Nutrition and Diet for a Healthy Pregnancy

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Mothers-to-be can keep themselves and their developing babies healthy by taking the right nutritional and lifestyle steps. This includes eating and drinking right, and getting the right amount of nutrients such as folic acid each day.

Why is folic acid important for a pregnant woman?

  • Folic acid is an essential nutrient for a developing fetus. Its most important function is to reduce the risk of defects in the unborn child's brain and nervous system (neural tube defects).
  • Neural tube defects can develop very early in pregnancy – even before the mother may know she's pregnant. That's why it's important for all women who could possibly become pregnant to get the right amount of folic acid in their diet.

What's the best way to get enough folic acid each day?

  • Women who could become pregnant should get at least 400 micrograms (mcg) of folic acid in their daily diet.
  • It's difficult to get 400 micrograms of folic acid daily without a supplement. A combination of supplements and food choices high in folic acid is recommended.
  • Good dietary sources of folic acid are:
    • fortified cereals, breads, pasta and rice
    • citrus fruits (oranges, grapefruit, etc.) and 100% citrus fruit juices
    • green leafy vegetables (spinach, turnip greens, asparagus, etc.)
    • peanuts, walnuts and almonds
    • beans

How important is iron?

  • Iron is the other important nutrient for pregnant women. It reduces the risk of anemia during pregnancy, and can help prevent pre-term deliveries and low birth weight babies.
  • Foods high in iron are red meats, chicken, eggs, iron-fortified cereals and grains, and green, leafy vegetables.
  • Vitamin C helps the body use iron. When you eat iron-rich foods or take an iron supplement, also include a source of vitamin C such as berries, tomatoes, bell peppers, broccoli, or 100% citrus fruit juice.
  • Avoid foods and beverages that can keep your body from absorbing iron: tea, cola, coffee, chocolate, and excessive calcium from dairy products or supplements.
  • Avoid eating non-food items that can prevent your body from using iron properly, such as clay or dirt, and eating ice, flour or cornstarch on their own.
  • Your doctor may also recommend a daily iron supplement or multivitamin.

Is it safe to eat fish during pregnancy?

  • Two to three servings (8 to 12 ounces) of low-mercury fish per week is recommended. Low-mercury fish include canned light tuna, salmon, tilapia, shrimp, cod and catfish. Fish helps the development of your child before and after it is born.
  • Pregnant women should avoid eating swordfish, shark, tilefish and king mackerel because of their higher mercury content. Mercury is a poisonous metal than can cause birth defects.

What kind of fluids should I be getting while I'm pregnant?

  • Drink whenever you feel thirsty.
  • A woman needs extra fluid during pregnancy since blood volume increases by 50 percent.
  • Caffeine makes your body lose fluid, so it's best to limit coffee, tea and cola drinks.
  • Dark yellow urine is a sign that you're not getting enough fluids each day. Your urine should look clear or pale yellow.

What about weight gain when I'm pregnant?

  • Pregnancy is not a time to be dieting! Being overweight or underweight during pregnancy may cause problems.
  • Try to get within 15 pounds of your ideal weight before pregnancy.
  • Don't stop eating or start skipping meals as your weight increases. Both you and your baby need the calories and nutrition you receive from a healthy diet.
  • For most women, it is normal to gain anywhere from 2 to 4 pounds during the first trimester and almost a pound a week during the second and third trimesters.
  • Talk to a registered dietitian or your health care provider about weight concerns.

What are other important steps early in pregnancy?

  • If you smoke cigarettes or drink alcohol, stop! Both can interfere with a baby's development and growth, impair weight gain, and cause birth defects.
  • Eat a balanced diet. Consume a variety of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains, as well as lean protein sources and calcium-rich foods.
  • Contact your doctor as soon as you know you're pregnant and see your doctor regularly throughout the pregnancy.
Last reviewed on May 7, 2024 request edits
Mississippi State Department of Health 570 East Woodrow Wilson Dr Jackson, MS 39216 866‑HLTHY4U Contact and information

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