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Healthy eating for pregnancy
Healthy Eating for Pregnancy
Eating For Two?
|Eating healthily during pregnancy is important to meet the needs of your developing baby and for your own wellbeing. Research has shown that what a woman eats can influence the development of her baby and may also have an effect on the baby’s health later in life. However, this doesn’t mean you have to ‘eat for two’ - it is the quality of the diet that is important, not the quantity of food eaten.|
Pregnancy increases your need for many nutrients; it is not difficult to meet these needs if you eat regular meals containing a variety of foods from the main food groups. Use the following table as a guide to foods you should include in your daily diet.
|Nutrients needing special attention include:|
|You may need more kilojoules (calories) during pregnancy to cope with the added needs of the growing baby. This varies but on average the extra amount needed each day is equivalent to the kilojoules in a tub of yoghurt!|
|Although protein requirements are higher during pregnancy, most women in Australia eat generous amounts, so they don’t need to increase their intake further.|
Protein requirements can be met by having 1 to 2 serves of protein-containing foods daily. These foods include meat, fish, chicken, eggs, milk, cheese, yoghurt and vegetarian choices such as legumes, tofu, nuts and seeds. The vegetarian choices are good alternatives for women who go off meat, chicken and fish during pregnancy due to nausea or taste changes (see Vegetarian fact sheet for more information).
|Calcium is important during pregnancy and breastfeeding for the formation of the baby's bones. During pregnancy the mother’s body absorbs calcium from food more efficiently to help meet the needs of the baby. |
The best sources of calcium are dairy foods. Fish with edible bones, e.g. salmon and sardines, are also a good source. There are small amounts of calcium in other foods, but on average about three-quarters of our calcium comes from dairy foods. If you drink soy milk, check that it is a brand with the same amount of calcium as cow’s milk, i.e. about 120 mg of calcium per 100 mls of soy milk.
To ensure you have enough calcium in your diet, you will need 2 to 3 serves of dairy foods per day. See the table above for serve sizes.
|Vitamin D is needed for the body to absorb and use calcium. Vitamin D is mostly made in the skin by the action of sunlight, but a small amount comes from the diet (oily fish, egg yolks, margarine, fortified milk). Women who have darker skin, cover most of their body in clothing for cultural reasons or spend most of their time indoors are at risk of vitamin D deficiency. Vitamin D deficiency can cause bone weakness and muscle pain in women and skeletal abnormalities (called rickets) in their babies. Women who are at risk should have their vitamin D levels checked and if low, will be prescribed a vitamin D supplement. Their babies if breast-fed will also require a vitamin D supplement.|
|Iodine is needed for normal mental development of the baby. The need for iodine increases during pregnancy, but can be difficult to meet because our food supply is fairly low in this mineral. |
Ways of increasing iodine include:
|Fish are also a rich source of iodine. Limit the higher mercury types such as flake, broadbill, marlin, swordfish, orange roughy and catfish (see Food Safety fact sheet for more detail).|
|Folic acid (folate) is essential for blood formation and for the building of body cells. It is especially important around the time of conception and in the first few weeks of pregnancy to help prevent some types of birth defects and continues to be important throughout pregnancy for the normal development of the baby. |
However, it is difficult to get enough folate from food alone and women are advised to start a supplement of 400 micrograms per day when planning a pregnancy and continue this throughout the pregnancy.
Good sources of folic acid include green leafy vegetables such as brussel sprouts, broccoli, spinach and salad greens.
Folate is destroyed by overcooking, so freshly prepared salad vegetables or very lightly cooked green vegetables are the best sources. Nuts and yeast extracts e.g. Vegemite, oranges, wholemeal bread, fortified breakfast cereals and legumes (such as baked beans, kidney beans, chickpeas) also contain folic acid.
Remember to discuss folic acid with your doctor or dietitian when planning your next pregnancy.
Do I need to take a multivitamin supplement?
|Ideally the best way to meet nutrient requirements is with a balanced diet, however if you are unable to eat well, a multivitamin supplement can be beneficial. |
There are many different formulations available and cost can vary widely. Some contain higher levels of iron or folic acid. Some contain iodine while others don’t. If you are taking a multivitamin that is not specifically designed for pregnancy, check that it does not contain vitamin A (retinol). Ask your pharmacist, doctor or dietitian if you need advice.
Where to get more information
|Nutrition & Dietetics|
|Royal Women's Hospital|
Tel: (03) 8345 3160
|Women's Health Information Centre|
|Royal Women's Hospital|
Tel: (03) 8345 3045 or 1800 442 007 (rural callers)
Related fact sheets
|The Royal Women’s Hospital does not accept any liability to any person for the information or advice (or use of such information or advice) which is provided in this fact sheet or incorporated into it by reference. We provide this information on the understanding that all persons accessing it take responsibility for assessing its relevance and accuracy. Women are encouraged to discuss their health needs with a health practitioner. If you have concerns about your health, you should seek advice from your health care provider or if you require urgent care you should go to the nearest Emergency Dept.|
|Published March 2008. Reviewed January 2012|