Salt Intake During Pregnancy

Pregnant women are often advised to cut back on their salt intake during pregnancy by well meaning friends and relatives. Even the medical community believed that salt in the diet contributed to water retention resulting in swelling and bloating. While having too much salt in your diet can cause problems, especially if you have high blood pressure, a moderate intake of sodium is actually healthy for a pregnant woman. It helps to maintain the higher fluid levels required during pregnancy.

What Is Sodium?

Although it has a bad name due to the unhealthy effects of getting too much in your diet, sodium is actually a necessary mineral for good health. It is an electrolyte that helps regulate the fluid levels in the body and helps your body to absorb nutrients.

Salt and Edema

Many women experience problems with swelling of the legs and feet during pregnancy, a condition known as edema. While edema has traditionally been blamed on sodium in the diet, this is not entirely accurate. Edema is caused by higher levels of estrogen and the increased volume of blood in a pregnant woman’s body. Edema is not pleasant, but isn’t a matter for concern in a pregnant woman unless it is accompanied by signs of preeclampsia such as high blood pressure. Although a very high sodium diet may make edema worse, it is not the only culprit.

How Much Salt Is Ok to Eat?

The appropriate amount of sodium for an adult to consume in a day, including a pregnant woman, is about 2400 micrograms. Unfortunately, many of us consume far, far more than that amount. Thus, while it isn’t recommended that you consume too little sodium during pregnancy, if your diet is too high in sodium currently, you should reduce your intake for a healthy pregnancy.

Avoiding too much sodium can be tricky, as it appears in so many different processed foods, so be sure to read the label before you eat. Fast food is a huge culprit for large amounts of sodium. Ask to see the nutritional information before ordering or better yet, skip fast food altogether and go for a healthier option. Avoid using excess salt on your food at home as well. Remember that all kinds of things from salad dressing to ketchup contain sodium, so use them sparingly. And take it easy with the salt shaker too!

Sodium and Blood Pressure

Diets that are too high in sodium can result in high blood pressure, which is not healthy at any time including during pregnancy. Pregnant women are already at risk of pregnancy-induced high blood pressure, which can be a precursor of preeclampsia, a much more serious condition. If your blood pressure is elevated, you should be tested for other symptoms. Preeclampsia is a serious complication during pregnancy that can result in premature birth and dangerous health problems for the mother. It should be monitored closely. Women who have had preeclampsia in the past should discuss sodium intake with their doctor.

The bottom line on sodium is that it is an important part of a pregnancy diet, but should be watched carefully as it is easy to get too much. Before embarking on a low-sodium diet during your pregnancy, discuss it with your doctor. Both too much and too little sodium can be very unhealthy for you and your baby.

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