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Pregnancy and Nutrition

Summary

What is nutrition, and why is it important during pregnancy?

Nutrition is about eating a healthy and balanced diet so your body gets the nutrients that it needs. Nutrients are substances in foods that our bodies need so they can function and grow. They include carbohydrates, fats, proteins, vitamins, minerals, and water.

When you're pregnant, nutrition is more important than ever. You need more of many important nutrients than you did before pregnancy. Making healthy food choices every day will help you give your baby what he or she needs to develop. It will also help make sure that you and your baby gain the proper amount of weight.

Do I have any special nutrition needs now that I am pregnant?

You need more folic acid, iron, calcium, and vitamin D than you did before pregnancy:

  • Folic acid is a B vitamin that may help prevent certain birth defects. Before pregnancy, you need 400 mcg (micrograms) per day. During pregnancy and when breastfeeding, you need 600 mcg per day from foods or vitamins. It is hard to get this amount from foods alone, so you need to take a supplement that contains folic acid.
  • Iron is important for your baby's growth and brain development. During pregnancy, the amount of blood in your body increases, so you need more iron for yourself and your growing baby. You should get 27 mg (milligrams) of iron a day.
  • Calcium during pregnancy can reduce your risk of preeclampsia, a serious medical condition that causes a sudden increase in blood pressure. Calcium also builds up your baby's bones and teeth. Pregnant adults should get 1,000 mg (milligrams) of calcium a day.
  • Vitamin D helps the calcium to build up the baby's bones and teeth. All women, pregnant or not, should be getting 600 IU (international units) of vitamin D per day.

Keep in mind that taking too much of a supplement can be harmful. For example, very high levels of vitamin A can cause birth defects. Only take vitamins and mineral supplements that your health care provider recommends.

You also need more protein when you are pregnant. Healthy sources of protein include beans, peas, eggs, lean meats, seafood, and unsalted nuts and seeds.

Hydration is another special nutritional concern during pregnancy. When you are pregnant, your body needs even more water to stay hydrated and support the life inside you. So it's important to drink enough fluids every day.

How much weight should I gain during my pregnancy?

How much weight you should gain depends on your health and how much you weighed before pregnancy:

  • If you were at a normal weight before pregnancy, you should gain about 25 to 30 pounds
  • If you were underweight before pregnancy, you should gain more
  • If you were overweight or had obesity before you become pregnant, you should gain less

Check with your health care provider to find out how much weight gain during pregnancy is healthy for you. You should gain the weight gradually during your pregnancy, with most of the weight gained in the last trimester.

Do I need to eat more calories when I am pregnant?

How many calories you need depends on your weight gain goals. Your health care provider can tell you what your goal should be, based on things like your weight before pregnancy, your age, and how fast you gain weight. The general recommendations are

  • In the first 3 months of pregnancy, you probably do not need extra calories
  • During the last 6 months of pregnancy, you usually need 300 calories a day more than you did before you were pregnant
  • During the final weeks of pregnancy, you may not need extra calories

Keep in mind that not all calories are equal. You should eat healthy foods that are packed with nutrients - not "empty calories" such as those found in soft drinks, candies, and desserts.

What foods should I avoid during pregnancy?

During pregnancy, you should avoid

  • Alcohol. There is no known amount of alcohol that is safe for a woman to drink during pregnancy.
  • Fish that may have high levels of mercury. Limit white (albacore) tuna to 6 ounces per week. Do not eat tilefish, shark, swordfish, or king mackerel.
  • Foods that are more likely to contain germs that could cause foodborne illness, including
    • Refrigerated smoked seafood like whitefish, salmon, and mackerel
    • Hot dogs or deli meats unless steaming hot
    • Refrigerated meat spreads
    • Unpasteurized milk or juices
    • Store-made salads, such as chicken, egg, or tuna salad
    • Unpasteurized soft cheeses, such as unpasteurized feta, Brie, queso blanco, queso fresco, and blue cheeses
    • Raw sprouts of any kind (including alfalfa, clover, radish, and mung bean)
  • Too much caffeine. Drinking high amounts of caffeine may be harmful for your baby. Small or moderate amounts of caffeine (less than 200 mg (milligrams) per day) appear to be safe during pregnancy. This is the amount in about 12 ounces of coffee. But more research is needed. Check with your health care provider about whether drinking a limited amount of caffeine is okay for you.

Dept. of Health and Human Services Office on Women's Health

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