Eating well in pregnancy
Eating a nutritious and varied diet in pregnancy is the best way of
caring for yourself and your baby. This topic outlines what is meant by
a nutritious and varied diet and is suitable for most pregnant women.
There are some women who may need to make some special changes when
they are pregnant. They include:
- very young women (adolescents who are still growing)
- women who are underweight or overweight when becoming pregnant
- women who have had more than three pregnancies in two years
- women who eat a restricted diet (eg, macrobiotics, vegans)
- women who have been eating a diet which they consider has been unhealthy
- women who have any complications of pregnancy.
If you fit within any of these categories you may need special
nutritional advice. Talk with your lead maternity carer or doctor about
whether you would benefit from visiting a registered dietitian.
What foods are ideal in pregnancy?
The following food groups provide you with the necessary vitamins, minerals and protein for a healthy pregnancy and baby.
- Vegetables and fruits. Eat at least seven different types per day.
- Breads, cereals, pasta and rice (wholegrain is best). Eat at least six servings per day.
- Milk products like milk, yoghurt, cheese or cottage cheese. Eat two servings a day.
- Lean protein sources like fish, chicken, eggs, meat, nuts and pulses. Eat at least one serving a day.
Be aware that if you are only eating nuts and pulses for protein you
will not be getting the iron, vitamin B12 or zinc, which are required
for good health. You will need to ensure that these nutrients come from
other parts of your diet. A serving corresponds roughly to the size of
What foods are best avoided in pregnancy?
Chilled or uncooked fish or seafood products can be infected with the bacterium Listeria.
Infection with Listeria can cause listeriosis, a flu-like illness that
can harm your baby. Other foods which can cause listeriosis are pate,
precooked chicken or ham and other chilled, precooked meat products.
Stored salads and coleslaws and unpasteurised milk products should also
- all fresh foods should be washed thoroughly before eating
- alcohol should not be drunk in pregnancy. There is no known 'safe' amount to drink and as such it is wise to avoid it completely
- have foods that are high in sugar (like fizzy drinks or
undiluted fruit juices), fats (french fries, cakes or chocolate) and
salt (potato chips or prepackaged noodles or stock) for occasional
Eating for two is not strictly true
Although women do often feel hungrier during pregnancy (due to the
demands of a growing baby and placenta) it is not necessary to
literally eat for two. Let your appetite guide you, if you feel hungry,
eat healthy mid-meal snacks from the food list given above. Ideal
snacks include yoghurt, fruit, washed vegetable sticks, muffins, nuts,
dried fruit, or drinks such as fruit smoothies.
Most women will gain some extra non-baby weight during pregnancy.
This is a natural phenomenon designed to help you breastfeed well. This
extra weight will generally come off when breastfeeding is established
if you maintain the diet outlined above.
If you have stopped smoking your weight may also increase. Smoking
is much more harmful for you and your baby (before and after it is
born) than a little weight. Most ex-smokers who put on weight will
eventually return to their normal weight.
Nausea and vomiting
Morning sickness can mean that the healthiest of eaters find it hard
to maintain a balanced diet. In most women morning sickness will settle
down by the 15th week of your pregnancy and you can resume your normal
diet. Try to eat healthy foods when you can - eating small amounts and
more often if necessary.
Drink plenty of fluids every day (one to two litres). This will help
prevent urinary tract infections (cystitis) and constipation. Don't be
tempted to reduce your fluid intake if you are needing to urinate (pass
urine) more often.
Folic acid (folate)
The genetic make-up of some women means they have an increased
chance of having a child with neural tube defects like spina bifida.
Recent studies have shown these women can reduce (but not eliminate)
their chances of their child developing neural tube defects if they
increase the amount of folate they eat. As there is no practical way to
determine which women have this genetic make-up, the Ministry of Health
has suggested that all women eat a healthy diet rich in folate from
vegetables, fruits and cereals. Source
Written by Anna Mickell RCpN. Reviewed by Professor John Birkbeck.