Good nutrition is the key to a successful pregnancy for both mother and child. Eating well during pregnancy can also contribute to the development of wholesome eating habits for the growing child.
Important nutrition components of a healthy pregnancy include a well-balanced diet, proper weight gain, safe and appropriate use of supplements, avoidance of alcohol, and safe food handling.
The food choices you make during pregnancy have a direct effect on the well-being of the baby. During pregnancy, a baby uses nutrients from the mother’s blood to develop tissues, bones and organs. Women who have a healthy diet during pregnancy is more likely to have a baby that has grown and developed properly.
Goals for Healthy Eating When Pregnant
• Eat a variety of foods to get all the nutrients you need. Recommended daily servings include 6-11 servings of breads and grains, two to four servings of fruit, four or more servings of vegetables, four servings of dairy products, and three servings of protein sources (meat, poultry, fish, eggs or nuts). Use fats and sweets sparingly.
• Choose foods high in fiber that are enriched such as whole-grain breads, cereals, pasta, rice, fruits, and vegetables.
• Make sure you are getting enough vitamins and minerals in your daily diet while pregnant. You should take a vitamin supplement to make sure you are consistently getting enough vitamins and minerals every day. Your doctor can recommend an over-the-counter brand or prescribe a prenatal vitamin for you.
• Eat and drink at least four servings of dairy products and calcium-rich foods a day to help ensure that you are getting 1000-1300 mg of calcium in your daily diet during pregnancy.
• Eat at least three servings of iron-rich foods per day to ensure you are getting 27 mg of iron daily.
• Choose at least one good source of vitamin C every day, such as oranges, grapefruits, strawberries, honeydew, papaya, broccoli, cauliflower, Brussel sprouts, green peppers, tomatoes, and mustard greens. Pregnant women need 70 mg of vitamin C a day.
• Choose at least one good source of folic acid every day, like dark green leafy vegetables, veal, and legumes (lima beans, black beans, black-eyed peas and chickpeas). Every pregnant woman needs at least 0.4 mg of folic acid per day to help prevent neural tube defects such as spina bifida.
• Choose at least one source of vitamin A every other day. Sources of vitamin A include carrots, pumpkins, sweet potatoes, spinach, water squash, turnip greens, beet greens, apricots, and cantaloupe. Know that excessive vitamin A intake (>10,000 IU/day) may be associated with fetal malformations.
Foods to Avoid When Pregnant
• Avoid alcohol during pregnancy. Alcohol has been linked to premature delivery, mental retardation, birth defects, and low birth weight babies.
• Limit caffeine to no more than 300 mg per day. The caffeine content in various drinks depends on the beans or leaves used and how it was prepared. An 8-ounce cup of coffee has about 150 mg of caffeine on average while black tea has typically about 80 mg. A 12-ounce glass of caffeinated soda contains anywhere from 30-60 mg of caffeine. Remember, chocolate contains caffeine -- the amount of caffeine in a chocolate bar is equal to 1/4 cup of coffee.
• The use of saccharin is strongly discouraged during pregnancy because it can cross the placenta and may remain in fetal tissues. But, the use of other non-nutritive or artificial sweeteners approved by the FDA is acceptable during pregnancy. These FDA-approved sweeteners include aspartame (Equal or NutraSweet), acesulfame-K (Sunett), and sucralose (Splenda). These sweeteners are considered safe in moderation so talk with your health care provider about how much non-nutritive sweetener is acceptable during pregnancy.
• Decrease the total amount of fat you eat to 30% or less of your total daily calories. For a person eating 2000 calories a day, this would be 65 grams of fat or less per day.
• Limit cholesterol intake to 300 mg or less per day.
• Do not eat shark, swordfish, king mackerel, or tilefish (also called white snapper), because they contain high levels of mercury.
• Avoid soft cheeses such as feta, Brie, Camembert, blue-veined, and Mexican-style cheese. These cheeses are often unpasteurized and may cause Listeria infection. There’s no need to avoid hard cheese, processed cheese, cream cheese, cottage cheese, or yogurt.
• Avoid raw fish, especially shellfish like oysters and clams.
What to Eat When Pregnant and Don't Feel Well
During pregnancy you may have morning sickness, diarrhea, or constipation. You may find it hard to keep foods down, or you may feel too sick to even eat at all.
Here are some suggestions:
Eat crackers, cereal, or pretzels before getting out of bed; eat small, frequent meals throughout the day; avoid fatty, fried, and greasy foods.
Eat more fresh fruit and vegetables. Also drink 6 to 8 glasses of water a day.
Eat more foods that contain pectin and gums (two types of dietary fiber) to help absorb excess water. Examples of these foods are applesauce, bananas, white rice, oatmeal, and refined wheat bread.
Eat small, frequent meals throughout the day; try drinking milk before eating; and limit caffeinated foods and beverages.
Food Cravings during Pregnancy
Food cravings during pregnancy are normal. Although there is no widely accepted explanation for food cravings, almost two-thirds of all pregnant women have them. If you develop a sudden urge for a certain food, go ahead and indulge your craving if it provides energy or an essential nutrient. But, if your craving persists and prevents you from getting other essential nutrients in your diet, try to create more of a balance in your daily diet during pregnancy.
During pregnancy, your taste for certain foods may change. You may suddenly dislike foods you were fond of before you became pregnant. In addition, during pregnancy, some women feel strong urges to eat non-food items such as ice, laundry starch, dirt, clay, chalk, ashes, or paint chips. This is called pica, and it may be associated with an iron deficiency such as anemia. Do not give in to these non-food cravings -- they can be harmful to both you and your baby. Tell your health care provider if you have these non-food cravings.
If you have any problems that prevent you from eating balanced meals and gaining weight properly, ask you health care provider for advice. Registered dietitians -- the nutrition experts -- are available to help you maintain good nutrition throughout your pregnancy.
v Critical nutrients are required in the right amounts at the right time to achieve a “healthy pregnancy.”
v The majority of women do not gain weight within the recommended ranges during pregnancy.
v Various factors influence eating patterns during pregnancy, resulting in either inadequate or excessive intake of energy (i.e., kilocalories) or certain nutrients.
v Studies show that pregnant women eat too many refined carbohydrates and fat, and too little iron and fiber.
v Meals and/or snacks should be healthy (nutrient-dense), tasty, convenient, and economical.