Ideas to help pregnant women meet their daily nutrition needs

Pregnant woman preparing a sandwich

The idea that “you are what you eat” is especially true
during pregnancy. A mother and her growing baby need proper nutrition to
sustain growth and development. Poor nutrition can result in potential negative
outcomes, such as low birth weight or a baby’s premature birth.

The average pregnant woman needs an additional 300 calories
per day, or 2,500 to 2,700 total calories per day, depending on her size and
activity level. Doctors usually recommend a weight gain of 25 to 30 pounds, but
it may be more or less, depending on body weight before pregnancy and other

Pregnancy is a time to choose a wide variety of
nutrient-dense foods for the health of the baby and mother. Some ideas to

  • Get adequate folic acid before and throughout pregnancy.
    Folic acid is a B vitamin found in some foods and vitamin pills. Adequate folic
    acid helps prevent birth defects of the brain and spinal cord, such as spina
    bifi da. The spinal column begins to form before a woman may realize she is
    pregnant. Nutrition experts recommend that all women of childbearing age take a
    multivitamin containing folic acid every day. Folic acid or its natural form,
    folate, also is found in many different foods. Folic acid is found in fortified
    breakfast cereals, pasta, pieces of bread, and cereals. Read the Nutrition Facts label on
    packaged foods to learn about the nutrients in your food choices. Folate is
    present naturally in cooked dry edible beans, citrus fruits and leafy greens,
    such as spinach and broccoli.

  • Get adequate calcium. Calcium is a bone-building mineral
    found in milk, cheese, yogurt, and cottage cheese, as well as some leafy
    vegetables, such as broccoli and spinach. A pregnant woman over age 18 needs at
    least 1,000 milligrams per day; pregnant women under age 18 need 1,300
    milligrams per day. Milk contains about 300 milligrams of calcium per cup, plus
    it is fortified with vitamin D to aid in calcium absorption. Calcium, vitamin D, and other bone-building nutrients are found in prenatal supplements, too.

  • Meet your protein needs. Meat, poultry, seafood, legumes, and nuts are good sources of protein and also contain other nutrients, such as
    zinc, magnesium, and iron. You and your growing baby need about 60 grams of
    protein daily, or about the amount in two 3-ounce servings of meat. 

  • (A note about fish: Some types of fish contain high amounts of
    mercury, which could affect your baby’s nervous system. Avoid eating shark,
    swordfish, and king mackerel during pregnancy. Limit your intake of “white” or “albacore”
    tuna or tuna steak to 6 ounces per week. For more information about consumption
    advisories in your area, check with your state game and fish department.)

  • Get adequate iron. Your health-care provider will monitor
    your blood for iron levels to detect anemia or iron-poor blood. To meet iron
    needs, eat a healthy diet with iron-containing foods, such as lean meat,
    poultry, fish, whole-grain pieces of bread, and fortified cereals. Prenatal supplements
    also contain iron.

  • Enjoy seven or more total servings of colorful fruits and
    vegetables daily.
    Fruits and vegetables provide vitamins C, A, and folate, plus
    fiber and many other “phytochemicals” (plant chemicals) to keep you and your
    developing baby healthy. The fiber and water content in fruits and vegetables
    also helps prevent constipation.

  • Meet your fluid needs. Water and other fluids carry
    nutrients through the body and help prevent constipation and often preterm or
    early labor. Aim for about six to eight cups of fluids, such as water, juice, and
    milk, on a daily basis. Since caffeinated beverages can affect the baby’s heart
    rate and breathing, most nutrition experts recommend minimizing the consumption
    of caffeinated beverages, such as coffee and cola, during pregnancy, or
    avoiding caffeine altogether. Doctors do not advise pregnant women who suffer
    from mild swelling o limit fluid intake.

  • Take a prenatal vitamin supplement as directed by a
    health-care provider.

  • Avoid alcohol during pregnancy. Pregnant women who drink
    alcoholic beverages increase their baby’s risk of birth defects and lifelong
    learning disabilities. No amount of alcohol is considered “safe” during

Follow safe food handling recommendations. Pregnancy is a
time when women are more vulnerable to food-borne illness, which can affect both
mother and baby. By following some precautions, expectant mothers can help
ensure their own health and that of their baby.

Handling Food during Pregnancy

Choose only pasteurized
(heat-treated) milk, cheese, and yogurt. Unpasteurized or “raw” products may
contain harmful bacteria. The food label will tell you if a product is

Avoid buying soft cheeses,
such as feta, Brie, Camembert, blue-veined cheeses, queso fresco, queso blanco, and Panela, which sometimes are made from raw milk. Instead, select hard
cheeses, pasteurized cheeses, and spreads, pasteurized soft cheeses, cream
cheese, cottage cheese, and mozzarella.

Avoid buying seafood salads
found in deli cases or on a salad bar. Many ingredients in seafood salads
support the growth of bacteria. Also, long storage times (even when properly
refrigerated) allow Listeria (a harmful bacteria) to grow.

Avoid buying raw sprouts,
including alfalfa, clover, radish, and broccoli sprouts. Washing sprouts may not
make them safe to eat if the seeds they grew from containing harmful bacteria.

Select only pasteurized fruit
juices. Check the label to be sure the product is pasteurized. Frozen,
concentrated, and canned juices have been heat-treated and are safe to drink,
but may not be labeled. Fresh-squeezed juices are not pasteurized and may
contain harmful bacteria.

Heat hot dogs, lunch meats, and
deli meats to steaming hot before eating. If you prefer lunch meats cold, heat
them, and then cool them before eating.

Use a food thermometer to
check whether food is done. Insert the thermometer in the thickest part of the
food, away from bone, fat, or gristle. Hamburgers and ground beef should reach
an internal temperature of 160 F. Cook all poultry to 165 F. Beef, veal, pork,
lamb steaks, roasts, and chops should be cooked to an internal temperature of at
least 145 F. Allow three-minute rest time.

handle cat litter. It may contain an organism linked to the development of
toxoplasmosis, an infection that can damage a fetus.

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