The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics recommends the following key components of a healthy lifestyle during pregnancy:
- Appropriate weight gain
- A balanced diet
- Regular exercise
- Appropriate and timely vitamin and mineral supplementation
Dietary and Caloric Recommendations
To maintain a healthy pregnancy, approximately 300 extra calories are needed each day. These calories should come from a balanced diet of protein, fruits, vegetables and whole grains. Sweets and fats should be kept to a minimum. A healthy, well-balanced diet can also help to reduce some pregnancy symptoms, such as nausea and constipation.
Fluid Intake During Pregnancy
Fluid intake is also an important part of pregnancy nutrition. Follow these recommendations for fluid intake during pregnancy:
- You can take in enough fluids by drinking several glasses of water each day, in addition to the fluids in juices and soups. Talk to your health care provider or midwife about restricting your intake of caffeine and artificial sweeteners.
- Avoid all forms of alcohol.
Ideal Foods to Eat During Pregnancy
The following foods are beneficial to your health and fetal development during pregnancy:
- Vegetables: carrots, sweet potatoes, pumpkin, spinach, cooked greens, tomatoes and red sweet peppers (for vitamin A and potassium)
- Fruits: cantaloupe, honeydew, mangoes, prunes, bananas, apricots, oranges, and red or pink grapefruit (for potassium)
- Dairy: fat-free or low-fat yogurt, skim or 1% milk, soymilk (for calcium, potassium, vitamins A and D)
- Grains: ready-to-eat cereals/cooked cereals (for iron and folic acid)
- Proteins: beans and peas; nuts and seeds; lean beef, lamb and pork; salmon, trout, herring, sardines and pollock
Foods to Avoid During Pregnancy
Avoid eating the following foods during pregnancy:
- Unpasteurized milk and foods made with unpasteurized milk (soft cheeses, including feta, queso blanco and fresco, Camembert, brie or blue-veined cheeses—unless labeled “made with pasteurized milk”)
- Hot dogs and luncheon meats (unless they are heated until steaming hot before serving)
- Raw and undercooked seafood, eggs and meat. Do not eat sushi made with raw fish (cooked sushi is safe).
- Refrigerated pâté and meat spreads
- Refrigerated smoked seafood
Guidelines for Safe Food Handling
Follow these general food safety guidelines when handling and cooking food:
- Wash. Rinse all raw produce thoroughly under running tap water before eating, cutting or cooking.
- Clean. Wash your hands, knives, countertops and cutting boards after handling and preparing uncooked foods.
- Cook. Cook beef, pork or poultry to a safe internal temperature verified by a food thermometer.
- Chill. Promptly refrigerate all perishable food.
Prenatal Vitamin and Mineral Supplements
Most health care providers or midwives will prescribe a prenatal supplement before conception or shortly afterward to make sure that all of your nutritional needs are met. However, a prenatal supplement does not replace a healthy diet.
The Importance of Folic Acid
The U.S. Public Health Service recommends that all women of childbearing age consume 400 micrograms (0.4 mg) of folic acid each day. Folic acid is a nutrient found in:
- Some green leafy vegetables
- Most berries, nuts, beans, citrus fruits and fortified breakfast cereals
- Some vitamin supplements.
Folic acid can help reduce the risk of neural tube defects, which are birth defects of the brain and spinal cord. Neural tube defects can lead to varying degrees of paralysis, incontinence and sometimes intellectual disability.
Folic acid is the most helpful during the first 28 days after conception, when most neural tube defects occur. Unfortunately, you may not realize that you are pregnant before 28 days. Therefore, your intake of folic acid should begin before conception and continue throughout your pregnancy. Your health care provider or midwife will recommend the appropriate amount of folic acid to meet your individual needs.
For example, women who take anti-epileptic drugs may need to take higher doses of folic acid to prevent neural tube defects. They should consult with their health care provider when considering trying to conceive.