Food & nutrition in pregnancy
Pregnancy creates extra demands for certain nutrients, including iron, calcium, iodine and many vitamins.
Make sure your diet is varied and includes adequate amounts of the following:
- fruit and vegetables
- breads and cereals
- dairy foods for calcium
- lean meats, chicken and fish for iron.
How much of what do I eat?
You don’t have to eat more but you do have to eat more variety. The following table offers an overview of the variety of food you need to be eating for optimum health during pregnancy.
|Food group||Serves per day||Sample serve|
|Meat or alternatives||3 ½||5 g red meat
80 g chicken
100 g fish
1 cup legumes
170 g tofu
30 g nuts
|Dairy foods||2 ½||250 ml milk or soy milk
40 g cheese
200 g yoghurt
|Breads and cereals||8 ½||1 slice bread
2/3 cup cereal flakes
½ cup cooked porridge
½ cup rice, pasta or noodles (cooked)
|Fruit||2||1 medium fruit (e.g. apple)
2 smaller fruit (e.g. apricots)
1 cup tinned fruit
|Vegetables||5||½ cup cooked vegetables
1 cup salad
75 g starchy vegetables
|Unsaturated spreads and oils||Use in small amounts|
|Extra foods, e.g. foods containing saturated fat, added salt, added sugar or alcohol||Only sometimes and in small amounts|
Lentils, beans, tofu, eggs and soy milk can replace animal foods in a vegetarian diet. If you do not eat animal foods you will need to take a vitamin B12 supplement, as this vitamin is needed for the baby’s brain development.
Folate (or folic acid) is a vitamin found in a variety of foods. The recommendation is to take a folate supplement for two months before you get pregnant and for the first three months of pregnancy, to reduce the risk of spinal problems such as spina bifida in your baby. As well as eating foods rich in folate, a daily supplement containing 500 mcg (0.5 mg) of folic acid is recommended.
If there is a family history of cleft lip, spinal problems or you are taking an anti-epilepsy medication, this dose may need to be greater. Please discuss this with your GP.
Fish is important for developing your baby’s brain and nervous tissue. One to three serves of fish per week is recommended. There are certain types of fish that should be limited because of their high levels of mercury. Shark(flake), broadbill, marlin and swordfish shouldn’t be eaten more than once per fortnight and orange roughy (sea perch) and catfish, more than once per week. Other fish are safe to eat. Canned tuna is not restricted.
Iodine in pregnancy
Iodine is another nutrient that is important for your baby’s brain development. To ensure adequate iodine either:
- Eat fish one to three times a week, (limit high mercury types) and/or
- Use iodised salt or
- Take a multi vitamin for pregnancy that contains iodine.
Vitamin D is mostly made in the skin by the action of sunlight, but a small amount can come from foods like oily fish, egg yolks, margarine and some brands of milk. Vitamin D is important for the development of your baby’s bones and teeth and low levels can cause muscle weakness and pain in women. You may be vitamin D deficient, if you:
- have darker skin
- cover most of your body in clothing
- spend most of your time in doors.
Please discuss this with your GP, who may order a vitamin D test on your blood and suggest supplements while you are pregnant and breastfeeding.
Food safety and hygiene
Listeria and toxoplasmosis are uncommon infections that can be passed onto your unborn baby.
To reduce your risk of listeria:
- Wash your hands, chopping boards and cooking utensils when preparing food
- Wash vegetables and fruit before eating them
- Avoid cold sliced meats e.g. ham and salami, cold cooked chicken, pate, uncooked seafood, soft-serve ice-cream, pre-prepared salads and cheeses such as brie, camembert, feta and ricotta.
Listeria is killed by cooking, so make sure that when you reheat food, it is very hot. [alert box style]
To reduce your risk of toxoplasmosis:
- Cook meat thoroughly
- Wash vegetables
- Wear disposable gloves if handling cat litter or gardening
- Wash your hands after gardening or touching pets.
Eating well is not always easy
It is hard to eat well if you don’t have a stable place to live or enough money for food. Some people find cooking a bit of a challenge. Some people aren’t brought up with home cooked food; others have never learnt how to cook or to shop for food. Some people don’t have a lot of energy or time to cook for their family or themselves. There are often services in community organisations or run by city councils that support people to develop these skills and to improve their eating habits. Your GP or midwife health professional may be able to put you in touch with services.
Healthy eating suggestions
- If you are hungry, stop and grab a snack. Try easy snacks like those listed below.
- Have one meal a day that has meat, chicken, eggs or fish with some salad or vegetables. Try a hamburger or a stir-fry, an egg and salad sandwich, pizza or pasta with salad, or a home cooked meal.
- At other times of the day, have cereals, fruit or sandwiches and a glass of milk with Milo or Ovaltine if you prefer.
- Ask a friend or family member to cook or shop for you if you can’t do it yourself.
- Don’t have too much tea, coffee or coke and avoid ‘energy’ drinks, as they have too much caffeine. If you’re thirsty drink more water.
- If you don’t eat fruit, then have a glass of orange juice and some salad or vegetables instead. If you don’t eat vegetables, have fruit.
Quick ideas for meals and snacks:
- banana sandwiches
- eggs on toast
- baked beans
- ice-cream, custard or yoghurt on fruit
- pasta with cheese and a tomato sauce
- pasta with beans or tuna
- tuna on salad or toast
- stir-fried rice with vegetables
- hot fresh take-away chicken and vegetables
- soup and toast
- cheese toasties
- a bowl of cereal
- burritos or tacos
- peanut butter on toast
- homemade pizza
- milkshake or fruit smoothie.
A variety of good foods every day will provide the vitamins, minerals and nutrition you and your baby need.
The Women’s does not accept any liability to any person for the information or advice (or use of such information or advice) which is provided on the Website or incorporated into it by reference. The Women’s 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.