Nutrition During Pregnancy

Topic Overview

A balanced, nutritious diet during pregnancy is important to maintain your health and nourish your baby. In general, pregnant women need to increase their daily caloric intake by adding one to two snacks that include vegetables and fruits, whole grain foods or protein foods. 

If you are carrying twins, triplets, or more, your calorie needs will increase. Talk to your doctor or a dietitian about your daily calorie needs because your needs depend on your height, weight, and activity level.

Healthy eating

Eating a variety of foods can help you get all the nutrients you need. Your body needs protein, carbohydrate, and fats for energy. Good sources of nutrients are:

  • Unsaturated fats like olive oil and canola oil, nuts, and fish.
  • Carbohydrate from whole grains, fruits, vegetables, legumes (peas, beans, and lentils), and low-fat milk products.
  • Lean protein such as fish that are low in mercury, poultry without skin, low-fat milk products, and legumes.

Eating healthy foods during pregnancy is good for your overall health and for the health of your baby. You may already have a healthy diet, or you may need to make some changes to eat healthier.

It's also important to eat plenty of fruits and vegetables. These not only give you necessary nutrients but also help you get fibre. Planning your meals can help you add healthy foods to your diet.

Limit how much liver and liver products (such as liverwurst or liver sausage) you eat. Liver is high in iron, folate, and vitamin A. Too much vitamin A may cause birth defects. If you eat liver, ask your doctor about how much is right for you.

Folic acid

Folic acid is a B vitamin. Taking folic acid before and during early pregnancy reduces the chance of having a baby with a neural tube defect or other birth defects.

Take at least 400 mcg of folic acid every day for at least 2 to 3 months before trying to get pregnant and while you are pregnant.footnote 3 Some women need higher doses. Talk with your health professional about how much folic acid you need.

Follow your doctor's advice about how to get higher amounts of folic acid. Don't just take more multivitamins. You could get too much of the other substances that are in the multivitamin.

Iron

You will need more iron during your pregnancy than you did before. This extra iron supports the extra blood in your system and helps with the growth of the placenta and the fetus. Taking iron supplements in the first trimester may aggravate morning sickness. If this is a concern for you, talk to your health care provider.

Most pregnant women need 16 to 20 mg of iron from a supplement each day.footnote 2 Most prenatal vitamins include iron. Women who are pregnant with twins or more may need more iron. Talk to your doctor about the amount of iron that is right for you.

Iron supplements can cause an upset stomach and constipation. Taking your iron at bedtime may decrease the chance of stomach upset. Your body absorbs iron best in small amounts when you eat it with vitamin C, so you may want to take your iron throughout the day.

Calcium

Calcium is needed for the development of your baby's bones. You can get enough calcium in your diet by eating or drinking a variety of foods. Sources of calcium include:

  • Greens (such as mustard and turnip greens), bok choy, kale, and watercress.
  • Broccoli.
  • Tofu that is "calcium-set."
  • Calcium-fortified soy and rice beverages.
  • Canned fish with bones (such as salmon and sardines).
  • Cooked beans, legumes, and lentils.

Health Tools

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References

Citations

  1. Kaiser LL, Campbell CG (2014). Practice paper: Nutrition and lifestyle for a healthy pregnancy outcome. Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, 114(7): 1099-1103. http://www.eatrightpro.org/resource/practice/position-and-practice-papers/practice-papers/practice-paper-nutrition-and-lifestyle-for-a-healthy-pregnancy-outcome. Accessed November 16, 2017.
  2. Health Canada (2009). Prenatal nutrition guidelines for health professionals: Background on Canada's Food Guide. Available online: http://www.hc-sc.gc.ca/fn-an/pubs/nutrition/guide-prenatal-eng.php.
  3. Wilson RD, et al. (2015). Pre-conception folic acid and multivitamin supplementation for the primary and secondary prevention of neural tube defects and other folic acid-sensitive congenital anomalies. SOGC Clinical Practice Guideline No. 324. Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology Canada 37(6): 534–549. http://sogc.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/06/gui324CPG1505E.pdf. Accessed July 20, 2015.

Other Works Consulted

  • American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (2013). Weight gain during pregnancy. ACOG Committee Opinion No. 548. Obstetrics and Gynecology, 121(1): 210–212.
  • Cunningham FG, et al. (2010). Prenatal care. In Williams Obstetrics, 23rd ed., pp. 189–214. New York: McGraw-Hill.
  • Newman RB, Rittenberg C (2008). Multiple gestations. In RS Gibbs et al., eds., Danforth's Obstetrics and Gynecology, 10th ed., pp. 220–245. Philadelphia: Lippincott Williams and Wilkins.
  • U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (2009). Folic acid to prevent neural tube defects. Available online: http://www.uspreventiveservicestaskforce.org/uspstf/uspsnrfol.htm.

Credits

Adaptation Date: 11/4/2019

Adapted By: HealthLink BC

Adaptation Reviewed By: HealthLink BC

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