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You must get the right calories, vitamins, and minerals if you are pregnant.

Calories

The calories you need depends on your age, weight, and activity level. Talk with your healthcare provider about the amount that is right for you.

Key Nutrients

Your healthcare provider will talk to you about the types of foods you need to eat. You may also talk about the kinds of nutrients you will need. You must have some some key ones, such as folic acid and iron. You may also need vitamins.

Folic Acid

Women who are pregnant or may become pregnant should get 600 micrograms (mcg) of folic acid each day. This mineral is vital during the first weeks of pregnancy, often before a woman even knows she is pregnant. Getting enough can stop neural tube problems, such as spina bifida. It may also stop other birth problems like cleft lip and heart disease. You may also lower your chance of having a miscarriage or stillbirth.

You can get enough by eating foods that have folic acid. You may also want to take a folic acid pill before you get pregnant and through your first trimester. If you are taking a prenatal vitamin that has folate, you don't need to take a folic acid pill.

Foods rich in folic acid are:

  • Fortified breakfast cereal
  • Whole-wheat breads
  • Orange juice and citrus fruits
  • Green leafy veggies, such as spinach, broccoli, and romaine lettuce
  • Legumes

Iron

Iron is a mineral that helps red blood cells carry oxygen in the body. Pregnant women should get 27 milligrams (mg). Not getting enough can lead to iron-deficiency anemia and other problems.

Good sources are:

  • Lean red meat
  • Poultry
  • Fish
  • Dried fruits
  • Fortified breakfast cereals

Eating foods with vitamin C along with foods that have iron can help you absorb iron. But drinking tea or coffee with these foods can slow absorption.

It can be hard to get all the iron you need from food. Most pregnant women take a prenatal vitamin that has iron. Talk to your healthcare provider about your level. Getting too much is not safe.

Calcium

You also need calcium. When you don't have enough, your body takes it from your bones. This may cause you to have osteoporosis when you are older.

Good sources are:

  • Low-fat or nonfat dairy products, such as milk, yogurt, and cottage cheese
  • Fish canned with bones
  • Green leafy veggies
  • Fortified soy milk or rice milk
  • Fortified orange juice
  • Other calcium-fortified foods

If you don't eat dairy products or enough foods that have calcium, talk to your healthcare provider about calcium and vitamin D pills. The body needs vitamin D to absorb and use the calcium.

More Tips

Vitamins

The body is better getting the nutrients from food during pregnancy. If you are eating healthful foods each day, you may not need a supplement. But many women may benefit from taking a prenatal vitamin. Some may need only an iron or folic acid pill. Others may need an iodine pill if they don't get enough. Talk to your healthcare provider about your eating and lifestyle habits to find out if you need one.

Alcohol

No amount of alcohol is safe. Don't drink until after your pregnancy.

Caffeine

Having one to two cups of coffee or tea per day is fine during pregnancy. Some research has linked high intakes of caffeine (more than 300 mg per day) with having a hard time getting pregnant and a higher rate of miscarriages. Talk to your healthcare provider about how much caffeine you drink.

Seafood

Seafood is a good source of omega-3 fatty acids. These help with your growing baby's brain. Pregnant women should eat seafood as a normal part of their diet.

Some seafood has high amounts of mercury. This can be harmful to a growing baby. Do not eat fish with a high mercury level. These fish are tilefish, king mackerel, swordfish, albacore tuna, and shark.

Good choices are salmon, sardines, catfish, canned light tuna, and shrimp. These are high in omega-3 fatty acids and low in mercury.

Nuts

If you don't have a peanut allergy, you may want to think about eating peanuts. It may lower the risk that your child will have a peanut allergy.

Food Safety

Getting sick from unsafe foods could harm you and your growing baby. Here are some tips:

  • Wash your hands before you eat or make food.
  • When you make food, don't let raw meats or poultry touch other foods.
  • Cook meat well.
  • Reheat leftovers well.
  • Don't eat deli meats and hot dogs unless reheated until steaming.
  • Drink only pasteurized juice and milk.
  • Don't eat raw or soft cheeses.

Artificial Sweeteners

Most artificial sweeteners are safe to use in small amounts, such as acesulfame K (Sunett), aspartame (NutraSweet or Equal), and sucralose (Splenda). More research is needed on saccharin (Sweet’N Low) and stevia. These should not be used.

Fluids

Getting enough fluids is vital for you and your baby. Try to drink plenty of water each day. Make sure your water doesn't have too much nitrate. It is found in some private wells. Other drinks, such as juice and soda, also help with hydration. But they are also high in calories and low in nutritional value.

RESOURCES:

Choose My Plate—US Department of Agriculture
http://choosemyplate.gov

Eat Right—Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics
http://www.eatright.org

CANADIAN RESOURCES:

Dietitians of Canada
http://dietitians.ca

Public Health Agency of Canada
http://healthypregnancy.gc.ca

REFERENCES:

Artificial sweeteners and pregnancy. American Pregnancy Association website. Available at: http://americanpregnancy.org/pregnancy-health/artificial-sweeteners-and-pregnancy. Updated July 2015. Accessed December 6, 2018.

Beware of these effects of caffeine on the body. Centers for Science in the Public Interest website. Available at: http://www.cspinet.org/reports/caffeine.pdf. Accessed December 6, 2018.

Kaiser L, Allen LH; American Dietetic Association. Position of the American Dietetic Association: nutrition and lifestyle for a healthy pregnancy outcome. J Am Diet Assoc. 2008;108(3):553-561.

Moms/Moms-to-be: Health and Nutrition Information. Department of Agriculture Choose My Plate website. Available at: http://www.choosemyplate.gov/moms-pregnancy-breastfeeding. Accessed April 27, 2018. Accessed December 6, 2018.

Nutrition in pregnancy. EBSCO DynaMed Plus website. Available at:https://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T113983/Nutrition-in-pregnancy. Updated March 29, 2018. Accessed December 6, 2018.

Nutrition in pregnancy. EBSCO Nursing Reference Center website. Available at:https://www.ebscohost.com/nursing/products/nursing-reference-center. Updated August 3, 2018. Accessed December 6, 2018.

USDA national nutrient database for standard reference. US Department of Agriculture website. Available at: http://ndb.nal.usda.gov. Accessed December 6, 2018.

Vitamins and other nutrients during pregnancy. March of Dimes website. Available at: https://www.marchofdimes.org/pregnancy/vitamins-and-other-nutrients-during-pregnancy.aspx. Updated February 2018. Accessed December 6, 2018.

1/2/2014 DynaMed Plus Systematic Literature Surveillancehttps://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T912798/Peanut-allergy: Frazier AL, Camargo CA, et al. Prospective study of peripregnancy consumption of peanuts or tree nuts by mothers and the risk of peanut or tree nut allergy in their offspring. JAMA Pediatr. 2014;168(2):156-162.

7/13/2014 DynaMed Plus Systematic Literature Surveillancehttps://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T113983/Nutrition-in-pregnancy: Council on Environmental Health, Rogan WJ, Paulson JA, et al. Iodine deficiency, pollutant chemicals, and the thyroid: new information on an old problem. Pediatrics. 2014;133(6):1163-1166.

8/26/2014 DynaMed Plus Systematic Literature Surveillancehttps://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T113983/Nutrition-in-pregnancy: Gaskins AJ, Rich-Edwards JW, et al. Maternal prepregnancy folate intake and risk of spontaneous abortion and stillbirth. Obstet Gynecol. 2014;124(1):23-31.

Last reviewed December 2018 by EBSCO Medical Review BoardDianne Scheinberg Rishikof MS, RD, LDN  Last Updated: 12/6/2018