Pregnancy Nutrition

Without a doubt, a nutritious, well-balanced eating plan can be one of the greatest gifts you give to your soon-to-be-born baby. Pregnancy nutrition is essential to a healthy baby. Ideally, adopting a healthy eating plan before pregnancy is best. No matter how many weeks are left on your countdown calendar, it’s never too late to start! Supplying your own body with a tasty blend of nutritious foods can not only improve your fertility, keep you feeling healthy during pregnancy, and pave the way for an easier labor, but it can also help to establish essential building blocks of growth and overall health for your child.

The food we eat on a daily basis affects how our bodies work, how we heal and grow, and how we maintain energy and strength for years to come. It also determines the basic nutritional health that our children are born with, and provides a model for their eating habits during childhood and beyond. Pregnancy is the one time in your life when your eating habits directly affect another person. Your decision to incorporate delicious vegetables, whole grains and legumes, lean protein, and other wise food choices into your eating plan before and during pregnancy will give your baby a strong start in life.

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Pregnancy Nutrition: Weight Change and Calories

It is a wonderful fact –your body will gain weight during your pregnancy! As you watch your weight begin to increase, take it as proof that your body is nurturing your growing baby. By the time you are ready to give birth, your total blood volume will have increased by as much as 60%. Your breasts will have filled with milk. Your uterus will have grown to accommodate your baby and has filled with amniotic fluid; your baby has grown to weigh 6 to 10 pounds (on average). To accomplish all of these productive changes, your body needs approximately 300 extra calories per day during your 2nd and 3rd trimester of pregnancy. Every woman should discuss her individual nutrient needs with her health care provider. Do not neglect your baby’s health by neglecting your own!


Myth: Now that you are pregnant, you should be eating for two (or twice as much!).

Fact: It is true that your nutrient needs increase, but energy requirements only increase about 300 calories per day for the second and third trimester of pregnancy.


Myth: Gaining less weight during pregnancy will make delivery easier.

Fact: Mothers who do not gain enough weight during pregnancy place their babies at risk for severe complications such as premature birth, which can cause lung and heart problems.


Myth: If you gain the right amount of weight during pregnancy, none of it will be fat gain.

Fact: A healthy pregnancy includes fat storage. Your body uses this excess fat as energy during labor and breastfeeding.


Myth: Pregnant women only crave the foods their bodies need.

Fact: Pregnant women can crave foods of any type. Cravings should not be the sole indicator of nutritional needs.


Myth : A pregnant woman who is healthy will not experience discomforts.

Fact: Nausea, heartburn, and constipation are not biased! They will afflict women regardless of healthy living. However, women who regularly eat healthy, wholesome foods, drink plenty of water, exercise regularly, and avoid excess sugar and fat may significantly reduce these uncomfortable symptoms.


Pregnancy Nutrition: Food Groups

It is helpful to pay attention to recommended daily servings from each food group. Most foods come with a nutrition label attached. This nutrition label will help you to know what amount constitutes one serving.

Nutrition for Pregnancy: Protein

Experts recommend 75 to 100 grams of protein per day. Protein in your foods positively affects the growth of fetal tissue, including the brain. It also helps your breast and uterine tissue to grow during pregnancy, and it plays a helping part in your increasing blood supply.

Examples of daily sources of protein:

2-3 servings of meat (1 serving = approximately 3 ounces/ size of a deck of cards)

  • fully cooked fish or seafood
  • liver
  • chicken
  • lean beef
  • lamb
  • pork
  • nuts (1 serving = approximately ⅓ cup)
  • tofu (1 serving = approximately ½ cup)

2-3 servings of legumes (1 serving = approximately ½ cup)

  • split peas
  • red and white kidney beans
  • black beans
  • navy beans
  • black-eyed peas
  • chick peas (garbanzo beans)

Pregnancy Nutrition: Calcium

Daily requirement of calcium is around 1000 milligrams during pregnancy. Calcium helps your body regulate fluids, and it helps build your baby’s bones and tooth buds.

Examples of daily sources of calcium:

3-4 servings of dairy

  • milk (1 serving = 1 cup)
  • eggs (1 serving = 1 large egg)
  • yogurt (1 serving = 1cup)
  • pasteurized cheese (1 serving = approximately 1.5 ounces/ or 4 playing dice stacked together)
  • tofu (1 serving = ½ cup)
  • white beans (1 serving = approximately ½ cup)
  • almonds (1 serving = approximately ⅓ cup)
  • salmon (1 serving = approximately 3 ounces)
  • turnip greens (1 serving = approximately 1 cup)
  • cabbage (1 serving = approximately 1 cup)

Nutrition for Pregnancy: Iron

In combination with sodium, potassium, and water, iron helps increase your blood volume and prevent anemia. A daily intake of 27 milligrams is ideal during pregnancy.

Examples of daily sources of iron:

2-3 servings of green leafy vegetables (1 serving = approximately 1 cup)

  • collard
  • turnip
  • spinach
  • lettuce
  • cabbage

3 servings of whole grains (1 serving = approximately. ½ cup or one slice)

  • bread
  • cornmeal
  • cereal
  • oatmeal

2-3 servings of lean protein (1 serving = approximately 3 ounces/ size of a deck of cards)

  • beef
  • seafood
  • poultry

Pregnancy Nutrition: Folate/Folic Acid

Folic acid plays a key role in reducing the risk of neural tube defects, including spina bifida. Experts recommend 600 to 800 micrograms (.6 to .8 milligrams) daily.

Examples of daily sources of folate:

2 servings of dark green leafy vegetables (1 serving = approximately 1 cup)

  • collard
  • turnip
  • spinach
  • lettuce
  • cabbage

2-3 servings of fruit (1 serving = approximately ½ cup)

  • orange
  • strawberry
  • lemon
  • mango
  • tomato
  • grapefruit
  • kiwi
  • melon

3 serving of whole grain (1 serving = approximately ½ cup or 1 slice)

  • bread
  • cornmeal
  • cereal
  • oatmeal

2 servings of legumes (1 serving = approximately ½ cup)

  • split peas
  • red and white kidney beans
  • black beans
  • navy beans
  • black-eyed peas
  • chick peas (garbanzo beans)

Nutrition for Pregnancy: Vitamin C

Fruits and vegetables rich in Vitamin C will help with wound healing, tooth and bone development, and promotes metabolic processes. Experts recommend at least 85 milligrams per day.

Examples of daily sources of Vitamin C:

3 servings of fruit or vegetables (1 serving = approximately ½ cup)

  • orange
  • strawberry
  • lemon
  • mango
  • tomato
  • grapefruit
  • kiwi
  • melon
  • potato
  • peppers

Other Nutritional Concerns

During pregnancy, some foods can cause harm to a developing baby. Be sure that all meats are thoroughly cooked to avoid exposure to toxoplasmosis, salmonella, and other harmful bacteria. Eliminate tobacco smoke, drug use, and alcohol consumption from your diet. Reduce or eliminate caffeinated beverages (soda, coffee) from your daily intake, and maintain a reasonable exercise program throughout your pregnancy. Walking and swimming are considered healthy activities during pregnancy, but always consult with your health care provider before starting a new exercise program.

 For self-study and further research, check out these resources:

Food Safety During Pregnancy Common Foods Nutritional Data

Last Updated: 1/2013


Compiled using the following sources:

Blount, Darynee (2005). Growing a Baby: Diet and Nutrition in Pregnancy. The Birthkit, Issue 46.

Gatsa, Katie Gates (1997). Internal Ecosystem Health. Midwifery Today, Issue 42, pgs. 28-29.

Haas, Amy V. (1995). Nutrition During Pregnancy. Having a Baby Today, Issue 5.

The Bradley Birth Method, Retrieved July 2006, from www.bradleybirth.com/pd.aspx

Nutrition for Pregnant Women. Retrieved July 2006, from http://scc.uchicago.edu/nutritionpregant.htm