Diet and Pregnancy
Alternate Names : Nutrition and Pregnancy
is the time period between the conception and the birth of a child. Measured from the start
of a woman's last normal menstrual period, called LMP, it usually lasts about
40 weeks, or roughly 9 calendar months. The process of childbearing,
though, can be said to last longer. Often, it is divided into three stages:
preconception, which is the months before pregnancy
prenatal, which is the months during pregnancy
postpartum, which is the months after the birth
During preconception and pregnancy, a woman's diet
can be a key factor in her health and in the health and growth
of the fetus. After her baby's birth, what she eats affects her breast milk
if she is breastfeeding.
It has a strong impact on her health and energy levels, too.
What is the information for this topic?
Key concerns about diet during each of the three stages
are outlined below.
In the months before a woman gets pregnant, her food
choices are key. What she eats and the vitamins she takes
can help ensure that both she and her fetus will have nutrients that are
essential from the very start of pregnancy.
Some diets and activities affect key nutrients and
hormones. A woman should talk to her doctor before
trying to get pregnant if she:
is a strict vegetarian
is a long-distance runner or does other kinds of strenuous exercise
is dieting to lose weight
has, or has had, anemia
A B-vitamin called folate can help prevent certain birth
defects of the spine and brain called neural tube defects.
The neural tube starts to form soon after conception. Many women do not
know they are pregnant until a few months into the pregnancy. For that
reason, the US Public Health Service advises all women of childbearing
age to take 400 micrograms (mcg) a day of folic acid, a synthetic form of
folate. This has been shown to help cut down the risk of neural tube defects.
One multivitamin a day should supply this amount.
Just as it is important to stay active and get plenty of sleep
during pregnancy, a woman needs to eat well, too. Her body and her
growing fetus have special nutritional needs. The best way meet these
needs is to eat a variety of foods from all the food groups.
Skipping meals, eating poorly, and trying to diet while
pregnant can be serious threats to the development of the fetus. After the
in fact, a woman should add about 300 calories a day of healthy
foods to her diet. She should expect to gain between 25-30 pounds
during her pregnancy.
Below is a list of special nutritional needs during pregnancy.
A woman who is not sure if she is meeting these needs should consult
give the fetus the constant supply of energy it needs for growth. Most of a
woman's extra calories during pregnancy should come from carbohydrates.
Foods such as fresh fruit, whole grain cereals and breads, rice, potatoes, and
beans are good sources.
supports the growth of the fetus and helps a woman produce more blood.
If the mother does not get enough iron, the fetus will take the iron it needs
from her blood. Pregnant women should get about 30 milligrams (mg) of
iron a day. Most women do not start pregnancy with enough iron in
their blood. The doctor may prescribe an iron supplement to prevent
iron deficiency anemia.
Foods that contain iron include meat, poultry, fish, legumes such as beans,
and whole-grain and enriched grain products. Iron from animal products is
better absorbed by the body than that from plant sources. Eating good
sources of vitamin C,
such as citrus fruit, broccoli, and tomatoes, can help the body absorb more iron.
is key to the development of the spinal cord. It helps make new cells and
genetic material. Its most important job is helping to prevent
neural tube defects,
such as spina bifida.
During pregnancy, the recommended daily amount of folic acid
rises to 600 mcg. Based on the woman's medical history and test results,
the doctor may recommend 400-800 mcg of folic acid a day.
Many foods are fortified with folic acid, including those made with enriched
flour or grain products, such as bread and rice. This makes it easier for a
woman to get all the folic acid she needs before and during pregnancy.
Other food sources include green leafy vegetables such as spinach and broccoli,
dark yellow vegetables, and fruits such as mangoes, papaya, peaches and
pumpkin, beans, and nuts.
is needed for the growth and repair of muscles and body cells in mother and
fetus. During pregnancy, the recommended daily allowance, called the RDA,
is 70 grams a day. Good sources of protein include lean meats, fish, legumes,
eggs, and skinless poultry. An eating plan that follows the USDA
Food Guide Pyramid
should provide enough protein for a healthy pregnancy.
help to form the bones of the fetus. The RDA for calcium is 1,000 mg for
most pregnant women over age 18, and 1,300 mg for pregnant
women under age 18. If a pregnant woman does not get enough calcium, the
fetus will take what it needs from calcium stored in her bones. Milk, yogurt,
and other dairy products are the best sources of calcium. Other sources
include tofu with added calcium, calcium-fortified orange juice, sardines,
salmon with bones, and dark green leafy vegetables such as collard greens,
kale, and mustard greens. Vitamin D works to help the body use calcium
and phosphorus. Vitamin D is found in fortified milk and sunshine.
are also needed in higher amounts than usual during pregnancy. Except
for iron, folic acid, and calcium, most of the nutrients needed during
pregnancy can be taken in by making healthy food choices. However,
a doctor may prescribe a vitamin and mineral supplement.
If so, it should be taken only as directed.
is a common problem during pregnancy. Coupled with pressure from the baby,
it can sometimes lead to hemorrhoids.
To help prevent constipation, a woman should try to:
eat foods high in fiber,
such as raw fruits, raw vegetables, beans, bran, and whole-grain breads.
Prunes, prune juice, and figs are also helpful.
drink 8-12 glasses of fluid a day. Water is a great choice.
Milk and some juices are helpful, too.
be physically active. A woman should first check with her doctor before
starting any type of exercise during pregnancy.
Many pregnant women experience the
known as morning sickness.
Diet can be a good way to help ease these symptoms. A woman may
find it helps to:
eat only foods that are appealing. She may find she prefers
certain flavors or textures. In the early months of
pregnancy, getting enough calories is more important than eating a
perfectly healthy diet. Odd combinations sometimes help a woman
break the cycle of nausea and poor appetite. When morning sickness
starts to taper off, usually around the end of the
a woman should start to focus on healthy foods again.
avoid strong smells. These can sometimes trigger nausea.
try to eat something before getting out of bed in the morning. Foods
such as crackers, plain toast, dry cereal, or anything that appeals can be
eat often and before she feels hungry. When the stomach is empty,
it triggers nausea. It is helpful to eat small, frequent meals during the day
rather than skipping meals.
try to avoid high-fat and fried foods during this time. Again, those types
of foods may trigger nausea in some women.
eat in bed to keep the stomach full and the blood glucose even.
Before going to sleep and before getting out of bed, she may want to
eat a high protein snack such as peanut butter or milk.
A woman who is vomiting
more than twice a day should consult her doctor. It is hard to get the
nutrients needed to stay healthy and support the fetus when nausea and
vomiting are occurring at that level.
In the months after a baby's birth, the new mother needs to keep
eating a balanced and healthy diet. Just by doing so, many women will
lose weight in the first 4 weeks.
If a woman chooses to bottle feed, her body no longer
needs the extra calories that helped her during pregnancy. If a
woman is breastfeeding,
she continues to need extra fluid, calories, and protein.
A nursing mother needs to eat a typical healthy diet,
plus add extra food to produce milk for the baby. She should be
eating about 500 more calories a day than her body needed before
is very important for nursing mothers. Milk, yogurt, cheese, cottage
cheese, and dark green leafy vegetables are good sources of it.
About 20% of all pregnant women suffer from
iron deficiency anemia.
It usually occurs later in pregnancy as the baby's need for iron increases.
If there is any excess postpartum bleeding, this can become worse. Pregnant
women at highest risk are those who are not well-nourished before and/or
during pregnancy. It is recommended that all pregnant mothers take a
supplement of 30 to 60 mgs. This is equal to having a diet high in iron-rich
foods such as red meats, dried beans and peas, or enriched cereals.
is needed for growth of bones and teeth. However, the body has no method to
shed any excess, so a woman needs to be careful not to get only the right amount.
Overdoses can produce toxic effects in the baby such as congenital malformations.
The RDA for vitamin A is 800 mcg per day.