Eating Healthy During Pregnancy
Please note: The following article provides general nutrition guidelines for a healthy pregnancy diet. All pregnant women should check with their healthcare provider regarding appropriate dietary needs and supplements for their individual pregnancy.
Maintaining a healthy diet during pregnancy is important for both you and your baby:
» For you: Eating well decreases your odds of experiencing pregnancy complications such as anemia, gestational diabetes and preeclampsia. It may also help minimize morning sickness, fatigue and other common pregnancy symptoms. As an added bonus, good nutrition will put you on the path to a quicker recovery after delivery.
» For your baby: What you eat helps to boost your baby’s brain development and decreases the risk of certain birth defects like spina bifida (a condition where the baby’s backbone doesn’t fully close, which can lead to nerve damage or even paralysis). Eating a well-balanced diet also helps ensure that your baby will be born at a healthy weight.
Your Healthy Pregnancy Diet
The basics of a healthy pregnancy diet are the same as any healthy diet: a balanced mix of whole grains, lean protein and calcium, healthy fats and a rainbow of fruits and vegetables. Since you are eating for two, you will likely need more calories and nutrients to nourish the baby as your pregnancy progresses.
Here are some guidelines for good nutrition during pregnancy:
To begin, prenatal vitamin supplements are packed with essential nutrients to support you and your baby through a healthy pregnancy. With so many different prenatal vitamin supplements on the market, it may be difficult to know which one is right for you. Ask your healthcare provider for advice. Read the label of any prenatal vitamin you’re considering and make sure it contains folic acid, calcium, vitamin D, iron, iodine and vitamin B6. Keep in mind that a prenatal vitamin is a supplement, not a substitute, for a well-balanced, nutrient-rich diet. During pregnancy, you’ll need to get 600-800 micrograms of folic acid, 1,000 milligrams of calcium, 600 IU of vitamin D, 27 milligrams of iron, 250 micrograms of iodine and 1.9 milligrams of vitamin B6 per day.1,2
The amino acids that make up protein are important building blocks of human cells. Eating three servings of protein a day (about 75 grams) will promote a healthy pregnancy and help support your baby’s cell development. Keep in mind that any meat or poultry you eat should be cooked all the way through. If you’re relying on fish for protein, stick to well-cooked, low-mercury fish. Sushi and seared or smoked seafood are strictly off-limits.
In addition to helping your bones stay strong, calcium is critical for your baby’s bone development. Remember that high-fiber foods and caffeine can decrease the absorption of calcium.
Your baby’s blood supply is developing rapidly and yours is expanding as well, so your body needs iron for you to maintain a healthy pregnancy. Foods like spinach, soy, beef and dried fruit are rich in iron. As your pregnancy progresses, your healthcare provider may advise you to add a daily iron supplement to your prenatal vitamin. To increase the absorption of iron, take the supplement between meals with a source of vitamin C (like orange juice).
Next, fat is essential for your baby’s brain and eye development, especially during the third trimester. But make sure you’re getting the right kinds of fats. Unsaturated fats promote a healthy pregnancy and are rich in omega-3 fatty acids that help to boost your baby’s brain, heart, vision and immune system. You’ll find unsaturated fats in nuts, avocados, olive oil and salmon. Limit saturated fats and avoid trans fats, which are commonly found in packaged, processed or frozen foods. Not sure what kind of fat is in the food you’re eating? Read the nutrition labels!
Lastly, sodium is essential for normal nerve, muscle and organ function and it helps to regulate the temperature, pH and fluid level in your body. This is especially important during pregnancy, when the volume of blood and other fluids in your body is increasing. However, the recommended daily intake of salt is the same for pregnant women as it is for non-pregnant women – no more than 2,300 milligrams a day (about a teaspoon of table salt).3 So, don’t overdo it on the sodium.
In summary, follow the guidelines below and it will help put you on the path to a healthy pregnancy:
- Take a prenatal vitamin.
- Get enough protein.
- Boost your calcium intake.
- Stock up on iron-rich foods.
- Focus on the right kinds of fats.
- Watch your sodium intake.
Want more information about maintaining a healthy pregnancy? Click here to learn more about foods to avoid while you’re pregnant.
- Mayo Clinic. Pregnancy diet: Focus on these essential nutrients. Available at http://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/pregnancy-week-by-week/in-depth/pregnancy-nutrition/art-20045082.
- WebMD. Your Healthy Pregnancy Diet: Top Nutrients. Available at http://www.webmd.com/baby/pregnancy-diet-nutrients-you-need.
- U.S. Department of Agriculture & U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2015-2020. Available at https://www.dietaryguidelines.gov/current-dietary-guidelines/2015-2020-dietary-guidelines.
- WebMD. Eating Right When Pregnant. http://www.webmd.com/baby/guide/eating-right-when-pregnant.
- American Pregnancy Association. Diet During Pregnancy. Available at http://americanpregnancy.org/pregnancy-health/diet-during-pregnancy/.