Nutrition

The amount and quality of what you eat and drink affects you and your growing baby. Changing food choices and eating patterns now can lead to a lifetime of healthy eating for you and your family. Establishing new habits can be difficult to do on your own. Here are some suggestions to get you started.

New habits

Eat more fruits and vegetables for vitamins A and C. Vitamin A promotes good vision. It supports growth and good health of cells and tissues throughout the body. This is very important for your baby during the first trimester. Fruits and vegetables rich in vitamin A are orange, red and dark green.

Eat foods with vitamin C to build and maintain your immune system. Vitamin C helps your body fight germs and resist cancer. It strengthens bones, teeth and connective tissue. It keeps blood vessels strong and flexible and promotes healthy red blood cells. It also improves how your body absorbs iron from plant foods and iron-fortified grain in bread and pasta. High vitamin C foods include:

  • Citrus fruits and strawberries
  • Dark green vegetables and broccoli
  • Tomatoes and cauliflower

Eat whole grain breads, pasta, rice and cereals. These foods are "nutrient dense." Ounce for ounce they provide more folic acid, iron and B vitamins. Their fiber helps prevent constipation.

Include good sources of protein at each meal. You need more protein and iron when you are pregnant. Choose lean protein from plant and animal sources such as tofu, nuts, lentils, beans, red meat, chicken, turkey, fish and pork.

Include heart healthy fats and oils. These provide essential fatty acids. Use these to flavor food or as a condiment: peanut butter, hummus, avocado, canola or olive oil, butter, margarine, light salad dressings or creams. To limit your excess fat intake, eat less fried food and fewer snacks and desserts.

Drink eight or more cups of fluid daily. Water keeps your body temperature in the normal range for good health.

  • Water in your blood and lymph helps carry nutrients to and waste from all parts of your body.
  • Water moistens tissues and keeps them in good condition.
  • In amniotic fluid, water cushions and protects your baby.
  • Water is also the basis of breast milk.
  • Exercise can increase your need for water. You may need extra fluids before and after (about 1-2 cups).

Control your cravings. Cravings vary from person to person. Hormones fuel intense longings for high sodium foods and food high in fat and sugar.

  • Eating too much of any food – even a healthy choice – can lead to weight gain.
  • Excess weight can lead to gestational diabetes, high blood pressure and other risky conditions. Try to curb cravings with foods that are good for you.
  • If you crave things that are not foods, talk with your provider. This condition is called pica. It can harm you and your baby.

Anti-nausea diet

Some women feel queasy during the first few months of pregnancy. Others cope with it throughout pregnancy. Here are food choices and cooking tips to help you calm your stomach no matter how often you feel nausea:

  • Eat small, frequent meals. Try to have a little something every 2 hours or 8 times a day.
  • Drink liquids between meals rather than with meals. Try to drink liquids 30-60 minutes before or after you eat solid food.
  • Eating ice chips at meals is less likely to upset your stomach.
  • Have high protein food when you eat fruit or drink fruit juice. This can help prevent changes in blood sugar that may make you feel nervous, shaky, weak or confused.

Avoid:

  • High fat and fried foods
  • Spicy food
  • Drinks that contain caffeine and/or alcohol

Try:

  • Saltine crackers or pretzels
  • Dry toast or cereal
  • Clear soup or flavored gelatin
  • Angel food cake or mints
  • Sherbet and popsicles
  • Soda or pop, such as ginger ale or lemon-lime soda
  • Ice cubes made of apple or grape juice

These may cause nausea or make it worse:

  • Very sweet foods
  • Greasy or fried foods
  • Acidic, spicy or hot foods
  • Foods with strong odors

Helpful hints for reducing nausea

  • Nausea often gets worse if you are very tired. Be less active and get extra rest.
  • Set your morning alarm 10 minutes early. Before you get up, eat a few crackers or a handful of dry cereal. Eat additional dry foods like these after you are up.
  • Eat slowly. Chew your food well. Do not lie flat for at least 2 hours after eating.
  • Wear loose clothing. Putting cool, damp cloths on your face and neck may be of some comfort.
  • Sip all liquids slowly. Use a straw.
  • Use kitchen vents or open windows to get cooking odors and other smells out of the house.
  • Cook outside if weather permits or use an electric fry pan or a slow cooker in the basement.
  • If you can arrange it, let someone else cook for you.

Energy needs

It is important to remember you are not really "eating for two." During the first three months, you need the same number of calories as before you became pregnant. The baby is still very small.

As you enter your second trimester, you need about 350 more calories a day. Choose "extra" calories from nutritious sources.

As the third trimester draws near, your needs may increase to about 450 calories more than your pre-pregnant intake.

Prenatal vitamins & supplements

Your body uses nutrients best from the food you eat. Vitamin and mineral supplements should not replace healthy diet at any time of life. But, sometimes these products are the best option when you need more of certain nutrients.

If you are a healthy pregnant woman eating an average American diet, you likely don’t need to take prenatal vitamins. There is only one exception: You need more folic acid. Studies have shown taking 400-600 micrograms (mcg) of folic acid before pregnancy and during the first 3 months can:

  • Reduce risk of pre-term labor
  • Reduce certain birth defects

Your doctor or nurse midwife may urge you to take a multi-vitamin if:

  • You are a vegetarian
  • You smoke
  • You are having more than one baby
  • You are nursing a baby

Tell your doctor about any medicines or vitamins you are taking. Some home remedies and dietary supplements have lead in them.

Iron, calcium and folic acid

There is more to a healthy diet than extra calories for energy. You and your baby need larger amounts of certain vitamins and minerals. Iron, calcium and folic acid are key nutrients. If you cannot get enough of these nutrients in your diet, you may need to take a supplement.

Iron

  • Why: To prevent anemia
  • How much: 27 mg/day
  • Sources: Lean meats, iron-fortified breads and cereals, peanut butter, dried beans, lentils, greens, broccoli, dried fruit. Vitamin C sources help you absorb iron.

Calcium

  • Why: Develop the baby’s bones, teeth, heart, nerves, muscles
  • How much: 1,000 mg/day
  • Sources: Milk, cheese, yogurt, dried beans/peas, salmon, greens, tofu, orange juice with calcium. Vitamin D helps you absorb calcium.

Folic acid

  • Why: Prevent birth defects
  • How much: 400-600 mcg/day
  • Sources: Dark, leafy greens, dried beans/peas, citrus fruits/juices, berries, fortified cereal/cereal bars.

Vegetarian diet: Your baby can receive enough nutrition while you follow a vegetarian meal plan. Choose a variety of foods to provide enough protein and calories for you and your baby.

Need more help?
Do you want more information about building a better diet? Perhaps you are coping with one or more of these while you are pregnant:

  • Eating disorder
  • Diabetes
  • High blood pressure

Our registered dietitians can help you. Contact Nutrition Therapy to schedule a visit.

Love + Medicine

Every day, Gundersen Health System delivers great medicine plus a little something extra—we call it Love + Medicine.

Share Your Story