Pregnancy nutrition

Having a baby is one of the most nutritionally demanding events in a woman's life. Many things influence the success of a pregnancy and every choice a woman makes, from caffeine consumption to vitamin supplements, directly affects the health of her baby. Optimal pregnancy nutrition is essential as soon as a woman starts thinking about getting pregnant; and avoiding cigarettes, alcohol and drugs is as important as eating a healthy diet.

Pregnancy nutritionNutrition and pregnancy

Women who avoid known risks and eat well before, during and immediately after pregnancy tend to have larger, healthier babies and experience fewer complications. The quality and quantity of a woman's diet plays a vital role in beginning and maintaining the growth and development of her baby, in successful breastfeeding and in a smooth recovery after birth. Poor nutrition can result in low birth weight babies who may have impaired intelligence and a greater risk of disease both earlier and later in life.

Food requirements during pregnancy are similar to those which can be met by eating a normal well-balanced diet that contains a variety of nutrient- dense foods. However, some individual nutrient needs are higher and a pregnant woman should make sure to include plenty of foods high in these particular vitamins and minerals in her diet. All the vitamins and minerals are essential for development of a healthy baby; but getting adequate intakes of calcium, iron, folic acid, phosphorus, magnesium, vitamin B6 and zinc is particularly important. Many women do not consume adequate amounts of these nutrients in their daily diets.

Some nutrients that a baby needs come from limited stores in bones and tissues stockpiled before conception, but most come directly from the mother's pregnancy nutrition. Calorie needs increase by about 15 per cent, but the need for some nutrients may double. Eating nutrient-dense foods is vitally important for a woman to get enough vitamins and minerals without putting on too much weight.

Pregnancy is a time of great change in a woman's body. Changes include the growth of placental tissues; the increase in blood volume; increase in cardiac output; accumulation of body water; changes in levels of estrogen, progesterone and other hormones; preparation of breast tissues for lactation; and changes in lung, kidney, reproductive and urinary systems.

Pregnancy nutrition and supplements

The US National Academy of Sciences recommends supplements for those women who are vegetarians, smoke cigarettes, drink alcohol or who are carrying twins. Supplementation should begin in the last six months and should be at the following levels:


30 mg

Vitamin C

10 mg


15 mg

Folic acid

400 mcg


2 mg

Vitamin B6

2 mg


250 mcg

Vitamin D

5 mcg

Morning sickness

Morning sickness is common in the first three months of pregnancy. Eating crackers or dry cereal in bed 10 to 15 minutes before getting up, avoiding high fat or fried foods, and drinking liquids in between meals instead of with them, may be successful in alleviating sickness in some cases. Vitamin B6 may also be helpful, and many women report successful results with ginger preparations.

Pregnancy nutrition and vegetarians

Vegetarian diets are healthy for pregnant women as long as they contain a variety of foods with enough calories and nutrients to meet the extra needs of pregnancy.

As well as consuming sufficient iron and calcium-rich foods, vegetarians must make sure to obtain adequate vitamin B12 from fortified breakfast cereals, soy milk or a B12 supplement. Vegans may need additional vitamin D supplements (10 mcg per day) and vitamin B12 (2 mcg per day). Vegan women who wish to breastfeed may consider taking calcium supplements if they cannot obtain enough calcium from vegetables and nuts.

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