Nutrition During Pregnancy
There are no guarantees that a baby will be born healthy and strong. However, there are several actions mothers-to-be can take to create the best possible environment for their babies. Nothing offers greater benefits to mother and baby than good nutrition during pregnancy.
Why Is Good Nutrition Important During Pregnancy?
Research indicates that good nutrition before birth plays a powerful role in building resistance to some chronic diseases, such as asthma. Careful use of nutrition during pregnancy is essential for managing conditions such as gestational diabetes (diabetes occurring during pregnancy) to protect the health of both mother and baby.
A good diet takes planning. Eating a healthy diet during pregnancy is not much different than eating a healthy diet before conception. During pregnancy, the body requires extra calories, protein, vitamins, and minerals in order to support the baby's growth and to allow for changes in the mother’s body. Eating vegetables, fruits, whole grains, lean meats, and drinking low fat milk will provide these nutrients to help keep both mother and baby healthy. Eating a vegetarian diet during pregnancy is considered safe, as long as thoughtful attention is given to consuming the nutrients mother and baby need.
Pregnant women should make sure to include:
- Enough calories for adequate weight gain.
- A variety of foods from each food group, limiting the use of oils and solid fats.
- Regular meals and snacks.
- 30 grams of dietary fiber every day.
- 72 ounces (or around 9 glasses) of water each day.
- Salt to taste.
- No alcoholic beverages, including beer.
- Prenatal vitamin once a day, if prescribed by your healthcare provider.
Nutritional Recommendations During Pregnancy
The following includes specific nutritional recommendations for a woman during pregnancy. It is recommended to speak to your doctor and a certified nutritionist about helping you meet the specific needs of your pregnancy.
In general, pregnant women need an additional 300 calories per day, beginning in the second trimester, or second three months of pregnancy. These extra calories allow for the mother’s body to change and help the baby grow. The American Dietetic Association (ADA) recommends that pregnant women eat a total of 2,500 to 2,700 calories every day. Specific calorie needs may vary according to pre-pregnancy weight and the desired amount of weight gain. Adding nutritious snacks to a healthful diet is an easy way to consume extra calories.
Folate is an important nutrient to consume prior to and during pregnancy. All women of childbearing age should have at least 400 micrograms of folate per day. The need for folate increases in pregnancy, to 600 micrograms per day. Dark leafy greens, whole grains, and orange juice are rich sources of folate. Vegetarian diets are often high in folate.
Protein needs increase during pregnancy. Sixty (60) grams of protein daily is recommended for pregnant women. Two or more 2-3 ounce servings of cooked lean meat, fish, or poultry without skin, or two or more 1-ounce servings of cooked meat contain about 60 grams of protein. Protein-rich vegan foods (those foods that do not contain meat, diary, eggs, or other animal byproducts) include enriched soymilk, tofu, cooked beans, nuts, and nut butters. Eating a wide variety of nutritious foods helps pregnant women meet their additional protein needs.
Vitamin B12 is used for tissue synthesis and requirements are increased during pregnancy. Meat and eggs are the richest sources of B12. Some good vegetarian sources of vitamin B12 are fortified soymilks and fortified tofu, and some fortified ready-to-eat cereals. Vitamin B12 is a critical nutrient, so vegans should consider using a prenatal vitamin with vitamin B12.
Iron is needed for the increased blood volume of the mother and to form the baby’s blood. Anemia can be a problem during any pregnancy, regardless of diet. Red meat is the richest source of iron. Other sources are green leafy vegetables, dried beans, and dried fruits. Eating iron-rich foods with citrus fruits can increase iron absorption.
Calcium and Vitamin D
Calcium and vitamin D (the “sunshine vitamin”) work together to develop healthy bones and teeth. Pregnant women should eat four or more servings of calcium-rich foods daily. Dairy products provide substantial sources of calcium. Non-dairy sources of calcium include: some green leafy vegetables, calcium-fortified tofu, soymilk, and calcium-fortified orange juice.
During the summer months, 15 minutes exposure of the arms, head, and shoulders in the sun each day allows the body to make enough vitamin D for good health. During the winter months and other periods of low sunshine, eating foods like oily fish, eggs, fortified milks, cereals, and breads provide good sources of vitamin D.
Increased magnesium intake may help prevent or lessen the symptoms of a serious condition called “eclampsia” (convulsions) during pregnancy. This mineral has been shown to reduce blood pressure, increase weight of newborns, and reduce the risk of seizures. Eclampsia can lead to coma and even death.
Zinc is necessary for growth and development. The recommended intake for zinc increases during pregnancy to 11 mg per day. Lean meats are good sources of zinc. Vegetarian sources of zinc include raw pumpkin seeds, peas, beans, brown rice, spinach, nuts, and tofu.
Foods to Avoid or Limit During Pregnancy
Fish has nutrients that promote optimal brain growth and development but may also contain mercury that could have toxic effects. Research indicates that the beneficial effects overcome adverse effects of prenatal mercury exposure. Limit fish to 12 ounces total per week and choose lower mercury seafood such as cooked shrimp, salmon, pollock, catfish, or fresh "light" tuna.
Because of bacteria and other contamination, foods to avoid during pregnancy include:
- Unwashed vegetables
- Unpasteurized milk
- Raw Eggs, Raw meat and Raw shellfish
- Deli Meats unless heated
Fish oil intake compared with olive oil intake in late pregnancy and asthma in the offspring: 16 y of registry-based follow-up from a randomized controlled trial. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. 2008 Jul;88(1):167-75.
Effect of in utero and early-life conditions on adult health and disease. New England Journal of Medicine. 2008 Jul 3;359(1):61-73.
Associations of maternal long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acids, methyl mercury, and infant development in the Seychelles Child Development Nutrition Study. Journal of Neurotoxicity. 2008 Jun 11.
The USDA Pyramid for Pregnancy and Breastfeeding
Vegetarian Nutrition in Pregnancy