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Healthy eating during pregnancy
When you're pregnant, you need to eat the right foods. After all, you're supporting a growing life.
During pregnancy you'll need lots of extras. That includes extra protein, iron, calcium and folic acid. You also may need more calories.
But eating for two doesn't mean eating twice as much. It means eating sensible, balanced meals. That way, you'll get the right nutrients for you and your baby.
The right foods
Most women do not need any extra calories during the first three months of pregnancy, says the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Ask your doctor about how many more calories you should eat later in your pregnancy.
Not all calories are equal. Your baby needs healthy foods packed with nutrients. You don't want empty calories such as those found in sweets, junk foods and soft drinks.
To get the nutrients you need, the U.S. Department of Agriculture says you should eat these foods every day:
- Fruits and vegetables that provide vitamin A and potassium, like carrots and bananas.
- Whole grains, including cereals fortified with iron and folic acid.
- Dairy—choose low-fat or fat-free products with vitamins A and D added.
- Proteins like beans, lean meats and nuts. Make sure to eat 8 to 12 ounces of fish a week.
For specific information about how much food from each group to eat each day, visit myplate.gov/life-stages/pregnancy-and-breastfeeding.
You should also try to eat foods that contain folic acid. This B vitamin helps prevent birth defects. Foods that are good sources of folic acid include:
- Fortified breakfast cereals.
- Orange juice.
You should also talk to your healthcare provider about vitamins and mineral supplements you may need. For example, your provider will likely recommend that you take a supplement that contains folic acid to ensure that you get enough of this important nutrient.
Other important nutrients include:
- Iron, which can help prevent anemia and help your baby develop muscles. Along with supplements, good sources of iron include lean meat and poultry, fish, dry beans and peas, eggs, spinach, and whole-wheat breads.
- Calcium, for developing strong bones and teeth. Low-fat dairy products, dark green leafy vegetables—like broccoli and kale—and tofu are good sources.
- Omega-3 fatty acids, which help support the development of your baby's brain and eyes. Omega-3s can be found in fatty fish; fish oils; and certain fortified foods like milk, juice, bread and yogurt.
Foods to avoid
Most foods are safe to eat when you are pregnant. But there are some foods that you are better off avoiding.
Fish are high in protein, low in fat and full of healthy nutrients. But some fish contain high levels of mercury due to pollution in oceans, lakes and rivers. Mercury can be especially harmful to your baby, reminds the March of Dimes.
It's best to avoid fish with high levels of mercury. This includes:
- King mackerel.
Check with your doctor or local health department before eating any fish you catch yourself.
Other foods that can make you or your baby sick include:
- Raw or lightly cooked eggs and foods made with them.
- Unpasteurized milk or juices.
- Unpasteurized soft cheeses, such as brie, feta and queso blanco.
- Refrigerated smoked seafood or meat spreads.
- Raw sprouts of any kind.
- Raw or undercooked meat, poultry and seafood.
- Store-made chicken, egg or tuna salads.
- Herbal supplements.
It's also important to clean, handle, cook and chill food properly to prevent foodborne illnesses.
Learn more about food safety during pregnancy here.
The information found in the Health Library is for educational purposes only. It is not intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice nor does it represent the views or position of WHMC. Readers should always consult with their healthcare provider for diagnosis and treatment, including for specific medical needs.