Nutrition Guide for a Healthy Pregnancy

pregnant woman eating a nutritious meal

Have your google searches looked a lot like “can I eat xxx while pregnant”? If the answer is yes, then you’ve come to the right place! From OBGYN appointments to ultrasounds, choosing a pediatrician, making a baby registry and preparing to be a parent, there is a lot on your plate now that you’re pregnant. We’re here to simplify all you need to know about what to eat to keep you and your growing baby healthy for the next 9 months.

Contrary to old wives tales, you unfortunately are not eating for two (or 3 or more!) while pregnant. In fact, during your first trimester, you don’t need to increase your calorie intake at all which is helpful in light of that pesky nausea, but more to come on that later. During your second and third trimesters, calorie needs increase by about 350 and 450 calories per day, respectively, for the average person. Be sure to discuss your personal weight gain goals with your doctor early on in the pregnancy. Healthy weight gain during pregnancy is associated with decreased delivery complications, a healthy weight at birth and throughout childhood.

Our needs for certain micronutrients during pregnancy increase to ensure baby is growing strong and healthy. Fortunately, a daily prenatal vitamin will help to meet the majority of these needs, but be sure to discuss with your doctor if they recommend any additional supplements beyond a traditional prenatal vitamin. To further boost your intake of some of the key nutrients during pregnancy, here’s a quick guide:

Nutrient

Amount Needed

Function

Food Sources

Iron

27 mg

Iron makes hemoglobin which transports oxygen in the blood to accommodate increased blood supply during pregnancy.

Meat, poultry, fish, beans, lentils and green leafy vegetables

Folate

600 mcg

Folate helps develop baby’s neural tube in their brain and spinal cord.

Beans, peas, lentils, green leafy vegetables and fortified cereals and grains

Calcium

1,000 mg

Calcium helps strengthen bones and teeth.

Milk, cheese, yogurt and green leafy vegetables

Vitamin D

600 mcg

Vitamin D also helps strengthen bones and teeth. Also reduces risk for pre-eclampsia and low-birthweight infants.

Fatty fish like salmon, egg yolks and fortified foods such as milk and orange juice

Choline

450 mg

Choline helps develop baby’s brain and spinal cord.

Milk, eggs, peanuts, soy and beef liver.

Iodine

220 mcg

Iodine is essential for healthy brain development.

Iodized salt, dairy, seafood, meat, some bread products, eggs

Vitamin A

770 mcg

Vitamin A is needed to form healthy skin and eyesight.

Yellow and orange fruits and vegetables, spinach and broccoli

Vitamin C

85 mg

Vitamin C helps your body to absorb iron.

Fruits and vegetables

In addition to nutrient needs, our hydration needs also increase during pregnancy. Aim for at least 10 glasses, or 80 ounces of water per day. All fluids will count toward the 80 ounce goal, but aim for mostly water for healthy hydration. Staying hydrated will also help prevent nausea symptoms for some.

The most popular nutrition topic for pregnant women tends to be focused on the foods that need to be avoided during pregnancy. That list can be long and overwhelming, so to simplify, remember the reasoning behind why we avoid foods when we’re pregnant: Foods that have a high risk of foodborne illness are especially dangerous for pregnant women and their babies and should be avoided to be safe:

  • Unpasteurized milk and juice or cider
    • Soft cheeses made from unpasteurized milk like brie, feta, camembert, Roquefort, queso blanco, queso fresco
  • Raw cookie dough or raw batters made with eggs
  • Raw or undercooked fish or shellfish like sushi, oysters or ceviche
  • Deli salads from a store such as chicken, ham, egg or seafood salad
  • Raw sprouts like alfalfa sprouts or mung beans
  • Deep water fish like swordfish, albacore tuna, king mackerel, orange roughy, tilefish and shark should be avoided due to high levels of mercury.

Luckily, caffeine is not on the list of foods to avoid and moms-to-be should be happy to hear that up to 200 mg of caffeine per day is safe to consume. This is roughly the amount of caffeine in 2 cups of coffee. Be on the look-out for caffeine that can be found in other foods like soda, teas and chocolate which will contribute to your overall intake for the day.

Pregnancy means a ton of changes to moms body which can come with some unpleasant side effects, but fortunately there are a few tips and tricks to help manage the not-so-sunny side of pregnancy.

Nausea

  • Before you get out of bed in the morning, eat a few crackers or a handful of dry cereal. Put these within reach of your bed the night before.
  • Eat frequent, small meals as opposed to large meals. Avoid long periods without food.
  • Drink fluids between rather than with meals to prevent filling up on liquids.
  • If feeling nauseous between meals, drink small amounts of juice (no more than 4oz) or carbonated water such as seltzer with lemon.
  • Limit greasy, fried and spicy foods.
  • When you cook, open windows or use a fan to get rid of odors.
  • If possible, try to keep fresh air in the room when you sleep by keeping a window open.

Heartburn

  • Keep an upright position after meals; avoid laying down within 3 hours of eating.
  • Elevate head with pillows while sleeping.
  • Eat small, frequent meals as opposed to large meals.
  • Limit high-fat foods such as greasy or fried foods.
  • Avoid caffeine if heartburn persists.
  • Don’t wear tight clothing.
  • Choose low-fat dairy such as milk or yogurt to help with heartburn symptoms.
  • If heartburn persists, check with your doctor before taking any over the counter antacids.

Constipation

  • Fiber helps to combat constipation by keeping things moving in your digestive tract. Be sure to consume fruits, vegetables and whole grains to meet your fiber needs during pregnancy, or 28 grams per day.
  • Stay hydrated: aim for 80 ounces, or 10 cups of water per day.
  • Exercise, if approved by your doctor. A short daily walk can help to keep your digestive system active.
  • Avoid processed foods and choose whole foods more often.
  • Prunes and prune juice can help with extreme constipation.
  • If constipation persists, check with your doctor before taking any over the counter laxatives.

Pregnancy Cravings

  • Go ahead and eat the cookie!
  • Look at your diet over the course of a whole week, as long as the majority of your meals and snacks consist of a balance of fruits, vegetables, lean proteins, whole grains and low-fat dairy foods, it is perfectly healthy to add in sweet or salty treats when cravings hit.
  • If you find yourself craving non-food items like dirt, laundry detergent, or ice, be sure to contact your doctor immediately.

If you have nutrition questions along your pregnancy journey, please contact the Wellness Services team of Registered Dietitians at the Rev. Dr. Ronald B. Christian Community Health and Wellness Center at Newark Beth Israel Medical Center at 973-926-7371.