Food & nutrition in pregnancy
Pregnancy creates extra demands for certain nutrients, including iron, calcium, iodine and many vitamins.
On this page:
- How much of what do I eat?
- Iodine in pregnancy
- Vitamin D
- Food safety and hygiene
- Eating well is not always easy
- Healthy eating suggestions
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.
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 should eat for optimum health during pregnancy.
|Food group||Serves per day||Sample serve|
|Meat or alternatives||3 ½||65g red meat
1 cup legumes
|Dairy foods||2 ½||250ml milk or soy milk
|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
75g 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. It's recommended you 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 500mcg (0.5mg) 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 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 multivitamin 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 with clothing
- spend most of your time indoors.
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.
Iron is needed to make red blood cells that carry oxygen around the body. During pregnancy you need more iron because the volume of your blood increases and your baby’s blood is also developing.
For an iron rich diet:
- include at least two serves of meat, chicken, fish, legumes or nuts every day
- eat wholegrain breads, cereals and green leafy vegetables regularly.
Some women can’t get enough iron from food, so you may need an iron supplement. Your GP or dietitian can recommend what you will need.
Listeria and toxoplasmosis are uncommon infections that can be passed onto your unborn baby.
To reduce your risk of listeria:
- Wash your hands before preparing food.
- Ensure chopping boards and cooking utensils are clean when preparing food.
- Wash vegetables and fruit before eating.
- 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.
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.
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.
- 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 or peanut butter on toast
- baked beans
- ice-cream, custard or yoghurt on fruit
- pasta with cheese and a tomato sauce, 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 or homemade pizza
- a bowl of cereal
- burritos or tacos
- milkshake or fruit smoothie.
A variety of good foods every day will provide the vitamins, minerals and nutrition you and your baby need.
Related Health Topics
Food safety in pregnancy
During pregnancy there are certain foods and beverages that you should avoid as they may be harmful to your baby. The Food safety during pregnancy fact sheet explains which foods to avoid and how to prevent contracting food related illnesses, in particular, listeria and toxoplasmosis.
- Food safety in pregnancy
Healthy eating when you’re pregnant with twins
This fact sheet is for women who are pregnant with twins. It explains how much and what kinds of food you need to eat during your pregnancy and how much weight to gain. Healthy eating when you’re pregnant with twins is especially important.
- Healthy eating when you’re pregnant with twins
Vitamin D & pregnancy
Vitamin D helps to maintain your muscle and bone strength. It also helps your body absorb calcium from food. Vitamin D may also give you protection against developing diseases such as diabetes, heart disease and some types of cancer. In pregnancy, vitamin D also helps to develop your baby’s bones.
- Vitamin D & pregnancy
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