Nutrition During Pregnancy

Topic Overview

A balanced, nutritious diet during pregnancy is important to maintain your health and nourish your fetus. Be sure to increase your daily caloric intake by 300 calories after you become pregnant.

The average woman needs 2,200 calories a day and 2,500 when she is pregnant. If she is carrying twins, her need increases to 3,500 calories, and for triplets or more, she needs 4,500 calories.1 Talk to your doctor or a dietitian about your daily calorie needs because your needs depend on your height, weight, and activity level.

Your doctor may give you a nutrition plan to follow throughout pregnancy and while breast-feeding. You may also receive a prescription for a vitamin and mineral supplement or a list of recommended nonprescription supplements.

Healthy eating

Eating a variety of foods can help you get all the nutrients you need. Your body needs protein, carbohydrate, and fats for energy. Good sources of nutrients are:

  • Unsaturated fats like olive oil and canola oil, nuts, and fish.
  • Carbohydrate from whole grains, fruits, vegetables, legumes (peas, beans, and lentils), and low-fat milk products.
  • Lean protein such as all types of fish, poultry without skin, low-fat milk products, and legumes.

Eating healthy foods during pregnancy is good for your overall health and for the health of your baby. You may already have a healthy diet, or you may need to make some changes to eat healthier.

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It's also important to eat plenty of fruits and vegetables. These not only give you necessary nutrients but also help you get fiber. Planning your meals can help you add healthy foods to your diet.

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Folic acid

Folic acid is a B vitamin. Taking folic acid before and during early pregnancy reduces the chance of having a baby with a neural tube defect or other birth defects.

  • Women of childbearing age should get 0.4 mg (400 mcg) to 0.8 mg (800 mcg) of folic acid from fortified food, supplements, or a mix of food plus supplements.2 This amount is found in most once-a-day multivitamins.
  • Women who are pregnant with twins or more should take 1 mg (1000 mcg) of folic acid daily.3
  • Women who have a family history of neural tube defects, who have had a baby with a neural tube defect, or who are on medicines for seizures should take additional folic acid: a daily dosage of 4 mg (4000 mcg) of folic acid is recommended. Do not try to reach this amount of folic acid by taking more multivitamins, because you could get too much of the other substances that are in the multivitamin.4

Iron

You will need twice as much iron in your second and third trimesters as you did before pregnancy. This extra iron supports the extra blood in your system and helps with the growth of the placenta and the fetus. Your iron requirements are slight during the first trimester of pregnancy, and taking iron supplements in the first trimester may aggravate morning sickness.

After the first trimester, take a daily supplement containing 30 mg of iron (most prenatal vitamins include iron). A woman with a multiple pregnancy is advised to take 60 mg to 100 mg of iron daily.3 Iron supplements can cause an upset stomach and constipation. Taking your iron at bedtime may decrease the chance of stomach upset. Your body absorbs iron best in small amounts when you eat it with vitamin C, so you may want to take your iron throughout the day.

Calcium

Calcium is needed for the development of the fetus's skeleton. You can get enough calcium in your diet by eating or drinking 4 servings from the dairy (milk) group each day. Good sources of calcium from nonmilk sources include:

  • Greens (such as mustard and turnip greens), bok choy, kale, and watercress.
  • Broccoli and cauliflower.
  • Tofu that is "calcium-set."
  • Corn tortillas made with lime.
  • Calcium-fortified orange juice.

References

Citations

  1. Newman RB, Rittenberg C (2008). Multiple gestations. In RS Gibbs et al., eds., Danforth's Obstetrics and Gynecology, 10th ed., pp. 220–245. Philadelphia: Lippincott Williams and Wilkins.
  2. U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (2009). Folic acid to prevent neural tube defects. Available online: http://www.uspreventiveservicestaskforce.org/uspstf/uspsnrfol.htm.
  3. Cunningham FG, et al. (2010). Multifetal gestation. In Williams Obstetrics, 23rd ed., pp. 859–889. New York: McGraw-Hill.
  4. Cunningham FG, et al. (2010). Prenatal care. In Williams Obstetrics, 23rd ed., pp. 189–214. New York: McGraw-Hill.

Other Works Consulted

  • American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (2013). Weight gain during pregnancy. ACOG Committee Opinion No. 548. Obstetrics and Gynecology, 121(1): 210–212.

Credits

By Healthwise Staff
Sarah Marshall, MD - Family Medicine
Kirtly Jones, MD - Obstetrics and Gynecology
Last Revised February 14, 2013

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