How to Eat Right For a Safe and Healthy Pregnancy
For many women, pregnancy is filled with seemingly endless worries and tasks. Especially if you struggle with morning sickness or exhaustion, proper nutrition might seem like an insurmountable hurdle, little more than another source of endless work. Eating well when you're pregnant doesn't have to be complicated, though. Here's what you need to know to remain healthy during all three trimesters.
A healthy diet is vital for good health. When you're pregnant, you are your baby's pipeline to healthy eating. The foods you eat go directly to your baby, affecting everything from how the brain develops to how quickly your baby grows.
Healthy Pregnancy Eating: The Basics
A healthy diet during pregnancy looks substantially similar to a healthy diet for anyone else. The only difference is that you'll be consuming slightly more calories, and may need to take a supplement to ensure you get vital nutrients such as folic acid and iron. Now is not the time to restrict calories! If you don't gain enough weight during pregnancy, your baby's growth may be limited, and your child could even suffer from birth defects. Here are the key components of the ideal pregnancy diet:
- Protein: Vital for brain development, most meats are high in protein. Pregnant women should stay clear of deli meats and cured meats. If you're a vegetarian, dairy products are an excellent source of protein. Try cottage cheese, eggs, nuts, and legumes to get protein from a variety of sources.
- Fruits and vegetables: Fruits and veggies offer some vital nutrients, and dark leafy greens are especially rich in iron. Try a daily fruit salad, or eat vegetables fresh out of the crisper. Not a fan of fresh fruit and veggies? Try this potent smoothie: frozen strawberries, blueberries, and raspberries blended with an avocado, banana, and a handful of kale. Add a teaspoon of syrup, then thin the smoothie out with filtered water.
- Grains: Foods rich in whole grains, such as whole-grain bread, pasta, and oatmeal, are high in fiber and rich in nutrients. Especially if you struggle with vomiting or diarrhea, whole grains are an excellent way to round out your diet.
- Multivitamins and supplements: All pregnant women need at least 400 micrograms of folic acid per day. You may also need to supplement with other vitamins and minerals, such as calcium and vitamin D.
- Healthy oils: Healthy oils can help your baby's brain develop properly. DHA, which is abundant in most fish, is especially beneficial. An ongoing debate about fish during pregnancy points to high mercury levels in some fish, particularly predatory fish such as swordfish and tuna. The Food and Drug Administration recommends a minimum of 8-12 ounces of fish per week or 2-3 servings. You can also use a DHA supplement; fish-free versions are available for vegetarians.
Eating for Two?
Your baby is a fraction of your size, which means you absolutely should not eat for two. Depending on your body weight and your trimester, most providers recommend eating between 200-500 extra calories each day. Talk to your doctor about what caloric intake is right for you. Rather than counting calories, focus on eating a balanced diet that satiates your hunger. Don't binge or eat out of boredom, and steer clear of nutritionally empty foods such as candy.
What About Sugar and Other Cravings?
Pregnancy decreases your body's ability to metabolize glucose. For most women, this is not a problem, but some develop gestational diabetes. Gestational diabetes can lead to some pregnancy complications, most notably high or irregular blood sugar in the baby. Indulging the occasional sugar craving is fine; a single box of candy is not going to give you diabetes. However, gorging yourself on sugar could lead to glucose metabolism issues, particularly if you're already on the cusp of gestational diabetes.
The Value of Grazing
Though morning sickness can occur at any time of day, it's common in the morning because of hunger. Eating might be the last thing on your mind when you feel like vomiting, but never allowing your stomach to become empty is one of the best ways to prevent nausea. Even after you exit the nauseous haze of the first trimester, remaining consistently nourished ensures that your baby gets a steady supply of nutrients. It can also help you avoid dangerous blood sugar dips and spikes.
Rather than eating three large meals, try grazing every 2-3 hours throughout the day. Some excellent foods to try include:
- Cubed cheese paired with a handful of nuts.
- Whole grain cereals or oatmeal.
- Salmon and other pregnancy-safe fish.
- Chopped vegetables dipped in honey, ranch dressing, or honey mustard.
- Peanut butter sandwiches.
- Fruit and veggie smoothies.
- Avocado and cottage cheese mixed.
- Soups and stews rich in vegetables or protein.
- Protein shakes, particularly those with other ingredients such as vegetables. Look for a protein shake that's low in sugar.
Your goal should be a varied, balanced diet since balance ensures that you and your baby get the most nutrients over time. If you're concerned about your diet or struggle to keep food down, ask your doctor or midwife about ways to master the art of healthy pregnancy eating.
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About the Author
Zawn Villines is a writer who specializes in health journalism. She has also extensively written about legal topics, politics, and parenting. She has published work in dozens of print and online publications, including Psychology Today, Medical News Today, GoodTherapy.org, LegalZoom, Daily Kos, Chron.com, and the Seattle Post-Intelligencer. In addition, she writes medical content for hospitals, doctors, fertility clinics, and other medical providers. She graduated from Georgia State University, where she studied psychology and philosophy.
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- American Pregnancy Association: Pregnancy Nutrition
- The American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists: Nutrition During Pregnancy
- U.S. National Library of Medicine: Glucose screening and tolerance tests during pregnancy
- American Pregnancy Association: Morning Sickness Relief: Treatment & Supplements