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What are my special nutritional needs during pregnancy?

Annemarie Colbin
Nutrition & Dietetics
It is fairly simple: a pregnant woman should eat real, fresh, natural, whole foods and take prenatal vitamins. They should include green and yellow vegetables, whole grains (brown rice, oats, quinoa, barley, cornmeal), protein foods (beans, meat, fish, chicken, eggs), all organically grown or raised, including natural fats such as extra virgin olive oil, organic butter, coconut oil, and the like. As the baby grows and her stomach gets squashed, she may need less quantity and more frequent small meals. For a healthy child with good teeth, she should stay away from sugar, high fructose corn syrup, sodas, and diet products with artificial sweeteners. 
Julie Daniluk
Nutrition & Dietetics
When it comes to eating for you and your baby, the good news is you get to consume 300 more calories than you did before you became pregnant. The bad news is that means it is more like eating for 1.2, not 2. DO NOT DIET or try to lose weight during pregnancy -- both you and your baby need the proper nutrients in order to be healthy. Low carbohydrate diets put a stress on the kidneys and can cause fatigue so it is best to eat a balanced diet from all of the food groups.

Key nutrients 

Calcium: 1,000-1,200 mg
  • Supplement? Yes
  • Why: Grows strong bones and teeth, healthy nerves, heart, and muscles.
  • Where: 8 oz. skim milk (302 mg); 1 cup yogurt (400 mg); 1/2 cup of ricotta cheese (240 mg); 1/2 cup rice (300 mg)
Folic Acid: 400 mcg - 800 mcg
  • Supplement? Yes
  • Why: A critical part of spinal cord and helps close the tube housing the central nervous system; also helps normalize brain function.
  • Where: 1/2 cup lentils (179 mcg); 1/2 cup fortified cereal (146-179 mcg); 4 spears steamed asparagus (88 mcg)
Iron: 27 mg-60 mg
  • Supplement? Yes
  • Why: Needed to prevent fatigue. Makes red blood cells, supplies oxygen to cells for energy and growth.
  • Where: 3 oz. organic beef sirloin (about 1.9 mg); 1/2 cup lentils (3.3 mg); 1/2 cup boiled spinach (3.2 mg); 3/4 cup iron-fortified cereal (1.8 mg)
Omega 3: 1000 mg a day
  • Supplement? Yes
  • Why: Omega 3 fats cannot be synthesized by the body and must be obtained from food. They are needed for balanced hormone levels and a properly working immune system.
  • Where: Flaxseed, hemp seeds, walnuts, and fish like wild salmon, trout, sardines and tuna are great sources. 
Vitamin B6: 1.9 mg - up to 50mg
  • Supplement? Yes if nausea is an issue
  • Why: Aids metabolism and fights nausea. Has been shown to help infertility in women who suffer from PMS. Helps to metabolize your fats.
  • Where: 1 medium banana (0.7 mg); 1 medium baked potato (0.7 mg); 1 cup chickpeas (0.6 mg); 3 oz. chicken breast (0.5 mg)
Vitamin C: 85-250 mg
  • Supplement? Not necessary
  • Why: Essential for tissue repair and collagen production. Key for immune function.
  • Where: 8 oz. orange juice (124 mg); 1 cup strawberries (84.5 mg); 1/2 cup boiled broccoli (58.2 mg); 1 tomato (23.5 mg)
Zinc: 11-20 mg
  • Supplement?  Yes
  • Why: Helps form organs, skeleton, nerves, and circulatory system. Prevents infection and skin breakouts.
  • Where: 3 oz. beef blade roast  (8.7 mg); 3 oz. Alaskan king crab (6.5 mg); 1/3 cup toasted wheat germ (4.7 mg)
Paula Greer
Midwifery Nursing
Good nutrition is an important part of preconception and prenatal care. During the pregnancy a well balanced diet is essential. During pregnancy a woman needs more calories and nutrients. That said they are NOT eating for 2 but as the YOUdocs say in their book YOU and YOUR Pregnancy, you are eating for 1:1. In the first trimester you only need an extra 100 calories a day and in the second and third trimester you only need 300 more calories a day. Pregnant women should not diet during pregnancy but should eat sensibly. Healthy foods, small frequent meals, and adequate nutrients like folate, protein, calcium and iron are keys to creating a healthy baby and healthy mother. Most OB/GYN's and midwifes will encourage a prenatal vitamin supplement to ensure you are getting all the nutrients needed for the healthy development of your baby.
Sarah Krieger
Nutrition & Dietetics
There are some nutrient-needs that increase during pregnancy. All are available from eating a variety of foods, but consuming a daily prenatal multi-vitamin/mineral is a good idea for anyone "at risk" of becoming pregnant.
  • The first nutrient required for brain and spinal fusion, which occurs between the 4th and 6th week (often when a mom doesn't realize she is expecting) is folate/folic acid found in fortified cereals, breads, some juices, beans and spinach. Don't eat these foods every day? Take the prenatal multi.
  •  Iron needs increase during pregnancy so we are back to eating fortified dry cereals again. Enjoy with fresh strawberries or a glass of orange juice since the Vitamin C helps to absorb the iron into the blood.
  • Calcium needs increase, but just a little bit. There is some in the prenatal, but aim for 3 servings (1 cup each) of nonfat milk or yogurt or 1.5 ounces low-fat cheese daily-yum!
  • B vitamins and other minerals. As long as a mom eats at least 5 cups of a variety of fruits and vegetables throughout the pregnancy, at least 3 servings of whole grains, 6 ounces+ lean proteins, healthy fats, such as olive oil, and salmon and nuts a few times a week....the baby will be super healthy.

During pregnancy, we need more protein, iron, and calcium, and larger amounts of some vitamins. Often you can get these nutrients from eating a well-balanced diet, but taking a vitamin supplement may be helpful.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.