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Pregnancy and Your Diet

Now that you’re pregnant, you have twice as much reason to make healthy food choices. You need more of some nutrients during pregnancy. Getting all the nutrition you need is important for both you and your developing baby.

What is a pregnancy diet?

A healthy diet during pregnancy contains plenty of vitamins, minerals, protein, and water. It also provides the right number of calories to help you and your baby gain the correct amount of weight. And it doesn't include foods and drinks that may be unsafe for you and your baby.

How can this diet help you?

Eating wisely during pregnancy helps your body handle the extra demands of carrying a baby. It gives you the nutrients you need for your own health and wellness. And it gives your baby the needed nutrients for development.

Does this diet have any risks?

Eating for two doesn’t mean you should eat twice as much. Gaining too much weight raises the risk for high blood pressure and diabetes during pregnancy. It also raises the risk for premature birth. To prevent this issue, ask your healthcare provider how many extra calories you need. This amount may change as your pregnancy progresses.

Which foods should you eat?

Choose plenty of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. Also include healthy protein foods and low-fat or fat-free milk and dairy foods. Below are some things to keep in mind.

Calcium builds your baby’s teeth and bones. It also keeps your bones strong. Getting enough calcium also reduces your risk for preeclampsia. This is a serious pregnancy condition that causes a sudden rise in blood pressure. Sources of calcium include milk, yogurt, cheese, canned sardines, kale, and broccoli. Calcium is also added to some breakfast cereals, fruit juices, soy drinks, and tofu.

Iron helps your body make extra blood, which you and your baby need during pregnancy. It also supports your baby’s growth and brain development. You need more iron than you did before pregnancy. Sources include iron-fortified breakfast cereals, lean beef, turkey, shrimp, and beans.

Folic acid (folate) helps prevent serious birth defects of the brain and spine. You need more folic acid than you did before you were pregnant. Sources include breakfast cereal with added folic acid, enriched bread and pasta, oranges, kidney beans, and black-eyed peas.

Choline is important for the development of your baby’s brain and spinal cord. You need more choline than you did before you were pregnant. Most prenatal supplements have little, if any, choline. Choline is found in milk, beef and beef liver, eggs, chicken, fish and soy products.

Vitamin D helps build your baby’s bones and teeth and helps promote healthy skin and eyesight. Sources of vitamin D include sunlight exposure, fortified milk, egg yolks, and fatty fish such as salmon and sardines.

Include protein from a variety of sources in your diet every day. Healthy sources include poultry, lean meats, beans, eggs, low-fat dairy products, unsalted nuts, and tofu. Experts also advise eating 2 to 3 servings of fish and shellfish per week. But don't have any types of fish that are high in mercury (see below).

Water helps keep your body systems working as they should. Drinking plenty of water also helps prevent constipation and hemorrhoids. You need more water than you did before you were pregnant. Aim for 8 to 12 cups per day.

Which foods should you pass up?

Be aware of certain foods, drinks, and ingredients that could harm you or your baby.

Don't eat fish with high levels of mercury. Mercury is a substance linked to birth defects. Don’t eat bigeye tuna, king mackerel, marlin, orange roughy, shark, swordfish, or tilefish. If you eat albacore (white) tuna, don’t eat more than one serving per week.

Alcohol is unsafe in any amount. Drinking alcohol while pregnant increases the risk for miscarriage and stillbirth. It could also cause your child to have lifelong physical, behavioral, and learning disabilities.

Also limit caffeine. Some research shows that a high level may be bad for your baby. Getting less than 200 mg per day (about the amount in 12 ounces of coffee) may be OK. But check with your provider first. Besides coffee, caffeine is also found in tea, energy drinks, chocolate, and soda.

Don't have foods that are more likely to cause food poisoning (foodborne illness). This includes meat, poultry, fish, shellfish, and eggs that are raw or undercooked. It also includes raw (unpasteurized) juices or milk and soft cheeses made from it, and raw sprouts. If you eat hot dogs and deli meats, heat them first until steaming hot.

A healthy eating plan during pregnancy also limits salt (sodium), solid (saturated) fats such as butter, lard, and shortening, and beverages and foods high in added sugars.

Tips for following this diet

  • Your provider may suggest taking a daily prenatal supplement in addition to eating well. This helps make sure your baby gets enough of key nutrients such as iron and folic acid.

  • If you’re expecting twins or triplets, ask your provider for advice on what and how much to eat. You need more nutrients and calories, compared with women carrying just one baby.

Suggestions for planning meals

  • For breakfast, have berries or a banana with a bowl of whole grain cereal.

  • If you have morning sickness, try a slice of unbuttered whole wheat toast when you first wake up. Then have the rest of your breakfast later.

  • For lunch, have a mixed veggie salad with beans, a hardboiled egg, or tofu.

  • For dinner, have poultry, fish, or lean meat with steamed vegetables.

Online Medical Reviewer: Brittany Poulson MDA RDN CD CDE
Date Last Reviewed: 2/1/2023
© 2000-2024 The StayWell Company, LLC. All rights reserved. This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare professional's instructions.