The Baby Guide: Mother’s Diet During Pregnancy
It’s no wonder that the body demands extra nourishment during pregnancy — it’s growing a new life, after all! Eating a varied diet containing all of the food groups helps to grow a healthy baby. Many micronutrients are met with a balanced diet and a complementary prenatal vitamin. However, there are some additional macro- and micronutrient needs during pregnancy that aren’t covered by the usual diet alone. The information and recommendations below are derived from the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, Dietary Guidelines for Americans, and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists.
Increased macro- and micronutrient needs during pregnancy:
- Energy (calorie) intake needs increase an additional 300–400 calories per day to accommodate the baby’s growth during the 2nd and 3rd trimesters. Healthy weight gain is encouraged during pregnancy to grow and nourish the baby, click here to learn more about healthy weight gain goals for pregnancy.
- Protein helps build the baby’s organs and helps the mother’s tissue growth. The recommended dietary allowance (RDA) is 71 grams of protein per day during the 2nd and 3rd trimesters. An example of 71 grams of protein in a day: 2 eggs at breakfast, 2 tbsp peanut butter for lunch, 1 greek yogurt cup for a snack, and 4 oz of salmon + ½ cup black beans for dinner. Sources of protein include meat, fish, eggs, dairy products, beans, legumes, nuts/nut butters, and tofu. Try to have a serving of protein with each meal + one high-protein snack to meet your protein needs.
- Omega-3 fatty acids, specifically EPA and DHA, are key in growing the baby’s brain, vision, and nervous system in utero. The best food source of EPA and DHA is seafood. For pregnant women, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recommend 2–3 servings (8–12 oz) weekly of low-mercury seafood. Avoid seafood high in mercury: swordfish, shark, and king mackerel. Plant sources of omega-3 fatty acids, such as walnuts and flaxseed, are good sources as well, though in lower quantities compared to seafood. If you have concerns about meeting your omega-3 fatty acid needs, talk to your doctor about a fish oil supplement.
- Folate/Folic acid needs are higher to prevent neural tube birth defects. Most prenatal supplements sold in the US contain 400–800 mcg of folic acid, but it’s always smart to check the label. In addition, eat foods high in folate such as leafy green vegetables, legumes, citrus fruit juices, and enriched grains.
- Iron intake needs increase to 27 mg/day during pregnancy; iron helps increase blood and oxygen supply for both mom and baby. Meat, poultry, and fish are excellent sources of iron and are most easily absorbed; vegetables and legumes are OK sources of iron. Pair eating an iron-containing food with a food or drink high in vitamin C — this enhances the absorption of iron in the body.
- Calcium supports multiple systems in both mother and baby during pregnancy. 1000 mg/day is recommended: this can be achieved by eating 3–4 servings of dairy per day. Other plant-based foods such as leafy greens and legumes contain calcium as well, but in a lower quantity compared to dairy products.
- Iodine is important for the fetus’ neurocognitive development. Some women who do not regularly eat dairy products, eggs, seafood, or use iodized table salt may not be getting enough iodine during pregnancy. Using salt that is iodized is an excellent way to increase iodine; an iodine supplement may be needed for some women.
- Vitamin B12 may need to be supplemented in vegetarian or vegan mothers, as food sources for vitamin B12 are animal products and nutritional yeast. Many prenatal vitamins contain vitamin B12, be sure to check the label.
- Low caffeine: caffeine from coffee, tea, and soda should be consumed in low amounts.
- Avoid alcohol: Alcohol easily crosses into the placenta and can harm a baby at any time during pregnancy.
Food safety while pregnant
Taking extra precautions with food safety measures will help keep both mom and baby safe. In general, avoid raw forms of foods during pregnancy: meat, eggs, or fish (including sushi) that are raw, and juices, milks, or soft cheeses that are unpasteurized. Cook meat, eggs, and fish to the recommended safe internal temperatures. Deli meats and hot dogs should be reheated to steaming hot (165°F) to kill harmful bacteria.
- When choosing a prenatal vitamin, check the label to make sure it contains folic acid, iron, and calcium. If recommended by your doctor, check that it contains iodine too.
- Additional calories and protein are necessary to grow a baby.
- Eat 8–12oz of low mercury seafood each week, or talk with your doctor about adding a fish oil supplement, to meet omega-3 fatty acid needs.
- Drink minimal caffeine and no alcohol while pregnant.
- Avoid raw meats, eggs, fish, and unpasteurized products for food safety.
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About the Author
Allisyn Berg is a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist (RDN) who is passionate about sharing credible, science-backed information. She has a special interest in pediatric nutrition & development, and any food involving avocados.
- Klemm Rby S. Eating Right During Pregnancy. EatRight. https://www.eatright.org/health/pregnancy/what-to-eat-when-expecting/eating-right-during-pregnancy. Accessed July 23, 2021.
- Pregnancy. American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. https://www.acog.org/womens-health/pregnancy. Accessed July 23, 2021.
- Update on Seafood Consumption During Pregnancy. Practice Advisory: ACOG Clinical. https://www.acog.org/clinical/clinical-guidance/practice-advisory/articles/2017/01/update-on-seafood-consumption-during-pregnancy. Accessed July 23, 2021.
- U.S. Department of Agriculture and U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2020–2025. 9th Edition. Published December 2020. Available at DietaryGuidelines.gov
- Weight Gain During Pregnancy. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. https://www.cdc.gov/reproductivehealth/maternalinfanthealth/pregnancy-weight-gain.htm. Published May 26, 2021. Accessed July 23, 2021.