Eat Like a Mother: Your Guide to Pregnancy Nutrition

During my first trimester, I’m pretty sure I single-handedly increased the average consumption of potatoes in the U.S. Nothing tasted better. And lettuce? There was not a chance in you-know-where I was going to let a single leaf pass my lips. So, I understand that following the advice to eat “healthy” during pregnancy can be really hard. My best advice? Be kind to yourself and don’t sweat the small stuff.

That being said, nourishing your body and your baby during pregnancy is important. It is a time of rapid growth and development and a time when many nutritional needs do increase. And despite the challenges of nausea, food aversions (and cravings!), pregnancy is a vital time to eat as many nutritious foods as you can. A high-quality prenatal vitamin can help fill in any gaps in your diet, but food should come first if you can stomach it.

Overall, strive to eat a variety of foods — mostly whole and minimally-processed. However, remember that your body responds to what you do consistently over time and enjoying all types of foods – including those that may be deemed less nutritious – is perfectly OK. Fun foods, as I like to call them, are good for the soul.

There are a few nutrients that pregnant bodies need more than others – here’s what they are and where to find them.

 

Protein

Pregnant women need roughly an additional 25 grams of protein a day to support healthy fetal growth. While this may sound like a lot, including protein in most of your meals and snacks should do the trick.

Most of us tend to think of animal foods when we think of protein, but there are lots of great plant-based options to choose from as well. Foods like nuts, beans, lentils, and whole grains all contain this important nutrient. In fact, even vegetables can provide protein in your diet. So no need to stock up on protein bars and grilled chicken breast — eating a variety of animal and plant-based foods should do the trick.

Try these foods: meat, seafood, beans, nuts, lentils, whole grains

 

 

Omega-3 Fatty Acids

Ever wonder what all the hype is with fish oil? Well, it’s omega-3s. These fatty acids are essential — meaning we must get them from food or supplements because the body cannot make them on its own. Consumption of the omega-3 fatty acids DHA and EPA during pregnancy has been linked to better vision and cognitive development in infants. It’s recommended pregnant women get 200-300 milligrams of omega-3s a day.

One of the most popular sources of this nutrient is, you guessed it, seafood. According to the FDA, pregnant and lactating women should consume up to 12 ounces of low-mercury fish per week. Popular low-mercury seafood options include shrimp, canned light tuna, and salmon.

If you don’t like seafood, plant-based omega-3 sources like flaxseed and walnuts may be consumed. However, they cannot be used as easily by the body, so it is likely a supplement would be beneficial in this case. Always talk to your doctor before you start any supplements when you are pregnant.

Try these foods: low-mercury fish and seafood, flaxseed, chia seeds, walnuts

 

 

Iron

The demand for iron for both mom and baby increases the recommended intake amount per person by almost 10 milligrams when you are pregnant. Iron carries oxygen throughout the body and consuming optimal amounts may help keep the fatigue associated with iron deficiency at bay. Additionally, your baby relies on adequate amounts of iron so they can build enough iron stores to last them the first 4-6 months of life.

Iron is found in both animal and plant foods and absorption is increased when eaten with a food containing vitamin C, like citrus fruits, strawberries, or bell peppers. Since iron deficiency is already common in women of childbearing years, supplementation may be necessary to meet the recommendation. Talk with your doctor or dietitian to assess your personal needs.

Try these foods: lean meat, beef, spinach, beans, fortified breakfast cereals

 

Folate

Consuming adequate amounts of folate is one of the best ways to protect against neural tube defects, such as spina bifida. It’s also used during cell division and to create genetic material, such as DNA. Since this nutrient is vital during early pregnancy, women are encouraged to consume 400 micrograms of folate even before they become pregnant.

Folate is found in foods such as citrus fruit, pineapple, and grains. Folic acid is the form of folate found in prenatal vitamins and supplements.

Try these foods: citrus fruit, pineapple, papaya, rice, pasta, fortified cereal

 

Calcium

As you’ve likely heard before, calcium helps to build strong and healthy bones. It also plays a role in muscle movement and proper nerve function. While calcium needs are not any higher in pregnancy than for non-pregnant women of the same age, getting enough of this nutrient helps to ensure there’s adequate calcium available for both you and your baby. Since calcium is stored throughout the body in our bones, if we do not consume enough of it in our diet, our body will take what it needs — in this case from baby, not from our bones.

Dairy foods are a good source of calcium, but they are not the only source. Leafy greens, nuts, tofu, fortified juices, and nut milks can also provide calcium in the diet.

Try these foods: milk, yogurt, cheese, leafy greens, nuts, fortified nut milks

 

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