Good Nutrition During Pregnancy for Your and Your Baby

Your Guide to a Healthy Pregnancy

What foods should I eat?

You will need an additional 200 to 300 calories from nutrient-dense foods compared with how you ate prior to your pregnancy.  It will be important to carefully consider the foods you consume during your pregnancy.  This is a time to eat more foods that are nutrient-dense and fewer sweets and treats.  Use these guidelines to choose a healthy diet.

Daily guidelines for eating healthy during pregnancy

Eat a variety of foods.  Use the MyPyramid Web Site (www.mypyramid.gov) as a guide to choose the amounts of foods in each group.

  • Choose whole grain carbohydrates that are a good source of fiber.
  • Take your prenatal vitamin daily and/or any other prescribed vitamins and minerals.  Your prenatal vitamin should contain at least 400mcg of folic acid. 
  • Choose at least one good source of folic acid.  Foods rich in folic acid include green leafy vegetables, fruits (such as orange juice and strawberries) and fortified cereals.
  • Drink or eat four servings of dairy products or foods rich in calcium.
  • Eat at least three servings of iron-rich foods.  You should get 18 milligrams of iron from your daily diet.  Good sources include enriched grain product, lean meat, poultry, fish, eggs and green leafy vegetables.
  • Choose at least one good source of Vitamin A every other day.  Foods rich in Vitamin A often have a yellow or orange color to them.  They include carrots, sweet potatoes, apricots and cantaloupe.
  • Avoid alcohol.  Alcohol has been linked with premature delivery and low birth weight babies as well as Fetal Alcohol Syndrome.
  • Limit caffeine to 300mg per day.  You may choose:  two 5-ounce cups of coffee, three 5-ounce cups of tea or two 12-ounce glasses of caffeinated soda.
  • You may use some non-nutritive artificial sweeteners in pregnancy.  The FDA has approved the use of aspertame (Nutrasweet), sucralose (Splenda) and acesulfame-K.  The FDA does not recommend saccharin because it can remain in fetal tissues.
  • Eat salty foods in moderation.  Salt causes your body to retain water and could lead to an elevation in your blood pressure.
  • Do not diet!  Even if you are overweight, your pregnancy is not an acceptable time to lose weight.  You or your baby could be missing essential nutrients for good growth.

Are there foods that are harmful to eat during pregnancy?

There are specific foods that you will want to avoid during your pregnancy.  Hormonal changes during pregnancy can have a negative affect on your immune system and put you at greater risk of contracting a food-borne illness.  The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have found that contracting the food-borne illness Listeria during pregnancy can cause premature delivery, miscarriage and even fetal death.  Pregnancy women are 20 times more likely to contract Listeria.

You can decrease your chances of contracting Listeria by avoiding hot dogs, luncheon meats, soft cheeses and unpasteurized milk products.  Soft cheeses include feta, Brie, Camembert, blue-veined cheeses and Mexican-style cheeses such as queso blanco and queso fresco.  Other foods that are more likely to cause food-borne illness include sushi, rare beef, raw eggs, Caesar dressing and mayonnaise.

Another food of concern for pregnant women is fish.  Although fish is a low-fat, healthful protein choice, there are certain fish that have elevated levels of mercury or PCBs.  Consuming fish with high levels of these chemicals have been associated with brain damage and developmental delay for your baby.  Shark, swordfish, king mackerel and tilefish have higher levels of mercury and should be avoided.  Bluefish, bass, freshwater salmon, pike, trout and walleye contain high amounts of PCBs and should be avoided.

Do any of your family members have a peanut allergy?  If they do, you might need to avoid peanuts and peanut products.  Research has shown that when you eat peanut products when you are pregnant, you expose your baby to peanut allergens.  This exposure might increase the baby’s likelihood of developing a food allergy to peanuts.

How much weight should I gain?

Gaining the right amount of weight during pregnancy by eating a balanced diet is a good sign that your baby is getting all of the nutrients he or she needs and is growing at a healthy rate.

Weight gain should be slow and gradual.  In general, you should gain about 2 to 4 pounds during your first 3 months of pregnancy and 1 pound a week for the remainder of pregnancy.  A woman of average weight should expect to gain 25 to 35 pounds during the pregnancy.  You might need to gain more or less depending on whether you are overweight or underweight before your pregnancy.

Where does all the weight go?

  • Baby – 8 pounds
  • Placenta – 2-3 pounds
  • Amniotic fluid – 2-3 pounds
  • Breast tissue – 2-3 pounds
  • Blood supply – 4 pounds
  • Fat stores for delivery and breastfeeding – 5-9 pounds
  • Uterus – 2-5 pounds

What if I am gaining too much weight?

Try to get your weight gain back on track.  Don’t consider loosing weight or stopping weight gain altogether.  You should try to slow your weight gain to recommended amounts, depending on your trimester.  During the first trimester, you should gain 2-4 pounds total.  During the second and third trimester, you should gain 1 pound per week.  Consider trying these diet changes to gain weight more slowly:

  • Eat the appropriate portion size and avoid second helpings.
  • Choose low-fat dairy products.
  • Exercise.  Consider walking or swimming on most if not all days.
  • Use low-fat cooking methods.
  • Limit sweets and high-calorie snacks.
  • Limit sweet and sugary drinks.

What if I’m not gaining enough weight?

Every woman is different and not everyone will gain at the same rate.  You should talk to your doctor if you are concerned that you are not gaining enough.  Weight gain can be hindered by nausea and morning sickness.  Consider trying these diet changes to gain weight within the appropriate ranges:

  • Eat more frequently.  Try eating five to six times per day.
  • Choose nutrient and calorically dense foods such as dried fruit, nuts, crackers with peanut butter and ice cream.

What can I eat if I am not feeling well?

Pregnancy symptoms can vary.  Some women might have difficulty with morning sickness, diarrhea or constipation.  Here are a few suggestions on how to deal with these symptoms.

  • Morning sickness – For morning sickness, try eating crackers, cereal or pretzels before you get out of bed.  Eat small meals more frequently throughout the day.  Avoid fatty, fried foods.
  • Constipation – Increase your fiber intake by eating high fiber cereal and fresh fruits and vegetables.  Also, make sure you are drinking plenty of water – at least eight glasses per day.
  • Diarrhea – Increase your intake of foods containing pectin and gum fiber to help absorb excess water.  Good choices include applesauce, bananas, white rice, oatmeal, refined wheat bread and smooth peanut butter.
  • Heartburn – Eat small frequent meals throughout the day.  Try drinking a glass of milk before your meal.  Avoid caffeine.  Try not to lie down after eating a meal.