Diet During Pregnancy

What foods do I need to eat?

Eating regular, well-balanced meals is more important when you are pregnant than at any other time of your life. What you eat provides nutrition for your baby as well as yourself. The best time to start eating a healthy diet is before you get pregnant.

Eat a variety of whole, fresh foods. These are foods you should eat every day. Depending on your particular needs, you may need more or fewer servings each day.

  • Protein: 5 and 1/2 to 7 ounces a day
  • Grains: 6 to 8 ounces every day (Eat less processed food and more whole grains.)
  • Fruits: 2 cups every day
  • Vegetables: 2 and 1/2 to 3 cups every day
  • Dairy (Milk) Products: 3 cups every day (It’s best to choose low-fat or nonfat dairy products.)
  • Healthy Fats: Eat fats, such as canola and olive oils, avocado, soft (no trans-fat) margarines, mayonnaise, and oil based salad dressings in moderation.
  • Fluids: Try to drink at least 8 cups of liquid each day. Drinks should be low in fat and sugar.

Your healthcare provider will most likely prescribe a prenatal vitamin and mineral supplement. This will help make sure you get the vitamins and minerals you need, such as calcium, iron, and folic acid. Folic acid is very important for spinal cord development of the baby.

If you do not eat any animal foods, it may be hard to get enough important nutrients, including protein, iron, vitamin B12, and vitamin D. Your healthcare provider may ask you to meet with a dietitian to help you plan your meals. You may also need additional supplements. If you include dairy and eggs in your diet, prenatal vitamins may be the only supplements you need.

What should I avoid when I am pregnant?

  • Avoid alcoholic drinks (wine, beer, or liquor), tobacco, and drugs.
  • Check with your healthcare provider before you take any medicines or herbal supplements. Some medicines and supplements can cause birth defects.
  • Limit caffeine. High amounts of caffeine from coffee, tea, soft drinks, and chocolate could increase the risk to your baby. Caffeine can affect your baby’s breathing and heart rate. As little as 200 mg of caffeine a day (the amount of caffeine in one 12-ounce cup of regular brewed coffee) may slow the growth of your baby. Some healthcare providers recommend no caffeine during the first trimester and no more than 200 mg a day during the second and third trimesters.
  • Avoid herbal teas unless your provider recommends them. Large amounts of some herbal teas may increase your risk for early (preterm) labor.
  • Avoid raw or undercooked meat, fish, shellfish, and eggs. Also avoid foods from deli counters, or thoroughly reheat cold cuts before you eat them. Cook leftover foods or ready-to-eat foods, such as hot dogs, until they are steaming hot before you eat them.
  • Do not eat or drink unpasteurized dairy products. The pasteurization process kills bacteria called listeria, which are dangerous for pregnant women and their newborns. Always check the labels. Do not eat soft cheeses, such as Brie, Camembert, feta, blue-veined cheeses, queso fresco or queso blanco, and panela, unless the label says they are pasteurized or made from pasteurized milk. Hard cheese (such as cheddar), processed cheese slices, cottage cheese, and cream cheese are safe.
  • Avoid raw vegetable sprouts and unpasteurized fruit and vegetable juices. They can carry disease-causing bacteria.

Sometimes pregnant women crave something that is not food, such as laundry starch, dirt, clay, or ice. This condition is called pica, and you need to tell your healthcare provider if you are having this kind of craving. Pica can cause poor nutrition for you and your baby. It can also make it hard for you to gain weight and is dangerous to your health.

Keep following these recommendations while you are breast-feeding your baby.

You do not have to eat a low-salt diet during pregnancy. A moderate amount of salt helps keep proper levels of sodium in your body as your baby develops. Use iodized salt.

Is it OK to eat fish?

Fish and shellfish contain good protein and other essential nutrients. They are low in saturated fat, and many fish contain omega-3 fatty acids, which have been shown to help brain development in babies. However, nearly all fish and shellfish contain traces of mercury. Mercury can harm an unborn baby’s developing brain and nerves. Some fish and shellfish have higher levels of mercury than others. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) advises women who may become pregnant or who are pregnant to avoid some types of fish with high mercury levels. Nursing mothers and young children should also avoid these fish.

  • Don’t eat shark, swordfish, king mackerel, or tilefish (also called golden or white snapper). These fish contain the highest levels of mercury.
  • Choose shrimp, scallops, salmon, pollock, cod, catfish, or light canned tuna. These types of fish and seafood contain less mercury. Eat 8 to 12 ounces of different kinds of low-mercury fish each week. For example, 6 ounces of canned white (albacore) tuna and 6 ounces of salmon per week.

Eating undercooked or raw oysters and clams, or refrigerated smoked seafood may increase your risk for infection. Refrigerated smoked seafood, such as salmon, trout, whitefish, and cod may be called nova-style, lox, kippered, smoked, or jerky.

  • If you eat oysters and clams, boil them for at least 4 to 6 minutes (as you should do with all shellfish).
  • Don’t eat refrigerated smoked seafood unless it is cooked, such as in a casserole. Cook most fish to an internal temperature of 145° F (63° C).

What if I gain too much weight?

In general, you need about 300 more calories a day than when you were not pregnant. The number of extra calories that’s right for you depends on your how much you ate and weighed before you got pregnant.

Your healthcare provider will suggest a range of weight that you should gain. The usual recommended gain is about 20 to 35 pounds. If you are gaining too much weight:

  • Eat the same number of servings for all of the food groups, but make lower fat choices.
  • Avoid high-fat, high-sugar treats and high-calorie drinks, such as soda pop or large servings of juice.
  • Exercise as much as your healthcare provider recommends.

What if I have problems when I eat?

Morning sickness

Many women have morning sickness during the early months of pregnancy. In early pregnancy, the changes in your body can cause you to feel nauseated when you eat or smell certain foods or when you get tired or anxious. In most cases, symptoms of nausea and vomiting are less common by the second trimester. When you feel sick, it may help if you:

  • Eat crackers, pretzels, or dry cereal before you get out of bed in the morning.
  • Eat small meals often.
  • Avoid greasy, fried, or spicy foods that may upset your stomach.
  • Drink plenty of liquids, but between meals rather than with them. Try crushed ice, fruit juice, or fruit-ice pops if water makes you feel nauseous.
  • Avoid unpleasant odors.
  • Get enough rest.

Ginger has been shown to help some women have less nausea, but you should talk to your healthcare provider before you add ginger to your diet.

Constipation

To help relieve constipation:

  • Eat more fresh fruits, vegetables, high-fiber breads, and cereals.
  • Drink lots of liquid throughout the day.
  • Get as much as exercise as you can. Walking and swimming are good choices.
  • Try fiber supplements such as psyllium powder, Metamucil, or Citrucel if added fiber from your diet is not enough to relieve constipation. (You must drink plenty of liquid when taking these products.) Do not use any other laxatives unless your healthcare provider tells you to.

Diarrhea

  • Try eating more yogurt with active cultures, rice, dry toast, or bananas.
  • Ask your provider if you can use Pepto-Bismol or Maalox.

Heartburn

For heartburn you should:

  • Eat 5 or 6 small meals a day instead of 2 or 3 large meals.
  • Avoid foods that commonly cause symptoms, such as spicy and fried foods, high fat foods, orange and grapefruit juices.
  • Limit or avoid peppermint, chocolate, and licorice because these may increase heartburn symptoms.
  • Bake or broil your food instead of frying it.
  • Cut down on soft drinks, chocolate, coffee, and other drinks with caffeine. Drink instead water, lowfat milk, and apple or cranberry juice.
  • Don’t lie down for at least 1 to 2 hours after you eat. If heartburn gets worse when you lie down, raise the head of your bed 4 to 6 inches.
  • Ask your healthcare provider if you can use an antacid.

For more information, see:

Developed by RelayHealth.
Adult Advisor 2015.1 published by RelayHealth.
Last modified: 2012-07-25
Last reviewed: 2014-03-10
This content is reviewed periodically and is subject to change as new health information becomes available. The information is intended to inform and educate and is not a replacement for medical evaluation, advice, diagnosis or treatment by a healthcare professional.
Copyright ©1986-2015 McKesson Corporation and/or one of its subsidiaries. All rights reserved.

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