The 40 weeks of pregnancy are a magical time. Keeping a healthy lifestyle throughout pregnancy, as well as before and after, is key for both baby and mother. Important steps to a healthy pregnancy include eating a balanced diet; gaining the right amount of weight; enjoying regular physical activity; taking a vitamin and mineral supplement if recommended by a physician; and avoiding alcohol, tobacco and other harmful substances.
Foods Fit for Mom and Baby
Moms-to-be need a variety of foods from all the MyPlate food groups, A balanced diet with a variety of foods can provide healthy women with enough nutrients for pregnancy. Safe food practices are important, too, since pregnant women are at higher risk of foodborne illnesses. (See Preventing Food Poisoning for Pregnant Women and Newborns.)
Pregnant women need a balanced diet including:
- Whole grains: Breads, cereals, pastas and brown rice.
- Fruits: All types of fruits, fresh, frozen or canned without added sugar.
- Vegetables: Eat a variety of colorful vegetables, fresh, frozen or canned with no added salt.
- Lean protein: Choose protein from meat, poultry, fish, eggs, beans and peas, peanut butter, tofu and nuts.
- Low-fat or fat-free dairy: Milk, cheese and yogurt.
- Healthful fats: Vegetable oils including canola, corn, peanut and olive oil are good choices.
Avoid extra calories from added sugar and fats, which can lead to unhealthy weight gain. Cut down on foods like regular soda, sweets and fried snacks. (See Healthy Weight Gain for Pregnant Women.)
Key Nutrients for Healthy Pregnancy
- Folic Acid: Folic acid reduces the risk of birth defects that affect the spinal cord. Pregnant women need 600 micrograms of folic acid a day. Sources include fortified foods like cereals, pastas and breads, supplements and natural food sources of folate. All women of childbearing age should consume at least 400 micrograms of folic acid each day.
- Iron: Maternal iron deficiency is the most common nutritional deficiency during pregnancy. Pregnant women need at least 27 milligrams of iron a day. High-iron foods include spinach, kale, leafy greens, beans, fortified cereals, red meat, chicken and fish. For vegetarians and women who do not eat a lot of meat, increase iron absorption by combining plant-based sources of iron with vitamin C-rich foods. For example, try spinach salad with mandarin oranges or cereal with strawberries.
- Calcium: During pregnancy, calcium is needed for the healthy development of a baby’s teeth, bones, heart, nerves and muscles. When a pregnant woman does not consume enough calcium, it is taken from her bones for the baby. It is important to consume 1,000 milligrams of calcium a day before, during and after pregnancy. That means at least three daily servings of calcium-rich foods such as low-fat or fat-free milk, yogurt or cheese or calcium-fortified cereals and juices.
Your doctor or registered dietitian may recommend a prenatal vitamin/mineral supplement to help ensure that you get enough iron, folic acid and other nutrients.
Reviewed January 2013