Eating well during pregnancy is not just about eating more. What
you eat is as important.
You only need about 340 to 450 extra calories a day, and this is later in your
pregnancy, when your baby grows quickly. This isn't a lot — a cup of cereal
and 2% milk will get you there quickly. It's important is to make sure that the calories
you eat come from nutritious foods that will help your baby's growth and development.
Eating Well When You're Pregnant
Do you wonder how it's reasonable to gain 25 to 35 pounds (on average) during your
pregnancy when a newborn
baby weighs only a fraction of that? Although it varies from woman to woman, this
is how those pounds may add up:
7.5 pounds: average baby's weight
7 pounds: extra stored protein, fat, and other nutrients
4 pounds: extra blood
4 pounds: other extra body fluids
2 pounds: breast enlargement
2 pounds: enlargement of your uterus
2 pounds: amniotic fluid surrounding your baby
1.5 pounds: the placenta
Of course, patterns of weight
gain during pregnancy vary. It's normal to gain less if you start out heavier
and more if you're having twins or triplets — or if you were underweight before
becoming pregnant. More important than how much weight you gain is what makes up those
When you're pregnant, what you eat and drink is the main source of nourishment
for your baby. In fact, the link between what you consume and the health of your baby
is much stronger than once thought. That's why doctors now say, for example, that
no amount of alcohol consumption should be considered safe during
The extra food you eat shouldn't just be empty calories — it should provide
the nutrients your growing baby needs. For example, calcium helps make and keep bones
and teeth strong. While you're pregnant, you still need calcium for your body, plus
extra calcium for your developing baby. Similarly, you require more of all the essential
nutrients than you did before you became pregnant.
Nutrition for Expectant Moms
A healthy diet includes proteins, carbohydrates, fats, vitamins, minerals, and
plenty of water. The U.S. government publishes dietary guidelines that can help you
determine how many servings of each kind of food to eat every day. Eating a variety
of foods in the proportions indicated is a good step toward staying healthy.
Food labels can tell you what
kinds of nutrients are in the foods you eat. The letters RDA, which you find on food
labeling, stand for recommended daily allowance, or the amount of
a nutrient recommended for your daily diet. When you're pregnant, the RDAs for most
nutrients are higher.
Here are some of the most common nutrients you need and the foods that contain
strong bones and teeth, muscle contraction, nerve function
milk, cheese, yogurt, sardines or salmon with bones, spinach
red blood cell production (to prevent anemia)
lean red meat, spinach, iron-fortified whole-grain breads and cereals
healthy skin, good eyesight, growing bones
carrots, dark leafy greens, sweet potatoes
healthy gums, teeth, and bones; assistance with iron absorption
citrus fruit, broccoli, tomatoes, fortified fruit juices
red blood cell formation; effective use of protein, fat, and carbohydrates
pork, ham, whole-grain cereals, bananas
formation of red blood cells, maintaining nervous system health
meat, fish, poultry, milk (Note: vegetarians who don't eat dairy products
need supplemental B12.)
healthy bones and teeth; aids absorption of calcium
fortified milk, dairy products, cereals, and breads
blood and protein production, effective enzyme function
green leafy vegetables, dark yellow fruits and vegetables, beans, peas, nuts
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.)
Scientists know that your diet can affect your baby's health — even before
you become pregnant. For example, research shows that folic
acid helps prevent neural tube defects (including spina bifida) during the earliest
stages of fetal development. So it's important to get plenty of it before you become
pregnant and during the early weeks of your pregnancy.
Doctors encourage women to take folic acid supplements before and throughout pregnancy
(especially for the first 28 days). Be sure to ask your doctor about folic acid if
you're considering becoming pregnant.
Calcium is another important nutrient. Because your growing baby's calcium demands
are high, you should increase your calcium consumption to prevent a loss of calcium
from your own bones. Your doctor will also likely prescribe prenatal vitamins for
you, which contain some extra calcium.
Your best food sources of calcium are milk and other dairy products. However, if
you have lactose intolerance or dislike
milk and milk products, ask your doctor about a calcium supplement. (Signs of lactose
intolerance include diarrhea, bloating, or gas after eating milk or milk products.
Taking a lactase capsule or pill or using lactose-free milk products may help.) Other
calcium-rich foods include sardines or salmon with bones, tofu, broccoli, spinach,
and calcium-fortified juices and foods.
Doctors don't usually recommend starting a strict vegan
diet when you become pregnant. However, if you already follow a vegan or vegetarian
diet, you can continue to do so during your pregnancy — but do it carefully.
Be sure your doctor knows about your diet. It's challenging to get the nutrition you
need if you don't eat fish and chicken, or milk, cheese, or eggs. You'll likely need
supplemental protein and may also need to take vitamin B12 and D supplements.
To ensure that you and your baby receive adequate nutrition, consult a registered
dietitian for help with planning meals.
Food Cravings During Pregnancy
You've probably known women who craved specific foods during pregnancy, or perhaps
you've had such cravings yourself. Some old theories held that a hunger
for a particular type of food indicated that a woman's body lacked the nutrients that
food contains. Although this turned out not to be so, it's still unclear why these
Some pregnant women crave chocolate, spicy foods, fruits, and comfort foods, such
as mashed potatoes, cereals, and toasted white bread. Other women crave non-food items,
such as clay and cornstarch. The craving and eating of non-food items is known as
pica. Consuming things that aren't food
can be dangerous to both you and your baby. If you have urges to eat non-food items,
notify your doctor.
But following your cravings is fine as long as you crave foods that contribute
to a healthy diet. Often, these cravings let up about 3 months into the pregnancy.
Food and Drinks to Avoid While Pregnant
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.
And although many doctors feel that one or two 6- to 8-ounce cups per day of coffee,
tea, or soda with caffeine won't harm your baby, it's probably wise to avoid caffeine
altogether if you can. High caffeine consumption has been linked to an increased risk
of miscarriage and other problems, so limit your intake or switch to decaffeinated
When you're pregnant, it's also important to avoid food-borne illnesses, such as
listeriosis and toxoplasmosis,
which can be life threatening to an unborn baby and may cause birth
defects or miscarriage. Foods to steer clear of include:
soft, unpasteurized cheeses (often advertised as "fresh") such as feta, goat,
Brie, Camembert, and blue cheese
unpasteurized milk, juices, and apple cider
raw eggs or foods containing raw eggs, including mousse and tiramisu
raw or undercooked meats, fish, or shellfish
processed meats such as hot dogs and deli meats (these should be thoroughly cooked)
fish that are high in mercury, including shark, swordfish, king mackerel, marlin,
orange roughy, tuna steak (bigeye or ahi), and tilefish
If you've eaten these foods at some point during your pregnancy, try not to worry
too much about it now; just avoid them for the remainder of the pregnancy. If you're
really concerned, talk to your doctor.
More About Fish
Fish and shellfish can be an extremely healthy part of your pregnancy diet —
they contain beneficial omega-3 fatty acids and are high in protein and low in saturated
fat. But limit the types of fish you eat while pregnant because some contain high
levels of mercury, which can cause damage to the developing nervous system of a fetus.
Mercury, which occurs naturally in the environment, is also released into the air
through industrial pollution and can accumulate in streams and oceans, where it turns
into methylmercury. The methylmercury builds up in fish, especially those that eat
Canned tuna can be confusing because the cans contain different types of tuna and
varying quantities of mercury The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recommends
eating 2–3 servings per week of canned light tuna, but only one serving per
week of albacore/white tuna (these are larger fish and contain more mercury). A 2017
review by Consumer Reports, though, showed that some canned light and albacore tuna
can contain higher mercury levels than expected, and recommends that pregnant women
eat no canned tuna at all. But the FDA stands by its current recommendations, saying
that the levels are safe if tuna consumption is limited.
It can be confusing when recommendations from trusted sources differ. But because
this analysis indicates that amounts of mercury in tuna may be higher than previously
reported, some women may want to eliminate tuna from their diet while pregnant or
when trying to become pregnant.
Almost all fish and shellfish contain small amounts of mercury, but you can safely
eat up to 12 ounces (2 average meals) a week of a variety of fish and shellfish that
are lower in mercury, such as salmon, shrimp, clams, pollock, catfish, and tilapia.
Talk with your doctor if you have any questions about how much — and which
— fish you can eat.
Managing Some Common Problems
The iron in prenatal vitamins and other things can cause constipation during pregnancy.
So try to get more fiber than you did
before you became pregnant. Try to eat about 20 to 30 grams of fiber a day. Your best
sources are fresh fruits and vegetables and whole-grain breads, cereals, or muffins.
Some people use fiber tablets or drinks or other high-fiber products, but check
with your doctor before trying them. (Don't use laxatives while you're pregnant unless
your doctor advises you to do so. And avoid the old wives' remedy — castor oil
— because it can actually interfere with your body's ability to absorb nutrients.)
If constipation is a problem for you, your doctor may prescribe a stool softener.
Be sure to drink plenty of fluids, especially water, when increasing fiber intake,
or you can make your constipation worse.
One of the best ways to avoid constipation is to get more exercise.
Drink plenty of water between meals each day to help soften your stools and move food
through your digestive system. Sometimes hot tea, soups, or broth can help. Also,
keep dried fruits handy for snacking.
Some pregnant women find that broccoli, spinach, cauliflower, and fried foods give
them heartburn or gas. You can plan a balanced diet to avoid these foods. Carbonated
drinks also cause gas or heartburn for some women, although others find they calm
the digestive system.
If you're often nauseated, eat small amounts of bland foods, like toast or crackers,
throughout the day. Some women find it helpful to eat foods made with ginger. To help
combat nausea, you can also:
Take your prenatal vitamin before going to bed after you've eaten a snack —
not on an empty stomach.
Eat a small snack when you get up to go to the bathroom early in the morning.