The food a pregnant woman consumes, regardless of her age, is the main source of nutrition for her baby. Experts recommend that a pregnant woman consume a range of healthy foods and drinks that will help the baby grow and develop properly.
There are 4 nutrients that a pregnant woman would need to consume more of during pregnancy:
- Folic acid
Calcium helps to build a baby’s bones and teeth. If a pregnant woman doesn’t consume enough calcium, her baby will use her own calcium stores to supply the baby. Various dairy products are sometimes fortified with Vitamin D, which is known to work alongside calcium to develop the baby’s bones and teeth. Pregnant women require about 3 servings of calcium daily, whereas pregnant teens require 5.
Good sources of calcium include:
- calcium fortified juices and foods
- sardines or salmon with bones
- bok choy
Folic acid helps to prevent birth defects in the brain and spinal cord. It’s sometimes hard to get the recommended amount of folic acid from our diet alone. It’s recommended that women who are trying for a baby, should take a daily supplement comprising of 400mg of folic acid for at least one month before becoming pregnant.
During pregnancy, women should increase their daily intake to 600 mg. Good sources of folic acid include:
- leafy green vegetables
- bread and pasta
- citrus fruit
- folic acid fortified cereal
- peanut butter
Women need double the amount of iron when pregnant. Additional amounts are needed to make more blood which supplies the baby with oxygen. Having an iron intake that is too low can lead to anemia which causes fatigue and an increased risk of infections. Vitamin C helps with the absorption of iron.
Iron also works alongside sodium, potassium and water, helping to increase the flow of blood. This ensures that enough oxygen is provided to both mother and baby. Good sources of iron include:
- dried beans and peas
- iron-fortified cereal
- dark green leafy vegetables
- citrus fruits
- enriched bread
- dried fruits
Women need to get plenty of protein during pregnancy. Proteins help to build the baby’s brain and heart. Protein also helps to grow breast and uterine tissue and increase blood supply during pregnancy. Pregnant women need about 3 servings of protein daily.
Good sources of protein include:
- Lean meat, poultry, and fish
- seeds and nuts
- beans and legumes such as lentils and chick peas
- dairy products such as milk, yogurt, and cheese
Foods to Eat
Fruits & Vegetables:
Pregnant women should eat lots of fruits and vegetables, especially during the second and third trimester. These foods tend to be low in calories and filled with fibre, vitamins and minerals.
Pregnant women should include lean proteins in every meal to support the growth of the baby.
Whole grains provide energy, fibre, iron and B Vitamins. Approximately half of a pregnant woman’s carbohydrates daily needs should come from whole grains.
Pregnant women should consume about 3-4 servings of dairy food daily.
Foods to Limit
Pregnant women should aim to consume less than 200 mg of caffeine daily. This is considered to be a safe amount.
It’s safe for pregnant women to consume about 8-12 oz (227-336 g) of cooked fish weekly. Fish such as salmon and sardines contain omega 3 fatty acids which are good for the heart. They should limit albacore, which has high mercury levels to about 6 oz (170 g) weekly. Mercury tends to be harmful to the development of a baby’s brain.
Foods to Avoid
Pregnant women should avoid alcohol. The overconsumption of alcohol during pregnancy can lead to fetal alcohol spectrum disorders which include learning and behavioral difficulties in babies and children.
Fish and High Levels of Mercury:
Pregnant women should avoid swordfish, shark, King mackerel, marlin, orange roughy, and tilefish, which are all high in methyl mercury. Methyl mercury can be damaging to the development of an unborn baby’s brain, kidneys and nervous system.
During pregnancy, women are at a higher risk of contracting 2 types of food poisoning– listeriosis (caused by Listeria bacteria) and toxoplasmosis (an infection caused by a parasite). Listeriosis can cause miscarriage, stillbirth, preterm labor, and illness or death in newborns. Therefore, pregnant women should avoid:
- Unpasteurized (raw) milk and its by-products
- Hot dogs, luncheon meats, and cold cuts (unless cooked)
- Store-bought deli salads
- Unpasteurized refrigerated meat spreads or pates.
To avoid conditions like toxoplasmosis and illnesses caused by salmonella and E.Coli bacteria, pregnant women should avoid any foods that are raw or undercooked such as:
- Meats and poultry
- Sushi, shrimp, ceviche, and carpaccio
- Clam, mussels, oysters, and scallops
- Soft-cooked, runny, or poached eggs
- Raw cookie dough or cake batter, tiramisu, chocolate mousse, homemade ice cream, homemade egg nog, and Hollandaise sauce.
- Alfalfa clover
- Unpasteurized juice or cider