Good nutrition during pregnancy is very important for your baby's growth and development. You should take in about 300 more calories per day (600 a day if you're carrying twins) than you did before you became pregnant.
Although nausea and vomiting during the first few months of pregnancy can make this difficult, try to eat a well-balanced diet and take prenatal vitamins. Here are some recommendations to keep you and your baby healthy.
Goals for Healthy Eating When Pregnant
- Eat a variety of foods to get all the nutrients you need. Aim for 6-11 servings of breads and grains, 2 to 4 servings of fruit, four or more servings of vegetables, four servings of dairy products, and three servings of protein sources (meat, poultry, fish, eggs or nuts), daily. Ease up on the fats and sweets.
- Choose foods that are high in fiber, such as whole-grain breads, cereals, beans, pasta, and rice, as well as fruits and vegetables. Although it's best to get your fiber from foods, taking a fiber supplement can help you get enough. Examples include psyllium and methylcellulose. Talk with your doctor before starting any supplements. If you take a fiber supplement, start with a low dosage and slowly increase the amount you take. This can help prevent gas and cramping. It's also important to drink enough liquids when you increase your fiber intake.
- Protein drives blood production, especially when it comes to iron that your body easily absorbs, like the kind from red meats, chicken, and shellfish. Your blood volume increases during pregnancy to supply your baby's blood. Opt for healthy proteins that aren't high in fat, like lean meats, fish, poultry, tofu and other soy products, beans, nuts, and egg whites.
- You and your baby need some fats to stay healthy. Just remember to pick the healthy, unsaturated kind like vegetable oils, olive oil, and nuts.
- Make sure you're getting enough vitamins and minerals. A prenatal vitamin supplement can help. Your doctor can recommend an over-the-counter brand or prescribe one..
- Eat and drink at least four servings of dairy products and calcium-rich foods a day. You need 1,000-1,300 milligrams (mg) of calcium each day.
- Eat at least three servings of iron-rich foods, such as lean meats, spinach, beans, and breakfast cereals, each day. You need 27 mg of iron daily.
- You'll need 220 micrograms (mcg) of iodine a day for your baby's brain and nervous system development. But avoid high-dose supplements. The safe upper limit is 1,100 mcg a day. Choose from a variety of dairy products like milk, cheese (especially cottage cheese), and yogurt, as well as baked potatoes, cooked navy beans, and limited amounts (8 to 12 ounces per week) of seafood such as cod, salmon, and shrimp.
- Choose at least one good source of vitamin C every day, such as oranges, grapefruit, strawberries, honeydew, papaya, broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, green or red peppers, tomatoes, and mustard greens. This vitamin makes it easier for your body to absorb iron from plant foods. And it builds strong bones and teeth, boosts immunity, and keeps blood vessels strong and red blood cells healthy. You need 80-85 mg of vitamin C a day. Don't exceed 2,000 mg.
- Choose at least one good source of folate every day, like dark green leafy vegetables, veal, and legumes (like lima beans, black beans, black-eyed peas, and chickpeas). You need at least 0.64 mg (about 600 mcg) of folate per day to help prevent neural tube defects such as spina bifida. Supplements called folic acid can be an important source of folate.
- Choose at least one source of vitamin A every other day. Foods rich in vitamin A include carrots, pumpkins, sweet potatoes, spinach, water squash, turnip greens, beet greens, apricots, and cantaloupe.
Foods to Avoid When Pregnant
- Avoid alcohol.. It's been linked to premature delivery, intellectual disability, birth defects, and low birth weights.
- Limit caffeine to 300 mg per day. The caffeine content in tea and coffee depends on the beans or leaves used and how it was prepared. An 8-ounce cup of coffee has about 150 mg of caffeine, while black tea usually has about 80 mg. A 12-ounce glass of caffeinated soda contains anywhere from 30 to 60 mg. Remember, chocolate (especially dark chocolate) contains caffeine – sometimes a lot of it.
- Try not to use saccharin, because it can cross the placenta and may remain in fetal tissues. You can use other artificial sweeteners approved by the FDA during pregnancy. These include aspartame (Equal or NutraSweet), acesulfame-K (Sunett), stevia (Pure Via, Truvia)and sucralose (Splenda). These are considered safe in moderation. Talk with your doctor about how much artificial sweetener is OK during pregnancy.
- Keep the total amount of fat you eat at 30% or less of your total daily calories. For someone eating 2,000 calories a day, this would be 65 grams of fat or less.
- Limit cholesterol intake to 300 mg or less per day.
- Stay away from shark, swordfish, farmed salmon (wild is OK), king mackerel, or tilefish (also called white snapper) because they contain high levels of mercury. Too much mercury can hurt your baby's central nervous system.
- Avoid soft cheeses such as feta, brie, Camembert, blue-veined, and Mexican-style cheese. These cheeses are often unpasteurized and may cause a listeria infection. You can have hard cheese, processed cheese, cream cheese, cottage cheese, or yogurt.
- Avoid raw fish, especially shellfish like oysters and clams.
What to Eat When Pregnant and Don't Feel Well
During pregnancy, you may have morning sickness, diarrhea, or constipation. You could find it hard to keep foods down, or feel too sick to even eat at all. Here are some suggestions for handling these illnesses:
Foods that fight nausea during pregnancy
If you have morning sickness, try:
Eat these before getting out of bed and have small, frequent meals throughout the day. Avoid fatty, fried, spicy, and greasy foods.
How to relieve constipation during pregnancy
Eat more fresh fruit and vegetables, and drink 6-8 glasses of water a day. Taking fiber supplements may also help.
What to eat when you have diarrhea
Eat more foods that contain pectin and gums (two types of dietary fiber) to help absorb excess water. Examples of these foods are applesauce, bananas, white rice, oatmeal, and refined wheat bread.
Foods that help with heartburn
Eat small, frequent meals throughout the day; try drinking milk before you eat. Limit caffeinated foods and beverages, citric beverages, and spicy foods.
Losing Weight While Pregnant
Don't diet or try to lose weight during pregnancy. Both you and your baby need the right nutrition to be healthy. Keep in mind that you'll lose some weight the first week your baby is born.
Why Do I Need Complex Carbohydrates While Pregnant?
Complex carbs give your body the energy it needs to keep you going and growing throughout your pregnancy. They’re also packed with fiber, which helps with digestion and prevents constipation, often a concern during pregnancy.
Complex carbs include:
- Fruits and veggies
- Whole grains like oats, brown rice, whole-wheat bread, and pasta
Can I Eat a 'Low-Carb' Diet When Pregnant?
Some research has found that women on low-carb diets were slightly more likely to have babies with serious birth defects like anencephaly (when parts of brain and skull are missing) and spina bifida (when the spine is formed incorrectly). This may be because folic acid, a nutrient that reduces this type of birth defect, is added to many high-carb grain products, like bread.
Can I Maintain My Vegetarian Diet When Pregnant?
Just because you're pregnant doesn't mean you have to give up your vegetarian diet. Your baby can get all the nutrition they need to grow and develop while you follow a vegetarian diet . Just make sure you eat a variety of healthy foods that provide enough protein and calories.
Depending on the type of vegetarian meal plan you follow, you may need to adjust your eating habits. Discuss your diet with your doctor.
Why Do I Need More Calcium When Pregnant?
Calcium is a nutrient your body needs to build strong teeth and bones. Calcium also allows blood to clot normally, muscles and nerves to function properly, and the heart to beat normally. Most of the calcium in your body is found inside your bones.
Your growing baby needs a lot of calcium to develop. If you don't get enough, your body will take calcium from your bones, decreasing your bone mass and putting you at risk for osteoporosis. Osteoporosis causes dramatic thinning of the bone, resulting in weak, brittle bones that can easily be broken.
Calcium may also help prevent high blood pressure while you're pregnant. Even if no problems develop during pregnancy, a lack of calcium at this time can weaken bones and raise your risk for osteoporosis later in life.
To ensure you're getting enough:
- The U.S. recommended daily allowance (RDA) for calcium is 1,000 mg per day while you're pregnant or breastfeeding, if you're over 18. The U.S. RDA when you're under 18 is 1,300 mg per day. Don't exceed 2,500 mg a day.
- At least four servings of dairy products and calcium-rich foods a day will help ensure that you get enough calcium.
- The best sources of calcium are dairy products, including milk, cheese, yogurt, cream soups, and pudding. You can also get it from green vegetables (broccoli, spinach, and greens), seafood, dried peas, and beans. Some juices and tofu are made with calcium.
- Vitamin D helps your body use calcium. Aim for 600 international units (IU) a day but no more than 4,000. You can get vitamin D through exposure to the sun and in fortified milk, eggs, and fish.
How Can I Get Enough Calcium if I'm Lactose Intolerant?
But you can still get the calcium you need. Here's how:
- Use lactose-free milk fortified with calcium. Talk to your dietitian about other lactose-reduced products.
- Try milk products that contain less sugar, including cheese, yogurt, and cottage cheese.
- Eat nondairy calcium foods, including greens, broccoli, sardines, and tofu.
- Try drinking small amounts of milk with meals. Some people tolerate milk better with food.
Should I Take a Calcium Supplement During Pregnancy?
If you have trouble getting enough calcium from foods, talk to your doctor or a dietitian about taking a supplement.
Calcium supplements and some antacids containing calcium are meant to complement an already healthy diet. Many multivitamin supplements have little or no calcium, so you may need a separate calcium supplement.
Why Do I Need More Iron During Pregnancy?
Iron is a mineral that's an important part of hemoglobin, the substance in blood that carries oxygen throughout the body. Iron also carries oxygen in muscles, helping them function. And it helps increase your resistance to stress and disease.
Your body is better at absorbing iron during pregnancy. So you need more while you're pregnant. Iron also helps you avoid symptoms of tiredness, weakness, crankiness, and depression.
Following a balanced diet that includes foods high in iron like meats, fish, poultry, and leafy greens can help ensure you get enough. These guidelines will help:
- The U.S. RDA for iron is 27 mg per day during pregnancy and 9-10 mg while breastfeeding. Don't exceed 45 mg a day.
- Eat at least three servings of iron-rich foods a day. One easy way to get more iron in your diet is to have a fortified breakfast cereal. But your body can absorb iron best when it comes from meat sources like liver.
What Are Good Sources of Iron?
Some of the richest sources of iron are:
- Meat and seafood: Lean beef, chicken, clams, crab, egg yolk, fish, lamb, liver, oysters, pork, sardines, shrimp, turkey, and veal
- Vegetables: Black-eyed peas, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, collard and turnip greens, lima beans, sweet potatoes, and spinach
- Legumes: Dry beans and peas, lentils, and soybeans
- Fruits: All berries, apricots, dried fruits (including prunes, raisins, and apricots), grapes, grapefruit, oranges, plums, prune juice, and watermelon
- Breads and cereals: Enriched rice and pasta, soft pretzels, and whole-grain and enriched or fortified breads and cereals
- Other foods: Molasses, peanuts, pine nuts, pumpkin, and squash seeds
Should I Take an Iron Supplement During Pregnancy?
Talk to your doctor about an iron supplement. The National Academy of Sciences recommends a supplement providing 27 mg of iron during the second and third trimesters of pregnancy. (That's the amount in most prenatal vitamins.) Your doctor may increase this dose if you become anemic.
Iron deficiency anemia is a condition in which your body doesn't have enough red blood cells. You can get this if you don't get enough iron in your diet, or if you lose blood.
Other Facts About Iron
- Vitamin C helps your body use iron. So include sources of vitamin C along with foods containing iron and iron supplements.
- Caffeine can keep your body from absorbing iron. Try to take iron supplements or eat foods high in iron at least 1 hour before or after you drink or eat things that contain caffeine.
- Iron is lost when you cook some foods. To retain iron, cook in a minimal amount of water and for the shortest possible time. Consider cooking in cast iron pots to add iron to foods.
- Constipation is a common side effect of iron supplements. To relieve constipation, slowly increase the fiber in your diet by including more whole-grain breads, cereals, fruits, and vegetables. Drinking at least eight cups of fluids daily and getting more moderate exercise (as recommended by your doctor) can help you avoid constipation.
Other Important Nutrients
- The RDA is 450 mg; don't go over 3,500 mg a day.
- Eggs are great sources of choline; one cooked egg has 272 mg. You can also find it in meats like chicken, beef, and pork, and in fish such as cod and salmon. Broccoli and cauliflower have choline, too.
- The RDA is 300 mg.
- it's found in seafood like salmon, crab, tuna, and catfish. Fortified eggs are also good sources.
Potassium helps you keep your blood pressure in check and maintain a proper fluid balance. It’s also necessary for a normal heartbeat and energy.
- The RDA is 4,700 mg.
- The best foods to have for potassium are white beans, winter squash, spinach, lentils, sweet potato, orange juice, broccoli, cantaloupe, and raisins.
Your body needs riboflavin (sometimes known as vitamin B2) to make energy and use the protein from food. It may also help reduce the risk of preeclampsia (high blood pressure during pregnancy).
- The RDA is 1.4 mg.
- Look for riboflavin in foods like some breakfast cereals, eggs, almonds, spinach, broccoli, chicken, salmon, beef, milk, yogurt, and cottage cheese.
B6 helps your body make protein for new cells, boosts your immune system, and helps form red blood cells.
- The RDA is 1.9 mg. Unless your doctor prescribes vitamin B6, don't take more than 100 mg a day.
- B6 is found in some breakfast cereals, garbanzo beans, baked potatoes with skin, beef, chicken, pork, and halibut.
B12 helps your body make red blood cells and use fat and carbohydrates for energy. It also helps prevent megaloblastic anemia, which can make you feel weak and tired.
- The RDA is 2.6 mcg.
- B12 is found in foods like salmon, trout, tuna, beef, and some cereals.
Zinc boosts your baby’s brain development. Your body also needs it to grow and repair cells and make energy.
- The RDA is 11 mg; don't exceed 40 mg.
- The best food sources for zinc are cooked oysters, beef, crab, pork, white beans, and some breakfast cereals.
Make those extra calories count with these nutrient-packed choices:
Beans. Chickpeas, lentils, black beans, and soybeans have fiber, protein, iron, folate, calcium, and zinc. Enjoy in chili and soups, salads, and pasta dishes, or as hummus with whole-grain crackers or in roll-up sandwiches.
Beef. Lean cuts, such as top sirloin steak, pack protein, vitamins B6 and B12, and niacin, as well as zinc and iron, in forms that are easy to absorb. Beef is also rich in choline. Add lean ground beef to pasta sauces, or use it in tacos, as burgers, in stir-fry dishes, and in chili.
Berries. They're packed with carbohydrates, vitamin C, potassium, folate, fiber, and fluid. The phytonutrients in berries are naturally beneficial plant compounds that protect cells from damage. Enjoy them on top of whole-grain cereal, in smoothies made with yogurt or milk, in pancakes, and in salads. Layer yogurt with berries and crunchy whole-grain cereal for a dessert parfait.
Broccoli. This veggie has folate, fiber, calcium, lutein, zeaxanthin, and carotenoids for healthy vision, and potassium for fluid balance and normal blood pressure. It also has the raw materials for your body to make vitamin A. Eat it as part of pasta and stir-fry dishes, steamed and topped with a dash of olive oil, pureed and added to soups, or roasted. To roast, chop broccoli into bite-sized pieces, coat lightly with olive oil, and bake on a baking sheet at 400 F until tender, about 15 minutes.
Cheese (pasteurized). Cheese has concentrated amounts of calcium, phosphorus, and magnesium for your bones and your baby's, plus vitamin B12 and protein. Use reduced-fat varieties to save on calories, fat, and cholesterol. Snack on cheese with whole-grain crackers or fruit, sprinkle it on top of soups, or use it in salads, sandwiches, and omelets.
Eggs. These are the gold standard of protein because they have all the amino acids you and your baby need to thrive. They also include more than a dozen vitamins and minerals, such as choline, lutein, and zeaxanthin. Certain brands supply the omega-3 fats your baby needs for brain development and peak vision, so check the label. Enjoy eggs in omelets and frittatas; in salads and sandwiches; in homemade waffles, crepes, and whole-grain French toast; and as snacks, hard-cooked or scrambled.
Milk. It's an excellent source of calcium, phosphorus, and vitamin D. Milk also packs protein, vitamin A, and B vitamins. Choose plain or flavored, and use it in smoothies with fruit, over whole-grain cereal and fruit, and in pudding. Make oatmeal in the microwave with milk instead of water.
Orange juice (fortified). Orange juice with added calcium and vitamin D has the same levels of these nutrients as milk. Plus, you get hefty doses of vitamin C, potassium, and folate. Enjoy it plain or frozen as pops or ice cubes, and in smoothies.
Sweet potato. This packs vitamin C, folate, fiber, and carotenoids, which your body converts to vitamin A. It also supplies potassium in large amounts. Enjoy sweet potatoes baked, sliced cold, or cooked, for snacks and side dishes; mashed with orange juice; or roasted. Just slice washed sweet potatoes into wedges, coat lightly with canola oil, and roast on a baking sheet at 400 F until tender, about 15 to 20 minutes.
Whole grains. Enriched whole grains are fortified with folic acid and other B vitamins, iron, and zinc. Whole grains have more fiber and trace nutrients than processed grains such as white bread, white rice, and white flour. Eat oatmeal for breakfast; whole-grain breads for sandwiches; brown rice, wild rice, whole-wheat pasta, or quinoa for dinner; and popcorn or whole-grain crackers for snacks
Yogurt (plain low-fat or fat-free). Yogurt is packed with protein, calcium, B vitamins, and zinc. Plain yogurt has more calcium than milk. Stir in fruit preserves or honey, fresh or dried fruit, or crunchy whole-grain cereal. Use plain yogurt to top cooked sweet potatoes or to make smoothies.
Healthy Snacks During Pregnancy
Still looking for a way to get those extra calories? Snacks can do the trick. But this doesn’t mean a candy bar or a bag of potato chips. Instead, stock up on cereal, nuts, fruit, and low-fat yogurt.
Adding those 500 extra calories in a healthy way can be as simple as eating:
- 25 almonds, low-salt or unsalted (220 calories), with ⅔ cup dried cranberries (280 calories)
- ½ cup mixed nuts, low -salt or unsalted (410 calories), and 1 large orange (90 calories)
- 1½ cups small pasta shells (290 calories) with 1 cup cherry tomatoes (30 calories), ⅓ cup black beans (80 calories), 2 tsp olive oil (80 calories), and a splash of vinegar
For a smaller snack of about 300 to 350 calories, consider:
- 1½ cups oatmeal (220 calories) with 7 large strawberries (40 calories) and ½ cup blueberries (40 calories)
- 7 egg whites (120 calories) with 2 servings of salsa (40 calories) on 3 soft corn tortillas (180 calories)
- 2 cups low-fat yogurt (280 calories) and 1 large peach (60 calories)
It's OK to enjoy a sweet or salty treat every now and then. But do it in moderation, just as you did before you were pregnant. Too much salt can make you retain water and raise your blood pressure, which isn't good for you or your baby. And too many sweet foods will fill you up with empty calories, so you’re less hungry for the nutritious foods that you and your baby need.
Food cravings during pregnancy are normal. Although there's no widely accepted explanation for food cravings, they affect almost two-thirds of all pregnancies. If you develop a sudden urge for a certain food, go ahead and indulge your craving if it provides energy or an essential nutrient. But, if your craving persists and prevents you from getting other essential nutrients in your diet, try to create more of a balance in your daily diet.
During pregnancy, your taste for certain foods may change. You may suddenly dislike foods you were fond of before you became pregnant. You might even feel strong urges to eat nonfood items such as ice, laundry starch, dirt, clay, chalk, ashes, or paint chips. This is called pica, and it may be linked to an iron deficiency such as anemia. Don't give in to these nonfood cravings. They can harm you and your baby. Tell your doctor if you have these nonfood cravings.
If you have any problems that prevent you from eating balanced meals and gaining weight properly, ask your doctor for advice. A registered dietitian can also help you maintain good nutrition throughout your pregnancy.