh 150 pounds aim for 150g of protein per day.

  • Opt for lean meats (preferably grass-fed, organic)
  • Include a small amount of dairy if you can tolerate it
  • Supplement with natural, unsweetened protein powder if necessary

Iron

Topping up your iron levels is important throughout the whole of pregnancy as your blood volume increases by 30-50 per cent, which increases your risk of anaemia. Extra iron is especially useful in these last few weeks as your baby will be using this time to store up the iron he will need for the first few months of life. Find it in:

  • Dark, leafy veggies
  • Dried fruits
  • Whole grains
  • Nuts
  • Seeds
  • Animal foods

Vitamin D

Vitamin D is needed to keep bones, teeth and muscles healthy. All adults, including pregnant and breastfeeding women, need 10 micrograms (10mcg) of vitamin D a day, and should consider taking a supplement containing this amount. In your last weeks of pregnancy baby is stocking up on his Vit D stores, so be sure there's plenty to go around by:

  • Getting 20-30 minute sun exposure 2-3 days per week
  • Eating Vitamin D-fortified foods (e.g. cereals)

Find out how celebrity mums stay fit during pregnancy here

Calcium

Pregnant and breastfeeding women need around 300mg more calcium than the average adult. Research also shows that adequate calcium levels can help prevent pre-eclampsia. Find it in:

  • Dark, leafy veggies
  • Bok choy
  • Tofu
  • Legumes
  • Figs
  • Nuts
  • Seeds
  • Fortified milks
  • Fortified cereal grains

Omega-3

Omega-3s help maintain the balanced production of prostaglandins, which help regulate many important functions, including blood pressure, blood clotting, nerve transmission, and the functions of the kidneys and gastrointestinal tract, according to the American Pregnancy Association. It's great to up your intake of these throughout pregnancy but especially in your third trimester, as research shows omega-3s may help lower the risk of preterm delivery and reduce the mother's risk of depression.

  • Flax
  • Walnuts
  • Chia
  • Hemp
  • Algae or fish oil supplements (non-liver)
  • Seaweed

Zinc

Zinc is an essential mineral that assists in growth, development, neurological function, reproduction and immune function, and supports cell structure. Zinc deficiency can alter the circulating levels of a number of hormones associated with the onset of labour, and may contribute to systemic and intrauterine infections, both major causes of preterm birth. Keep your levels high by eating:

  • Legumes
  • Nuts
  • Whole grains
  • Animal foods 

Read 'What's childbirth really going to do to by body' here

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