Healthy Eating During Pregnancy

Healthy Eating During Pregnancy

January 17, 2024

Pregnancy is hard work. During pregnancy, you need 340 extra calories per day in the second trimester and 450 extra calories per day in the third trimester, according to the Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion (ODPHP). Your daily food intake should include nutrient-dense foods to help fill these additional caloric needs. Unless your obstetrician or midwife has advised you to restrict your diet during pregnancy, doing so is not recommended.

To help maintain good health, aim for well-balanced options that span the main food groups. Eating a variety of foods can help keep you healthy and ensure your growing baby gets the nutrients and vitamins needed for growth and development.

Focus on key nutrients

During pregnancy, you need more of certain nutrients. While your obstetrician or midwife will probably recommend a prenatal vitamin, the best way to ensure you’re getting enough of these nutrients is to eat a balanced diet. The ODPHP says to focus on these four nutrients:

Folic acid: Folic acid is essential for the development of your baby’s brain and spine. Getting enough folic acid can help prevent certain birth defects, like spina bifida. It’s found in:

  • Dark, leafy greens like spinach and broccoli
  • Beans, lentils and peas

Iron: During pregnancy, your blood volume increases significantly. Getting enough iron helps your body make more blood to supply oxygen to your baby. Good sources of iron include:

  • Lean meats, like chicken, turkey and certain cuts of steak
  • Dark, leafy greens
  • Beans, lentils and peas

Iodine: Iodine is essential for your baby’s brain development. You can get it from:

  • Seafood*
  • Low-fat dairy
  • Eggs

*While seafood is a good source of iodine, some types of fish can harbor high levels of mercury. Low- mercury options include salmon, shrimp, anchovies and sardines. You should also avoid raw and undercooked seafood during pregnancy.

Choline: Like folic acid, choline is important for your baby’s brain and spine. It’s found in:

  • Eggs
  • Lean meats, poultry and seafood
  • Beans, lentils and peas

Limit added sugar, saturated fat, salt and caffeine

When choosing prepared meals and snacks, look at the nutrition label. Limit foods with added sugar, saturated fat, salt and caffeine. These can lead to pregnancy complications like gestational diabetes and high blood pressure.

Added sugars include sweeteners like table sugar and high fructose corn syrup. You’ll find them in baked goods, sodas and juices.

Saturated fat is generally found in animal-derived products like cheese, milk, butter and red meat. However, certain plant-based products like coconut oil are also high in saturated fat. As an alternative, opt for avocados, nuts and olive oil.

Sodium is found in high concentrations in prepackaged snacks and restaurant food. The best way to limit your sodium intake is to cook at home or buy food labeled “low sodium.”

Caffeine crosses the placenta to your baby, so doctors generally recommend limiting your intake. Don’t drink more than 200 milligrams per day, or the equivalent of two cups of coffee.

Don’t drink alcohol

There is no safe amount of alcohol during pregnancy. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, drinking can lead to pregnancy complications, birth defects and developmental disabilities.

If you’re breastfeeding, talk to your doctor before indulging. Alcohol can pass to your baby through your breastmilk.

Follow food safety guidelines

During pregnancy, you are more vulnerable to foodborne illnesses. Follow these ODPHP guidelines to keep yourself and your baby safe:

  • Only drink pasteurized milk and juice.
  • Avoid soft cheeses like feta and brie, unless they’re made from pasteurized milk.
  • Avoid raw sprouts.
  • Don’t eat cold deli meat. If you’re craving a deli sandwich, warm the meat to steaming first.
  • Cook meat and eggs to safe internal temperatures. (FoodSafety.gov has a safe minimum internal temperature guide.)

Remember to take your prenatal vitamin

Many women take prenatal vitamins during pregnancy. If possible, you should begin taking a prenatal vitamin three months before you become pregnant. Most prenatal vitamins contain essential nutrients you may miss in your daily eating habits.

Talk to your doctor about your pregnancy and how to keep you and your developing baby healthy.