Eating a healthful diet and staying active during your pregnancy will not only benefit your growing baby, but it can also help you look and feel better. It can even help your labor and delivery go smoother, and make it easier to get back into shape.
Eating Well for You and Your Baby
Eating a variety of nutritious foods can help keep you and your baby healthy while you are pregnant. In general, aim to follow the latest version of the Dietary Guidelines for Americans.
You do not need extra calories during your first trimester. But, you should be getting about 300 extra calories per day during your second and third trimesters to reach a total of about 1,900-2,500 calories a day. These extra calories should come from nutritious foods. Examples of snacks that contain about 300 calories include: 1 cup of nonfat fruit yogurt and a medium apple, a piece of whole-wheat toast with 2 tablespoons of peanut butter, or 1 cup of whole grain cereal with ½ cup of nonfat milk and a small banana.
In addition to extra calories, you will need to increase certain nutrients, including folate and iron. Folate is important because it can prevent neural tube defects, like spina bifida. Taking folate and iron may offer additional benefits, like reducing the number of infants born with low birth weight and reducing infant mortality. Your doctor will recommend that you take a prenatal supplement to make sure you are getting enough of these nutrients. You can also eat foods high in folate and iron, like fortified breads and cereals, spinach, and broccoli.
Extra calcium is also needed during pregnancy to protect your bone density and help your baby’s bones grow. You should consume the equivalent of 3 cups of milk per day to get the calcium you need (1 cup milk = 1 cup lowfat yogurt or 1.5 ounces lowfat cheese).
You also need to get enough iron. It helps your and your baby’s blood carry oxygen. Iron-rich foods include lean red meats, enriched grain products, eggs, leafy green vegetables, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, beans and peas, raisins, prunes, and peanuts.
There are certain things you should avoid consuming when you are pregnant, including:
- Alcohol —There is no established safe level of alcohol during pregnancy. Avoid drinking alcoholic beverages while you are pregnant.
- Fish that may have high levels of methylmercury —Avoid eating shark, swordfish, king mackerel, and tilefish while pregnant. These fish have high levels of methylmercury, which could harm your baby. You can safely consume up to 12 ounces of fish that is lower in methylmercury, such as shrimp, canned light tuna, salmon, pollock, or catfish. Eat no more than 6 ounces of canned albacore (white) tuna or tuna steaks per week. Farm-raised fish may contain elevated levels of dioxin.
- Soft cheeses and cold lunchmeats, hot dogs, and deli meats —Soft cheeses (such as Brie, feta, Camembert, Roquefort, Mexican-style soft cheese), cold lunch meats, hot dogs, and deli meats can contain bacteria that can harm your unborn baby.
- Raw fish, meat, or poultry —These foods can result in food poisoning that may cause harm to your baby.
- Nonfood items —Some pregnant women crave nonfood products, such as clay. This condition is called pica. You should avoid consuming these things and tell your doctor if you are having cravings for nonfood items.
You should also consider limiting your intake of caffeine. There is conflicting evidence about the harmful effects of caffeine. Caffeine has been reported to be associated with an increased risk of miscarriage. Most healthcare professionals believe that a cup or 2 of coffee per day will not harm your baby. Limiting your caffeine consumption during your entire pregnancy may be advisable, since we do not have full knowledge about the safety of caffeine.
If you are a vegetarian, are lactose intolerant, or have other dietary restrictions, consult your doctor or a dietitian. Advice can be given to help you plan a well-balanced, healthy diet to fit your lifestyle and needs.
American Pregnancy Association
Choose MyPlate—US Department of Agriculture
Dietitians of Canada
Women's Health Matters
Christian P, Khatry SK, et al. Effects of alternative maternal micronutrient supplements on low birth weight in rural Nepal: double blind randomised community trial. BMJ. 2003;326(7389):571.
Eating during pregnancy. Kids Health—Nemours Foundation website. Available at: http://kidshealth.org/parent/nutrition_center/dietary_needs/eating_pregnancy.html. Updated May 2013. Accessed December 27, 2016.
Fit for two: tips for pregnancy. National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases Weight–Control Information Network website. Available at: http://win.niddk.nih.gov/publications/two.htm. Updated June 2013. Accessed December 27, 2016.
Health & nutrition information for pregnant and breastfeeding women. Choose My Plate—US Department of Agriculture website. Available at: http://www.choosemyplate.gov/pregnancy-breastfeeding.html. Accessed December 27, 2016.
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Last reviewed December 2016 by Andrea Chisholm, MD Last Updated: 3/15/2015