Eat Well for a Healthy Pregnancy With UC

When you're pregnant and have ulcerative colitis (UC), you can take some simple steps to make sure you get the nutrients you and your baby need.

A good plan can help you eat a balanced diet, even if your symptoms may sometimes put a damper on your appetite.

To start, talk to your ulcerative colitis doctor or OB/GYN about how to find a dietitian who can guide you on making healthy choices. Look for one who specializes in working with people who have long-term illnesses.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture also offers information on pregnancy nutrition as part of its Choose MyPlate campaign.

Stick to the Basics

Keep your food strategy simple:

  • Fill half your plate with fruits and veggies.
  • Make half the grains you eat whole grains.
  • Trade high-fat dairy, such as whole milk, for fat-free or low-fat options.
  • Eat less salt.
  • Swap sugary sodas for water.

Pregnant or not, it makes sense when you have ulcerative colitis to avoid greasy, fried, high-sugar, and spicy foods. Stay away from nuts, popcorn, and corn, because they can make swelling worse.

Make sure you drink plenty of water, since diarrhea can cause dehydration.

Sometimes, five or six small meals a day are easier to handle than three big ones. This habit also helps when you get nausea and heartburn because of your pregnancy.

Veggie Facts

Fruits and vegetables are good for you and your baby. If fiber makes your UC symptoms worse, you may be able to keep them in your diet if you change how you prepare them.

Steam or bake vegetables and fruit instead of eating them raw. Steer clear of high-fiber foods, including broccoli, cauliflower, and apples. Choose items with lots of antioxidants, such as blueberries, cherries, tomatoes, squash, and bell peppers.

How to Get Calcium

Some people can't digest lactose, which is the sugar in milk. That's true even for people who don't have an inflammatory bowel disease. But because the symptoms of lactose intolerance look a lot like some symptoms of UC, it may be hard to tell if milk is causing the problem. Your doctor can test you to see if you're lactose intolerant.

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Either way, your body needs foods high in calcium, especially during pregnancy. Some options include:

  • Yogurt or hard cheeses, which might be easier to digest
  • Juices and other drinks, cereals, and breads with added calcium
  • Tofu, soybeans, black-eyed peas, or canned fish with bones you can eat (such as sardines or salmon)
  • Drinking milk with a meal, or adding it to cereal to make it easier on your system.

If you need to be lactose-free, try:

  • Lactose-free milk or calcium-fortified soy milk
  • Lactase pills or drops, which help you digest lactose

Healthy Fats From Fish

Fish is a great way to get omega-3 fatty acids, which help build your baby's brain and eyes. They may also cut down on UC symptoms and prevent flares.

Some seafood is high in mercury. But when you're pregnant, you can eat other fish by following these guidelines:

  • Have up to 12 ounces a week of low-mercury fish such as shrimp, canned light tuna, salmon, and catfish.
  • Don't eat shark, swordfish, king mackerel, or tilefish. They tend to be higher in mercury.
  • Limit albacore tuna to 6 ounces a week.

Supplement Your Diet

Having UC means your body can't absorb some key vitamins and minerals from your food. Your doctor might recommend extra supplements with your prenatal vitamins.

For example, if you take the drug sulfasalazine, you may need more folic acid than what's already recommended for pregnant women.

Steroids can lower calcium levels, so you may need a calcium supplement with vitamin D.

You may also may need iron to prevent anemia.

Keep an Eye on Your Baby Bump

Sometimes women with UC find it hard to gain enough weight during pregnancy. That means their babies could be born at a low birth weight, which can cause health problems.

If you're at a healthy weight, you should have put on 25 to 35 pounds by the end of your pregnancy. If you're underweight to start, you should aim to gain 28 to 40 pounds.

Your OB/GYN can let you know how you're doing with your weight. If you need help, talk to a dietitian about healthy food choices.

Keep up with your UC doctor during your pregnancy, too. Also, you may need to see an obstetrician who specializes in high-risk pregnancies. Between your UC doctor and your OB/GYN, you’ll be ready to make sure you and your little one stay well.

WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Jennifer Robinson, MD on January 20, 2017

Sources

SOURCES:

CDC.

Cleveland Clinic: "Ulcerative Colitis."

Crohn's & Colitis Foundation of America: "Crohn's Disease and Ulcerative Colitis Diet and Nutrition Q&A," "Diet and Nutrition," "Managing Flares and other IBD Symptoms."

Raymond Cross, MD, director, Inflammatory Bowel Disease Program, University of Maryland Medical Center; co-chairman, Patient Education Committee, Crohn's & Colitis Foundation of America.

FDA: "What You Need to Know About Mercury in Fish and Shellfish."

Annie Feagins, MD, assistant professor of internal medicine, University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center; director, Inflammatory Bowel Disease Clinic, VA North Texas Health Care System; patient educator, Crohn's & Colitis Foundation of America.

Manreet Kaur, MD, assistant professor of medicine, gastroenterology and hepatology section, Baylor College of Medicine.

U.S. Department of Agriculture: "Health and Nutrition Information for Pregnant and Breastfeeding Women."

Office on Women's Health: "Inflammatory Bowel Disease Fact Sheet."

University of California San Francisco Medical Center: "Coping With Common Discomforts of Pregnancy."

University of Maryland Medical Center: "Ulcerative Colitis."

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