Pregnancy nutrition


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Healthy pregnancy: diet and nutrition

For a healthy pregnancy, diet and nutrition are important factors. Here we look at guidelines on maintaining a healthy diet and eating well during pregnancy.

The article covers the following subjects regarding diet and nutrition for pregnant women:
Healthy eating in pregnancy
Food groups
Healthy start
Healthy snacks in pregnancy
Pregnancy sickness
Further information

Healthy eating in pregnancy

You probably know that the old adage that you’re eating for two during pregnancy is not true in relation to energy and staying healthy. On average you only need an extra 200 calories each day in the final three months. Of course this depends on your weight at the beginning of pregnancy. Women who are underweight at the start can afford to put on more weight, and women who are overweight do better if they only gain a smaller amount.

Pregnancy is certainly not a time to lose  weight but  you can think of it  as a time to increase the nutritional value of your diet and cut down on the junk. Healthy eating during pregnancy can make a big difference to you and your baby. You may find that three smaller meals and two snacks a day help to reduce nausea in early pregnancy and to maintain your energy levels. This can also help towards the end of your pregnancy when there is less room in your stomach.

Folic acid and vitamin D are two important nutrients that are recommended as supplements for every woman in pregnancy. See our article on 'Vitamins and supplements in pregnancy'.

Food groups

Foods from different food groups all work towards creating a healthy baby. The main food groups are:

  • Fruit and vegetables. Most are good sources of essential nutrients and fibre so at least five portions are an important part of any healthy diet and even more so when you're pregnant. Green, leafy vegetables such as broccoli, spinach and brussels sprouts are especially good sources of folic acid, vitamin A and useful minerals such as iron. Fibre also helps to prevent constipation which is common during when you are pregnant.
  • Carbohydrates such as bread, potatoes, pasta, rice, chapatti, cereals and other starchy foods. Wholegrain varieties have more vitamins, minerals and fibre. 
  • The main sources of protein include: meat, fish, eggs, beans, nuts and other non-dairy sources such as soya and Quorn.. Most of us eat more protein than we need, so don’t have to increase the amount when you are pregnant. However these foods are often good for iron, zinc and other useful nutrients.  Fish is important for omega-3 fatty acids.
  • Milk and dairy products (but not butter) contain protein and vitamins as well as calcium which is important for babies bones and teeth. If you can’t have dairy, alternative sources of calcium include tinned fish with bones, fortified soya milk, tofu, almonds, sesame seeds, broccoli and pulses such as baked beans.

If you eat a variety of different foods from these groups every day you are more likely to get the balance of nutrients that you and your baby need. NHS Choices publishes the ‘eatwell guide which shows how much of each food type you need to have a healthy and well balanced diet.

Healthy Start

Healthy Start is a government scheme which provides vouchers to pregnant women on a low income and all pregnant women under 18 to buy some basic healthy foods such as: milk, fruit and vegetables. You can also receive free vitamins. Further information on the scheme can be found in our article ‘Financial support for parents on a low income’.

Healthy snacks in pregnancy

You may find yourself feeling hungry between meals and tempted to snack on foods which are high in fat and/or sugar. If you have something else available, you may find it easier to avoid this temptation. You could try these healthy snacks during pregnancy:

  • Low sugar breakfast cereal or rice cakes
  • Salad vegetables such as tomatoes, carrot sticks, celery,
  • Fresh fruit
  • Low-fat yoghurt or fromage frais
  • Hummus and bread or vegetable sticks
  • Ready to eat dried fruits
  • Nuts and raisins

Pregnancy sickness

If you suffer from morning sickness, see   our article on ‘Nausea and vomiting in pregnancy’ for ideas on how to cope and information on what has been shown to help.

Further information

NCT's helpline offers practical and emotional support with all aspects when you are pregnant and with birth and early parenthood: 0300 330 0700. We also offer antenatal courses which are a great way to find out more about birth, labour and life with a new baby.

The Department of Health in England publishes ‘The pregnancy book’ containing lots of information and tips about being pregnant. Check out ‘your health in pregnancy’ which has more in depth information on nutrition when you are pregnant.

Health Scotland has information on its website Ready Steady Baby!

Visit the Healthy Start website for recipes, more on healthy eating and how you can claim the vouchers.

NHS Choices has a number of articles on food safety.