As you probably know, your body goes through lots of physical and hormonal changes during pregnancy. To fuel yourself and your growing baby, you’ll need to make great food choices from a variety of sources.
Eating a healthy, balanced diet will help you feel good and provide everything you and your baby need. The food you eat is your baby’s main source of nourishment, so it’s critical to get all of the nutrients you need.
The good thing? All of these nutrition guidelines aren’t that hard to follow and provide some delicious options. Even with cravings (hot sauce on peanut butter, anyone?) you can craft up a healthy menu in no time.
No surprise here: Your body has increased nutritional needs during pregnancy — you’re feeding a whole new person! Although the old adage of “eating for two” isn’t entirely correct, you do require more micronutrients and macronutrients to support you and your baby.
Micronutrients are dietary components, such as vitamins and minerals, that are only required in relatively small amounts.
Macronutrients are nutrients that provide calories, or energy. We’re talking carbohydrates, proteins, and fats. You’ll need to eat more of each type of nutrient during pregnancy.
Here are some general guidelines on a few important nutrients that will need to be adjusted based on your needs:
|Nutrient||Daily requirements for pregnant women|
|calcium||1200 milligrams (mg)|
|folate||600–800 micrograms (mcg)|
|protein||70–100 grams (g) per day, increasing each trimester|
Most pregnant people can meet these increased nutritional needs by choosing a diet that includes a variety of healthy foods such as:
Your goal? Eat a wide variety of foods to provide everything you and your baby needs. It’s not that different from a regular healthy eating plan — just amplified a bit.
As often as you can, avoid overly processed junk foods. Chips and soda, for example, contain no nutritional value. You and your baby will benefit more from fresh fruits, vegetables, and lean proteins, such as chicken, fish, beans, or lentils.
This doesn’t mean that you need to avoid all of your favorite foods during pregnancy. Just balance them with nutritious foods so that you don’t miss any important vitamins or minerals.
Protein is critical for ensuring the proper growth of baby’s tissues and organs, including the brain. It also helps with breast and uterine tissue growth during pregnancy.
It even plays a role in your increasing blood supply, allowing more blood to be sent to your baby.
Your protein needs increase during each trimester of pregnancy.
You’ll need to eat about
Good sources of protein include:
- lean beef and pork
- peanut butter
- cottage cheese
Calcium helps build your baby’s bones and regulates your body’s use of fluids. It does a body good, right?
Good sources of calcium include:
- low-mercury fish and seafood, such as salmon, shrimp, catfish, and canned light tuna
- calcium-set tofu
- dark green, leafy vegetables
Folate, also known as folic acid, plays an important part in reducing the risk of neural tube defects. These are major birth defects that affect the baby’s brain and spinal cord, such as spina bifida and anencephaly.
When you’re pregnant, the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology (ACOG) recommends 600 to 800 mcg of folate. You can get folate from these foods:
- dried beans and lentils
- nuts and peanut butter
- dark green, leafy vegetables
Iron works with sodium, potassium, and water to increase blood flow. This helps ensure that enough oxygen is supplied to both you and your baby.
You should be getting 27 mg of iron per day, preferably alongside some vitamin C to increase absorption. Good sources of this nutrient include:
- dark green, leafy vegetables (noticing a trend with this one?)
- citrus fruits
- enriched breads or cereals
- lean beef and poultry
Other nutrients are necessary to keep you thriving during your pregnancy like choline, salt, and B vitamins.
Aside from eating well, it’s important to drink at least eight glasses of water each day and to take prenatal vitamins. It’s difficult to obtain sufficient amounts of certain nutrients, including folate, iron, and choline, from food alone.
Make sure to speak with your doctor about which prenatal vitamins you should take.
You might start aching for a donut, Chinese food, or a strange food combination like the classic pickles and ice cream.
It’s unclear why women develop food cravings or aversions during pregnancy. However, researchers believe hormones play a role.
It’s fine to give in to these cravings sometimes, especially if you crave foods that are a part of a healthy diet. However, you should try to limit your intake of junk food and processed foods.
There’s usually a tasty alternative that will be a better option. Craving some french fries? Oven-roasted sweet potato wedges can feel just as indulgent with lots of good nutrients.
Food aversions, on the other hand, may only be problematic if they involve foods that are important for baby’s growth and development.
Talk to your doctor if you have adverse reactions to foods you should be eating during pregnancy. Your doctor can suggest other foods or supplements to compensate for the lack of those nutrients in your diet.
Pica is a disorder that causes cravings for items that contain no nutritional value. Pregnant women with pica may want to eat clay, cigarette ashes, or starch, among other strange substances.
When a woman has pica during pregnancy, it may indicate a lack of a specific vitamin or mineral. It’s important to notify your doctor if you crave nonfood items or have eaten nonfood items. Eating such items can be dangerous for you and your baby.
If you’re concerned about weight gain, don’t stress too much. Some weight gain is normal during pregnancy. The extra weight provides nourishment to the baby. Some of it is also stored for breastfeeding after the baby is born.
Women gain an average of 25 to 35 pounds (lbs.) during pregnancy. It’s normal to gain less weight if you start out with more weight or to gain more weight if you were underweight before pregnancy.
You can speak with your doctor about the appropriate amount of weight for you to gain during your pregnancy. The chart below provides some general guidelines, though everyone is different.
Recommended weight gain during pregnancy with one baby
|Starting weight||Body mass index*||Suggested weight gain|
|underweight||< 18.5||28 to 40 lbs.|
|average weight||18.5 to 24.9||25 to 35 lbs.|
|overweight||25 to 29.9||15 to 25 lbs.|
|obese||> 30.0||11 to 20 lbs.|
*Body mass index (BMI) can be calculated using the following equation: weight (in pounds) / height (in inches)2 x 703.
Don’t worry too much about the number on the scale. Instead of focusing on your weight, concentrate on eating a variety of nutritious foods. Healthy eating is incredibly important, and dieting to lose weight or prevent weight gain can be harmful to you and your baby.
Besides eating a nutrition-focused diet, exercising during pregnancy can help you manage your health and de-stress. Swimming and walking are good choices to get moving. Choose an activity (or a variety!) that you enjoy.
Avoid any extreme sports or contact sports, such as rock climbing and basketball. Staying safe while getting your move on is ideal.
If you didn’t exercise before your pregnancy, start out slowly and don’t overdo it. Consider looking into some exercises or classes that focus specifically on pregnant people for extra support.
It’s also important to drink plenty of water so that you don’t get dehydrated. Make sure to talk to your doctor before you start a new exercise routine.
Make sure you’re eating a balanced and nutritious diet during your pregnancy so you and your growing baby can be as healthy as possible.
Include whole, nourishing foods, and limit your intake of foods without good nutritional value like processed and fast foods.
Let your healthcare team guide you in creating a specific, enjoyable, and achievable meal plan based on your age, weight, risk factors, and medical history. You’ve got this.