Pregnancy is a beautiful and special time when you create a new life.
During this time, your calorie and nutrient requirements increase to support the baby’s growth and development.
It’s extremely important to eat nutritious, high-quality foods and avoid foods that may harm your baby.
Here is a detailed guide about what to eat during pregnancy.
How Much Should You Eat?
During pregnancy, gaining weight is normal. In fact, it’s the best sign that your baby is growing.
Naturally, this means that you’ll need to eat a little more than usual. However, eating for two doesn’t mean doubling your portions.
During pregnancy your body becomes more efficient at absorbing nutrients from your food, so you don’t actually need any extra calories during the first three months (1).
That said, you do need to eat approximately 340 extra calories per day in the second trimester and an extra 450 calories in the third to support your baby’s growth (1).
However, stay mindful of your food choices. It’s also important not to overeat, since eating too many calories can be just as harmful as not eating enough.
Overeating during pregnancy increases your baby’s obesity risk later in life. Excess calories also make you gain more weight than necessary. This can increase your risk of developing diabetes during pregnancy, termed gestational diabetes (2, 3).
High blood sugar levels during pregnancy can even increase the risk of miscarriage, birth defects and brain development problems.
Diabetes in pregnancy also increases the risk of your child developing heart disease, high blood pressure or diabetes later in life (4, 5).
Excess weight gain also makes it more difficult for you to return to a healthy weight once your baby is born. Extra weight can also make it more challenging to give birth to healthy babies in future pregnancies (6, 7, 8).
BOTTOM LINE:Eating a little more during the second and third trimesters is necessary to help your baby grow. However, you should avoid overeating since this can pose several risks to the health of both you and your baby.
Eat Extra Protein
Protein is an essential nutrient for pregnancy. It is necessary for the proper development of the baby’s organs and tissues, as well as the placenta.
Protein is also used to build and maintain many of your own tissues, including muscles (9).
During pregnancy, your need for protein increases by about 25 grams per day, per baby, particularly during the second half of pregnancy. This means that mothers carrying twins should aim to eat an extra 50 grams of protein each day (9).
Failing to meet this recommendation can cause problems.
Protein from your muscles will be used to feed the baby, which can leave you feeling weaker. Not eating enough protein can also delay your baby’s growth (9).
To avoid this, make sure to include high-protein foods like meat, fish, eggs or dairy at each meal. Plant foods such as beans, lentils, tofu, nuts and seeds are also good high-protein options.
Vegetarians and vegans should pay particular attention to varying their protein sources to ensure they get all the essential amino acids they need.
BOTTOM LINE:Extra protein is necessary to support your baby’s growth, especially during the second half of pregnancy. An extra 25 grams per day, per baby, is usually sufficient.
Eat Enough Carbs and Fiber
Carbs are a source of calories for your body and the main source of energy for your baby.
This is why your daily carb needs are slightly increased during pregnancy (10).
Make sure you eat enough carbs by including carb-rich foods with your meals.
However, skip the bakery aisle and opt for nutritious whole foods instead.
Good options include whole grains, legumes, fruit, starchy vegetables, dairy or dairy alternatives such as plant milks and yogurts.
Fiber is particularly important during pregnancy. That’s because it helps reduce cravings, keeps blood sugar levels stable and reduces the constipation often felt during pregnancy (11).
Make sure to get enough fiber by eating plenty of vegetables and getting your carbs from healthy, whole foods.
BOTTOM LINE:Carbs help provide energy for your baby to grow. Make sure you include whole foods that are rich in healthy carbs and fiber.
Eat Good Fats
Fat is essential for a growing baby because it helps with brain and eye development.
It also makes it easier for your body to produce sufficient quantities of sex hormones and absorb fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E and K.
Omega-3 fats, especially docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), seem particularly beneficial for the baby’s brain development. They may also reduce the risk of premature births and may prevent postpartum depression (12, 13).
Small amounts of DHA can be made in your body from the essential fat alpha-linolenic acid (ALA). The Institute of Medicine (IOM) recommends pregnant women aim for 1.4 grams of ALA per day (14).
You can meet this recommendation by consuming about 1.5 tablespoons (22 ml) of walnut oil, 1.5 tablespoons (22 ml) of ground flaxseeds, 1 tablespoon (15 ml) of chia seeds, seven walnuthalves or 2/3 of a cup (158 ml) of soy nuts per day.
However, research shows that the conversion of ALA to DHA in the human body may be limited (15, 16, 17, 18).
To be on the safe side, pregnant women should consider adding at least 200 mg of DHA to their diets each day, especially during the third trimester. You can easily get this amount by consuming 5 oz (150 g) of fatty fish per week.
Vegetarians and vegans should consider adding a daily DHA supplement made from algae oil.
BOTTOM LINE:Eating enough omega-3 fats, especially DHA, is important during pregnancy. It supports the baby’s brain and eye development, while reducing the risk of miscarriage and postpartum depression.
Get Enough Iron and Vitamin B12
Iron is a mineral that your body needs to carry oxygen to its cells, including the cells of your growing baby.
Vitamin B12 is also needed to produce red blood cells, and is important for the growth and function of the nervous system.
During pregnancy, your blood volume increases, which increases the amount of iron and vitamin B12 you need to consume each day.
A diet poor in these nutrients can make you extra tired and more likely to catch infections. It also increases the risk that your baby is born prematurely, with birth defects or with a low birth weight (19).
The RDI for iron during pregnancy increases from 18 to 27 mg per day, while the RDI for vitamin B12 increases from 2.4 to 2.6 mcg per day (20, 21).
Meat, eggs, fish and seafood all contain good amounts of both of these nutrients.
You can also find iron in legumes, whole grains, nuts, seeds and dried fruit. Certain vegetables also contain good amounts, particularly spinach, asparagus, snow peas, beet greens, kale and green peas.
It’s important to note that iron from plant foods is not easily absorbed by the human body. Improve this absorption by avoiding tea or coffee with meals, and make sure to eat iron-rich plant foods together with foods high in vitamin C (22).
In addition, very few plant foods naturally contain vitamin B12 and those that do have a form that is inactive in humans (23, 24, 25).
Therefore, vegetarians and vegans should either add a daily supplement to their diet or make sure to consume a sufficient amount of foods enriched with B12. Examples include some breakfast cereals, nutritional yeast or plant-based milks (26, 27).
Get Enough Folate
Folate is a vitamin necessary for cell growth, nervous system development and DNA production (28).
It’s also important for the formation of the red blood cells used to transport oxygen to cells.
This vitamin is sometimes better recognized by its synthetic name, folic acid. Folic acid is the form commonly used in supplements.
Not getting enough of this vitamin can lead to anemia. It can also increase the risk of early birth or birth defects (29, 30).
The RDI of folate or folic acid during pregnancy rises from 0.4 to 0.6 mg per day (28).
Foods rich in folate include legumes, dark leafy vegetables and wheat germ. In North America and some parts of Europe, white flour is also enriched with folic acid.
Due to the high risk of birth defects, women who don’t get enough folate from foods alone should strongly consider taking a supplement that provides 0.6 mg per day.
Get Plenty of Choline
Choline is an essential nutrient for many processes in the body, including your baby’s brain development (31).
Low intake during pregnancy can decrease the baby’s brain function and increase the risk of birth defects (32, 33).
The requirement for this nutrient slightly increases during pregnancy from 425 mg to 450 mg per day. Great sources of choline include eggs, dairy and peanuts (34).
Consume Enough Calcium and Vitamin D
Both calcium and vitamin D are essential for building strong teeth and bones (35).
In addition, calcium plays important roles in blood clotting and muscle and nerve function.
Vitamin D may help prevent cancer, diabetes and ease symptoms of depression (35, 36, 37, 38).
The recommended intakes of calcium and vitamin D do not increase during pregnancy, but it’s essential you consume enough.
Aim to consume 1,000 mg of calcium and 600 IU (15 mcg) of vitamin D each day. This is especially important during the third trimester, which is the period with the greatest bone and teeth growth (35).
If you fall short of these recommendations, your baby may take calcium from your bones. This can increase your risk of developing a bone disease later in life.
In order to get enough calcium, consume calcium-rich foods such as dairy products and calcium-enriched plant milks and orange juice.
Other good sources include calcium-set tofu, legumes and dark leafy vegetables.
Too little vitamin D can increase your risk of developing diabetes and high blood pressure. It can also increase your chances of giving birth to a low-weight baby (39).
Consider eating vitamin D-rich foods or taking a supplement if you live in a place where sun exposure is limited. Also consider a supplement if you have dark skin or rarely get sun without using sunscreen.
Foods to Eat
In order meet the nutrition recommendations above, aim to include as many of the following foods in your diet as possible:
- Fruits and vegetables:These are great sources of fiber, which helps prevent constipation. They’re also high in vitamin C, which increases iron absorption from foods.
- Spinach, wheat germ and beans:These foods are particularly high in folate, which supports the normal development of your baby’s nervous system.
- Meat, fish, eggs, nuts and beans:These provide protein and iron. Meat and fish are also good sources of vitamin B12, while eggs and peanuts are great sources of choline.
- Dairy or calcium-enriched dairy alternatives:Milk, cheese, calcium-set tofu or calcium-enriched orange juice or plant milks are all great sources of calcium.
- Salmon, flaxseeds, chia seeds, walnuts and soy nuts:These foods contain omega-3s. Salmon is rich in DHA, which is good for your baby’s brain development.
Additionally, make sure to base most of your diet on whole, unprocessed foods. Here is a list of 50 healthy foods to consider.