Nutritional Needs During Pregnancy

Written by the Healthline Editorial Team | Published on March 15, 2012
Medically Reviewed by Joan K. Lingen, MD

Overview

Your body goes through a great deal of hormonal, physiological, and physical changes during pregnancy. The way you nourish your body during this process will affect your own health, as well as the health of your baby. By following some fairly easy nutrition guidelines, you can be on your way to a healthy pregnancy.

Healthy Weight Gain

Many women are concerned about weight gain during pregnancy. Some women fear gaining too much weight, wondering if they will ever get back to their pre-pregnancy size; others feel they may not be gaining enough weight. A woman gains more weight than just the weight of the baby. In order to produce a healthy baby, your body requires extra fluids-extra water, blood, and amniotic fluid. During pregnancy you gain about 15 to 20 pounds in water alone. You can discuss with your provider the appropriate amount of weight for you to gain during your pregnancy. The chart below provides some general recommendations.

Recommended Weight Gain During Pregnancy
If your normal range is:And your body mass index* is:You should gain:
Underweight< 19.828 to 40 pounds
Normal weight19.8 to 26.025 to 35 pounds
Overweight26.0 to 29.015 to 25 pounds
Obese>29.00 to 15 pounds

* Body mass index can be calculated with use of the following equation: weight (in kilograms) / [height (in meters)]2.

Your Body's Nutritional Needs

During pregnancy your body has increased nutritional needs. Although the old adage "eating for two" isn't entirely correct, you do require more macronutrients (for example, calories, protein, and fluids) and micronutrients (for example, calcium, folate, and iron).

NutrientAdditional daily requirements for pregnant women
Calories300 (in the second and third trimesters)
Protein60 mg
Calcium1200 mg
Folate (folic acid)15 mg
Iron30 mg

In general, most women can meet these increased nutritional needs by choosing a diet that includes a variety of nutritious foods, including 8 to 10 glasses of water a day, and by taking a prenatal vitamin prescribed by their health care provider. A simple way to ensure that you are getting all the nutrients that you and your baby need is by eating a variety of foods from each of the food groups every day.

Each food group has something to offer your body. Grains like cereal and pasta, for example, are good sources of energy. Fruits and vegetables are packed with water-soluble and fat-soluble vitamins, as well as antioxidants and fiber. The food group that includes meats, poultry, fish, eggs, tofu, and beans offers your body protein, B vitamins, folate, and iron. Dairy products are the best source of calcium and vitamin D.

Your body is unable to function properly if it is missing the nutrients from any one of these food groups-so remember that your goal is variety. Whenever possible, choose healthy, low-fat foods like whole grains and fresh fruits and vegetables instead of snack foods like chips, donuts, and soda pop. You don't need to avoid all of your favorite foods, just balance them with nutritious foods so that you don't miss any important vitamins or minerals. Including the following foods in your daily diet will help ensure that you fulfill your body's vitamin and mineral needs during your pregnancy:

Protein Sources (3 servings per day)Calcium Sources* (4 servings per day for pregnant women, 5 servings for pregnant teens)
  • Lean meats
  • Fish
  • Beans
  • Nuts
  • Poultry
  • Eggs
  • Soy products
  • Peanut butter
  • Milk
  • Yogurt
  • Ice cream
  • Cheese
  • Cottage cheese
  • Pudding

*Fat-free and low-fat versions are best when available

Sources of FolateSources of Iron
  • Liver
  • Dark green leafy vegetables
  • Nuts
  • Citrus fruits
  • Dried beans and lentils
  • Enriched breads or cereals
  • Eggs
  • Lean red meats and poultry
  • Dried beans and lentils
  • Enriched breads or cereals
  • Nuts and peanut butter
  • Eggs
  • Dark green leafy vegetables
  • Dried fruits

Should I Restrict the Salt in my Diet?

It is not necessary for all women to restrict their salt or sodium intake during pregnancy. In general, if a woman minimizes the amount of salty foods in her diet (for example, snack foods, dried fish or meat, pickled foods, or frozen dinners), she will be regulating her salt intake sufficiently. You and your health care provider should discuss any special diet needs that you might have.

What If I Have Cravings to Eat Non-Food Items?

During pregnancy some women crave non-food items like ice, antacids, clay, dirt, cigarette ashes, or starch. This is called pica. When a woman has pica during pregnancy, it may indicate lack of a specific vitamin or mineral. It is important to inform your health care provider if you have cravings for non-food items or have eaten non-food items. Non-food items can be dangerous to you and your baby.

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