An optimally healthy women will usually feel well for most of her pregnancy and therefore have a greater chance of enjoying the experience and looking forward to her baby’s birth with joy.
– Dr. Aviva Romm, MD, MW
Great nutrition during pregnancy provides your baby with the best chances for health, intelligence, and a strong immune system. It will also help provide you with more stored resources when faced with the sleep deprivation that can occur with a new born and help prevent low mood and depression (see our sleep schedule for ways to help get your baby sleeping through the night!).
There is overwhelming evidence that mothers who have had exceptional nutrition during their pregnancies went on to have good nutrition themselves and healthy babies (see this page and check back for information about postpartum/4th trimester nutrition, coming soon). I see this clinically all of the time in my naturopathic practice. But the big question is, what is exceptional nutrition? There are so many opinions and diets out there and a one size fits all approach doesn’t typically work. Plus, factor in busy schedules, other children, lack of education, and for some, access to healthy foods which can all create barriers.
The core of a healthy diet
The core of a healthy diet includes the following:
- fresh vegetables (colourful, leafy green, cruciferous, etc.)
- whole grains (brown rice, quinoa, steel cut oats)
- legumes/beans (chick peas, lentils, all types of beans)
- nuts/seeds (tree nuts, hempseeds, flaxseeds, chiaseeds, sunflower, etc.)
- certain meats (free range when possible especially poultry, and certain fish - wild, cooked, and low on list for contaminate – see www.EWG.org or https://davidsuzuki.org for lists).
It is also important to drink plenty of water each day when you're pregnant. I usually suggest at least 2 cups more than when not pregnant (see this post). This can seem like a lot when you are already running to the bathroom every hour with a full bladder!
Remember that tea counts – see this post for helpful teas during pregnancy as well as a list of teas and herbs that are safe and not safe (this post discusses how much caffeine is safe to ingest while pregnant).
There are specific and important micronutrients that are emphasized during pregnancy to maintain good health. These include: B vitamins, iron (RDA 30-60mg), Vitamin D (800-2000iu), magnesium (450-500mg), calcium (1000mg), zinc (20mg), and iodine (150mcg). A prenatal vitamin should cover the majority of these however if you have a compromised digestive system, iron deficiency, or under a lot of stress, then you may require more nutrients. Refer to this post for more about which vitamins you should take during pregnancy.
This checklist can be really helpful for keeping track of your nutrition during pregnancy.*
Caloric intake & food variety
During the first trimester, your actual caloric needs stay the same as previous to pregnancy, although most women feel ravenously hungry during these first few weeks! During the second and third trimester, the caloric need only increases by 300-350 and 400-450C respectively per day (double for twins); however, the type of calories is more important than actually counting calories.
Unless you have a known food sensitivity or allergy, it is ideal to have a variety of healthy foods and not avoid certain foods to prevent allergies in your baby. A 2014 study found that mothers who consumed tree nuts and peanuts five times per week had the lowest risk of their child developing allergies to nuts compared to mothers who did not showing that when exposed in-utero infants develop a strong immune system to detect what is safe and what is food versus an allergen.** (DO NOT consume tree nuts if you as the mother have an allergy!). There is also clinical evidence that moms who had a varied diet with lots of flavours and spices also had more adventurous eaters when their child was older.
Strategies to maintain a healthy diet during pregnancy
See this post for 5 strategies for a healthy diet during pregnancy.
Of course there will be days you do not eat optimally, we are all human after all and life happens. But try your best to have a great diet 80-90% of the time and be gentle on yourself the other times.
More about pregnancy care can be found here.
3 ways to improve fertility and overall health
How to satisfy pregnancy cravings
How can I avoid processed high sugar foods and beverages?
10 ways to reduce sugar in your diet
10 foods you should never eat
* Eisenberg, Arlene, et al. What to Eat When You're Expecting. Workman Publishing Company: January 7, 1986.
** Frazier AL, et al. Prospective study of peripregnancy consumption of peanuts or tree nuts by mothers and the risk of peanut or tree nut allergy in their offspring. JAMA Pediatr: 2014 (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24366539).