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Eating and Nutrition during Pregnancy Eating and Nutrition during Pregnancy

Eating and Nutrition During Pregnancy


Eating right during pregnancy is not just a matter of eating more. You must also consider what you eat. What you eat right before and during your pregnancy can affect both your health and the health of your growing baby.

What to Eat While Pregnant

A healthy diet includes proteins, carbohydrates, fats, vitamins, minerals, and plenty of water.  If you are unsure about eating healthy during pregnancy, in addition to reviewing the information on this website, make sure to talk to your doctor or midwife.

The following information has been adapted from the websites listed at the bottom of this page.

Eating More During Pregnancy

While you are pregnant you will need additional nutrients  but, in general, you should only eat an extra 300 calories per day. The ADA recommends that pregnant women eat a total of 2,500 to 2,700 calories every day with the calories coming from a variety of healthy foods.

Without the advise of your health care provider you not cut back on your food intake. If you do, your unborn baby might not get the right amounts of protein, vitamins and minerals. Low-calorie diets, for example, can break down a pregnant woman's stored fat and this can lead to problems for your baby.

Food Cravings and Pregnancy

Some women develop specific food cravings during pregnancy.  Some pregnant women crave chocolate, spicy foods, fruits, and comfort foods. As long as these foods you crave fit into an overall healthy diet, you should not worry about fulfilling the craving.  However, sometimes a woman may crave non-food items; this is known as pica.  If you do crave non-food items it does not mean anything is wrong with you but you need to discuss this with your health care provider.

There is no clear explanation for food cravings and no substantial evidence that such food cravings indicates that a woman's body lacks the nutrients that food contains.

Food and Drinks to Avoid During Pregnancy

Avoid all alcohol since no level of alcohol consumption is considered safe during pregnancy. Also, check with your doctor before you take any vitamins or herbal products. Some of these can be harmful to the developing fetus.

Caffeine is a stimulant found in colas, coffee, tea, chocolate, cocoa, and some over-the-counter and prescription drugs. Large quantities of caffeine can cause irritability, nervousness and insomnia as well as low birth-weight babies. Caffeine can also lead to a reduction in the amount of valuable water your body needs. Some studies show that drinking caffeine during pregnancy can harm the fetus therefore you should be cautious and limit your caffeine consumption. Some health care providers believe that one or two 6- to 8-ounce cups per day of coffee, tea, or soda with caffeine will not hurt your baby, but they note that high caffeine consumption has been linked to an increased risk of miscarriage.

Foods you should avoid include:

  • unpasteurized cheeses such as feta, goat, Brie, Camembert, and blue cheese
  • unpasteurized milk, juices, and apple cider
  • raw eggs or foods containing raw eggs
  • raw or undercooked meats, fish, or shellfish
  • processed meats such as hot dogs and deli meats (these should be well-cooked)
  • fish that are high in mercury, including shark, swordfish, king mackerel, or tilefish

Take Multivitamins During My Pregnancy

Most health care providers will advise you to take a multivitamin or prenatal vitamin every day in help ensure that you and your baby get enough important nutrients like folic acid. Remember to take only the vitamins and minerals approved by your health care provider.

Weight Gain During Pregnancy

The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists recommends an average weight gain during pregnancy of 25 to 30 pounds during pregnancy. But the amount of weight you should gain depends on your weight before you became pregnant and your height.  In general, if you were underweight before becoming pregnant, you should gain between 28 and 40 pounds and if you were overweight before becoming pregnant, you should gain between 15 and 25 pounds.  You should gain weight gradually during your pregnancy, with most of the weight gained in the last trimester.  Make sure to check with your health care provider to find out how much weight gain is best for you and your baby.

Common Nutrients and the Foods that Contain Them

What pregnant women eat is more important than how much.

Nutrient

Needed for

Best sources

Protein

cell growth and blood production

lean meat, fish, poultry, egg whites, beans, peanut butter, tofu

Carbohydrates

daily energy production

breads, cereals, rice, potatoes, pasta, fruits, vegetables

Calcium

strong bones and teeth, muscle contraction, nerve function

milk, cheese, yogurt, sardines or salmon with bones, spinach

Iron

red blood cell production (needed to prevent anemia)

lean red meat, spinach, iron-fortified whole-grain breads and cereals

Vitamin A

healthy skin, good eyesight, growing bones

carrots, dark leafy greens, sweet potatoes

Vitamin C

healthy gums, teeth, and bones; assistance with iron absorption

citrus fruit, broccoli, tomatoes, fortified fruit juices

Vitamin B6

red blood cell formation; effective use of protein, fat, and carbohydrates

pork, ham, whole-grain cereals, bananas

Vitamin B12

formation of red blood cells, maintaining nervous system health

meat, fish, poultry, milk
(Note: vegetarians who don't eat dairy products need supplemental B12)

Vitamin D

healthy bones and teeth; aids absorption of calcium

fortified milk, dairy products, cereals, and breads

Folic acid

blood and protein production, effective enzyme function

green leafy vegetables, dark yellow fruits and vegetables, beans, peas, nuts

Fat

body energy stores

meat, whole-milk dairy products, nuts, peanut butter, margarine, vegetable oils
(Note: limit fat intake to 30% or less of your total daily calorie intake)

Folic Acid and Other Critical Nutrients

Folic Acid

Folic acid, a B vitamin, helps prevent birth defects of the brain and spinal cord.  The best way to get enough folic acid is to take a multivitamin with 400 micrograms of folic acid in it and eat a healthy diet. Folic acid is found in the following foods:

  • Fortified breakfast cereals
  • Lentils
  • Asparagus
  • Spinach
  • Black beans
  • Peanuts (only if you do not have a peanut allergy)
  • Orange juice (from concentrate is best)
  • Enriched breads and pasta
  • Romaine lettuce
  • Broccoli

Iron

Pregnant women need twice as much iron, approximately 30 mg per day, than other women.  It is recommended that  a pregnant woman take a low-dose iron supplement (30 mg/day) or a multivitamin with iron.  A pregnant woman can also eat lots of iron-rich foods like lean red meat, fish, poultry, dried fruits, whole-grain breads, and iron-fortified cereals.

Calcium

It is recommended that a pregnant woman get approximately 1,000 mg/day of calcium and many pregnant women will have to change their diets to get their fill of this important mineral. Low-fat or non-fat milk, yogurt, cheese or other dairy products, green leafy vegetables, calcium-fortified foods like orange juice and breakfast cereal can also provide calcium.

Water

It is easy to overlook the important role that water plays in the diet of a pregnant woman.  Water carries the nutrients from the food you eat to your baby, it helps prevent constipation, hemorrhoids, excessive swelling, and urinary tract or bladder infections, and prevents you from becoming dehydrated.  You may think coffee, tea, and soft drinks are replacing needed water in their body but this is typically not the case.   You should drink at least 6 eight-ounce glasses of water, just plain water, per day while adding another glass of water per day for each hour of activity. 

 

Additional Information

March of Dimes: Folic acid
Kids health: Eating during pregnancy
March of dimes: Healthy eating
March of Dimes: Food safety

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