The Truth About Prenatal Nutrition and Fitness

Eat for two when you're pregnant? Skip your workout? Our expert tells you what you need to know to stay healthy.

Medically Reviewed by Sara DuMond, MD on July 15, 2012
3 min read

You've heard all kinds of things about what you should and shouldn't do to stay healthy and fit when you're pregnant. To separate fact from fiction, we asked our experts for their fitness and nutrition tips. As always, check with your doctor about which guidelines are right for you.

Eat for one. You need to add only about 300 calories a day to your diet, starting in the second trimester, according to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG). "It's really not that much," says Anna Maria Siega-Riz, PhD, RD, professor of epidemiology and nutrition at the University of North Carolina's Gillings School of Global Public Health.

Take your vitamins. When you're pregnant, you need increased amounts of certain vitamins and minerals, such as folic acid and iron, says Siega-Riz. Prenatal supplements ensure you're getting the 400 to 800 micrograms of folic acid needed to help prevent neural tube birth defects like spina bifida, as well as extra iron for your increased blood volume.

Start exercising. "It's a myth that it's too late to begin exercising during pregnancy," says Marjorie Greenfield, MD, division director of General Obstetrics and Gynecology at University Hospitals Case Medical Center in Cleveland and author of The Working Woman's Pregnancy Book. And while it's probably not a good time to learn how to inline skate or play soccer, brisk walking is fine, she says.

ACOG recommends at least 30 minutes of exercise on most days of the week, which can help with everything from improving sleep to protecting against gestational diabetes. But whatever you do, "don't work out so hard you can't talk. Don't bang your tummy," Greenfield says. "As long as you follow the rules, do whatever [exercise] feels right to you," whether that's running, brisk walking, or swimming.

"But we don't recommend hot yoga," she adds. "Getting overheated is not good for you." No matter what exercise you're doing, "if you start feeling really hot, you have to stop."

Stay hydrated. While you don't need to down lots of extra water during pregnancy -- six to eight glasses a day is fine -- you do need to stay hydrated. Make sure you don't get dehydrated when exercising, says Greenfield.

And skip the sweetened drinks. "A lot of women don't realize that sweetened beverages -- juices, sweet teas, and Frappuccino-type coffee drinks -- have a lot of calories and added sugar," Siega-Riz says. "So it's really easy to gain weight."

Keep your balance. As you progress in your pregnancy, "you have to be cautious about things that involve balancing because your center of gravity is different and you may not adjust so quickly," Greenfield says. While you don't have to forgo bike riding, for example, you may have to go slower or adjust your workout.

Reader Tip

"My doctor told me the best medicine for swollen feet and ankles is a swimming pool. I have been going to the pool nearly every day." -- Beckie_33, WebMD community member