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Nutrition During Pregnancy

The importance of good nutrition during pregnancy

Approximately 300 extra calories are needed daily to maintain a healthy pregnancy. These calories should come from a balanced diet of protein, fruits, vegetables, and whole grains, with sweets and fats kept to a minimum. A healthy, well-balanced diet during pregnancy can also help to reduce some pregnancy symptoms, like nausea and constipation.

The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics recommends the following key components of a healthy lifestyle during pregnancy: appropriate weight gain, eating a balanced diet, exercising regularly, and appropriate and timely vitamin and mineral supplementation. 

Fluid intake is also an important part of healthy pregnancy nutrition. Women can take in enough fluids by drinking several glasses of water each day, in addition to the fluids in juices and soups. An expectant mother should talk with her healthcare provider or midwife about restricting her intake of caffeine and artificial sweeteners. All alcohol should be avoided in pregnancy.

Avoid eating the following foods during pregnancy:

  • Unpasteurized milk and foods made with unpasteurized milk

  • Soft cheeses, including feta, queso blanco and fresco, Camembert, brie, or blue-veined cheeses (unless labeled 'made with pasteurized milk")

  • Hot dogs, and luncheon meats, unless they are heated until steaming hot before serving 

  • Refrigerated pâté and meat spreads

  • Refrigerated smoked seafood

Also follow these general food-safety guidelines:

  • Wash. Rinse all raw produce thoroughly under running tap water before eating, cutting, or cooking.

  • Clean. Wash your hands, knives, countertops, and cutting boards after handling and preparing uncooked foods.

  • Avoid. Raw and undercooked seafood, eggs, and meat. Do not eat sushi made with raw fish (cooked sushi is safe). 

  • Cook. Beef, pork, or poultry should be cooked to a safe internal temperature using a food thermometer.

  • Chill. Promptly refrigerate all perishable food.

Why is folic acid important?

The U.S. Public Health Service recommends that all women of childbearing age consume 400 micrograms (0.4 mg) of folic acid each day. Folic acid, a nutrient found in some green leafy vegetables, most berries, nuts, beans, citrus fruits, fortified breakfast cereals, and some vitamin supplements can help reduce the risk for birth defects of the brain and spinal cord (called neural tube defects). This can lead to varying degrees of paralysis, incontinence, and sometimes intellectual disability.

Folic acid is most helpful during the first 28 days after conception. This is when most neural tube defects happen. Unfortunately, many women do not realize they are pregnant before 28 days. Therefore, folic acid intake should begin before conception and continue through pregnancy. Your healthcare provider or midwife will recommend the appropriate amount of folic acid to meet your individual needs.

Most healthcare providers or midwives will prescribe a prenatal supplement before conception, or shortly afterward, to make sure that all of the woman's nutritional needs are met. However, a prenatal supplement does not replace a healthy diet.