Food & Nutrition

Congratulations! You are now eating for more than one. This guide will help you choose the most healthful foods for you and your baby.

What foods should I eat?

You will need an additional 200 to 300 extra calories from nutrient-dense foods compared with how you ate prior to your pregnancy. It will be important to carefully consider the foods you consume during your pregnancy. This is a time to eat more foods that are nutrient-dense, and fewer sweets and treats. Use these guidelines to choose a healthy diet:

Daily guidelines for eating healthy during pregnancy

Eat a variety of foods. Use the MyPyramid website ( as a guide to choose the amounts of foods in each food group.

Choose whole grain carbohydrates that are a good source of fiber.
Take your prenatal vitamin daily and/or any other prescribed vitamins and minerals. Your prenatal vitamin should contain at least 400 mcg of folic acid. The March of Dimes suggests that 70 percent of all neural tube defects can be avoided with appropriate folic acid intake.
Choose at least one good source of folic acid. Foods rich in folic acid include green leafy vegetables, fruits (orange juice, strawberries), and fortified cereals.
Drink or eat four servings of dairy products or foods rich in calcium.
Eat at least three servings of iron-rich foods. You should get 18 milligrams of iron in your diet daily. Good sources include enriched grain products, lean meat, poultry and fish, eggs, and green leafy vegetables.
Choose at least one good source of Vitamin A every other day. Foods rich in Vitamin A often have a yellow or orange color to them. They include carrots, sweet potatoes, apricots, and cantaloupe.
Avoid alcohol. Alcohol has been linked with premature delivery and low birth weight babies as well as Fetal Alcohol Syndrome.
Limit caffeine to 300 mg per day. You may choose: two 5-ounce cups of coffee, three 5-ounce cups of tea, or two 12-ounce glasses of caffeinated soda.
You may use some non-nutritive, artificial sweeteners during pregnancy. The FDA has approved the use of aspartame (Nutrasweet®), sucralose (Splenda®) and acesulfame-K. The FDA does not recommend saccharin because it can remain in fetal tissues.
Eat salty foods in moderation. Salt causes your body to retain water and could lead to an elevation in your blood pressure.
Do not diet! Even if you are overweight, your pregnancy is not an acceptable time to lose weight. You or your baby could be missing essential nutrients for good growth.

Are there foods that are harmful to eat during pregnancy?

There are specific foods that you will want to avoid during your pregnancy. Hormonal changes during pregnancy can have a negative affect on your immune system and put you at greater risk for contracting a foodborne illness. The Centers for Disease Control have found that contracting the foodborne illness Listeria during pregnancy can cause premature delivery, miscarriage, and even fetal death. Pregnant women are 20 times more likely to contract Listeria.

You can decrease your chances of contracting Listeria by avoiding hot dogs, luncheon meats, soft cheeses, and unpasteurized milk products. Soft cheeses include feta, Brie, Camembert, blue-veined cheeses, and Mexican-style cheeses such as queso blanco and queso fresco. Other foods that are more likely to cause foodborne illnesses include sushi, rare beef, raw eggs, Caesar dressing, and mayonnaise.

Another food of concern for pregnant women is fish. Although fish is a low-fat, healthful protein choice, there are certain fish that have elevated levels of methyl mercury or PCBs, a pollutant in the environment. Consuming fish with high levels of methyl mercury during pregnancy has been associated with brain damage and developmental delay for your baby. Shark, swordfish, king mackerel, and tilefish have higher levels of mercury and should be avoided. The March of Dimes cautions against eating fish that may contain higher levels of PCBs. Fish in this category include bluefish, bass, freshwater salmon, pike, trout, and walleye.

Do any of your family members have a peanut allergy? If they do, you may need to avoid peanuts and peanut products. Research has shown that when you eat peanut products when you are pregnant, you expose your baby to peanut allergens. This exposure may increase the baby’s likelihood of developing a food allergy to peanuts.

How much weight should I gain?

Gaining the right amount of weight during pregnancy by eating a balanced diet is a good sign that your baby is getting all of the nutrients he or she needs and is growing at a healthy rate.

Weight gain should be slow and gradual. In general, you should gain about two to four pounds during your first three months of pregnancy and one pound a week for the remainder of the pregnancy. A woman of average weight before pregnancy can expect to gain 25 to 35 pounds during the pregnancy. You may need to gain more or less depending on whether you are underweight or overweight when you get pregnant.

Recommendations also differ if you are carrying more than one baby.

Where does all the weight go?

-baby, 8 pounds
-Placenta, 2-3 pounds
-Amniotic fluid, 2-3 pounds
-Breast tissue, 2-3 pounds
-Blood supply, 4 pounds
-Fat stores for delivery and breastfeeding, 5-9 pounds
-Uterus increase, 2-5 pounds
TOTAL: 25-35 pounds

What if I am gaining too much weight?

Try to get your weight gain back on track. Don’t consider losing weight or stopping weight gain altogether. You should try to slow your weight gain to recommended amounts, depending on your trimester. During the first trimester, you should gain 2 to 4 pounds total; during the second and third trimester, you should gain 1 pound per week. Consider trying these diet changes to gain weight more slowly:

-Eat the appropriate portion size and avoid second helpings.
-Choose low-fat dairy products.
-Exercise; consider walking or swimming on most if not all days.
-Use low-fat cooking methods.
-Limit sweets and high-calorie snacks.
-Limit sweet and sugary drinks.

What if I am not gaining enough weight?

Every woman is different and not everyone will gain at the same rate. You should talk to your doctor if you are concerned that you are not gaining enough. Weight gain can be hindered by nausea and morning sickness. (See suggestions for when you are not feeling well.) Excessive vomiting can be a symptom of hyperemesis gravidarum, which you should discuss with your doctor. Consider trying these diet changes to gain weight within appropriate ranges:

Eat more frequently. Try eating 5-6 times per day.
Choose nutrient and calorically dense foods such as dried fruit, nuts, crackers with peanut butter, and ice cream.
Add a little extra cheese, honey, margarine, or sugar to the foods you are eating.

What can I eat if I am not feeling well?

Pregnancy symptoms vary. Some women may have difficulty with morning sickness, diarrhea, or constipation. Here are a few suggestions on how to deal with these symptoms.

Morning sickness: For morning sickness, try eating crackers, cereal, or pretzels before you get out of bed. Eat small meals more frequently throughout the day. Avoid fatty, fried foods.
Constipation: Take a stool softener like docustae sodium everyday. Increase your fiber intake by eating high fiber cereal and fresh fruits and vegetables. Also, make sure you are drinking plenty of water – at least eight glasses per day.
Diarrhea: Increase your intake of foods containing pectin and gum fiber to help absorb excess water. Good choices include: applesauce, bananas, white rice, oatmeal, refined wheat bread, and smooth peanut butter.
Heartburn: Eat small frequent meals throughout the day. Try drinking a glass of milk before your meal. Avoid caffeine. Try not to lie down after eating a meal. Tums as needed. Pepcid can be taken.

Are cravings normal?

Many women will have food cravings during pregnancy, but there are others who do not. If you have food cravings, it’s okay to indulge as long as it fits into a healthy diet and does not occur too often. If you are craving non-food items such as ice, laundry detergent, dirt, clay, ashes, or paint chips, you may have a condition known as pica. You should discuss this with your doctor immediately. Eating non-food items can be harmful to you and your baby and may be a sign of a nutritional deficiency such as iron deficiency.

Types of vegetarians

Vegan — This diet includes fruits, vegetables, beans, grains, seeds, and nuts. All animal sources of protein — including meat, poultry, fish, eggs, milk, cheese, and other dairy products — are excluded from the diet.
Lactovegetarian — This diet includes dairy products in addition to the foods listed above in the vegan diet. Meat, poultry, fish, and eggs are excluded from the diet.
Lacto-ovovegetarian — This diet includes dairy products and eggs in addition to the foods listed above in the vegan diet. Meat, poultry, and fish are excluded from the diet.

Vegetarian nutrition

Your baby can receive the nutrition needed to grow and develop while you follow a vegetarian meal plan. During pregnancy, it is important to choose a variety of foods that provide enough protein and calories for you and your baby. Depending on the type of vegetarian meal plan you follow, you might need to adjust your eating habits. Follow the guidelines below for healthy vegetarian eating during pregnancy.

Goals for healthy eating

During pregnancy, you need extra calories from nutrient-rich foods to help your baby grow. You should consume 200 to 300 more calories than you did before you became pregnant.
Eat a variety of foods to get all the nutrients you need. The “Vegetarian Foods to Choose” chart below provides the number of servings to eat from each food group every day. If you do not eat meat, poultry, fish, eggs, or dairy products, you will need to include other sources of protein in your daily diet. Other protein sources include nuts, peanut butter, legumes, soy products, and tofu.
Choose foods high in starch and fiber such as whole-grain breads, cereals, pasta, rice, fruits, and vegetables.
Eat and drink at least four servings of calcium-rich foods a day to help ensure that you are getting 1200 mg. of calcium in your daily diet. Sources of calcium include dairy products, seafood, leafy green vegetables, dried beans or peas, and tofu.
Vitamin D will help your body use calcium. Adequate amounts of vitamin D can be obtained through exposure to the sun and in fortified milk, eggs, and fish. Vegans should receive 10 to 15 minutes of direct sunlight to the hands, face, or arms three times per week or take a supplement as prescribed by their health care providers.
Eat at least three servings of iron-rich foods per day to ensure you are getting 18 mg. of iron in your daily diet. Sources of iron include enriched grain products (rice), eggs, leafy green vegetables, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, sweet potatoes, dried beans and peas, raisins, prunes, and peanuts.
Choose at least one source of vitamin C every day. Sources of vitamin C include oranges, grapefruits, strawberries, honeydew, broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, green peppers, tomatoes, and mustard greens.
Choose at least one source of folic acid every day. Sources of folic acid include dark, green, leafy vegetables, and legumes such as lima beans, black beans, black-eyed peas, and chickpeas.
Choose at least one source of vitamin A every other day. Sources of vitamin A include carrots, pumpkins, sweet potatoes, spinach, squash, turnip greens, beet greens, apricots, and cantaloupe.
Choose at least one source of vitamin B 12 a day. Vitamin B 12 is found in animal products including fish and shellfish, eggs, and dairy products. Vegans are at risk of not consuming enough vitamin B 12. Your health care provider might recommend a vitamin B 12 supplement.
Avoid alcohol during pregnancy. Alcohol has been linked to premature delivery and low birth weight babies. If you think you might have a problem with alcohol use, please talk to your health care provider so he or she can help protect you and your baby.
Limit caffeine to no more than 300 mg. per day (two 5-ounce cups of coffee, three 5-ounce cups of tea, or two 12-ounce glasses of caffeinated soda). Remember, chocolate contains caffeine — the amount of caffeine in a chocolate bar is equal to 1/4 cup of coffee.
The use of non-nutritive or artificial sweeteners approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is acceptable during pregnancy. These FDA-approved sweeteners include aspartame and acesulfame-K. The use of saccharin is strongly discouraged during pregnancy because it can cross the placenta and might remain in fetal tissues. Talk with your health care provider about how much non-nutritive sweetener is acceptable during pregnancy.
Limit salty foods — Salt causes your body to retain water. Although there is no documented risk to mother or baby, you might want to limit extra salty foods to avoid feeling overly bloated. Do not restrict salt unless prescribed by your health care provider.
Decrease the total amount of fat you eat to 30 percent or less of your total daily calories. For a person eating 2000 calories a day, this would be 65 grams of fat or less per day.
Limit cholesterol intake to 300 milligrams (mg) or less per day.
DO NOT DIET or try to lose weight during pregnancy. — Both you and your baby need the proper nutrients in order to be healthy. Keep in mind that you will lose some weight the first week your baby is born.