Nutrient requirements may vary during your pregnancy depending on your body size and composition, physical activity levels, stage of pregnancy, and health status (1). Research shows that a healthy diet during pregnancy improves the mother’s and the baby’s health.
Healthy dietary patterns include the consumption of whole grains, dairy, legumes, vegetables, fruits, fish, poultry, nuts, and vegetable oils. Women have an increased need for water during pregnancy. On average women consume about 9 cups of fluids per day (1).
20 – 30 Minutes of exercise five times per week is recommended during pregnancy. Pregnant women who exercise regularly reduce their risk of gestational diabetes, hypertension, lower back pain, excessive weight gain, and blood clots. Walking swimming, Pilates, or yoga are good forms of exercise that also support good breathing. It is important for pregnant women to avoid overheating and dehydrating during physical activities by drinking plenty of water.
Avoiding alcohol is recommended because when it is ingested by pregnant mothers it passes through the placenta to the fetus where it can act as a toxin and affect the normal growth and development of the baby. Coffee also passes through the placenta and therefore needs to be limited as it increases the heart rate, acts as a diuretic, and stimulates the nervous system. Certain foods should also be avoided during pregnancy, these include raw fish or oysters, unpasteurized cheeses, raw or uncooked meat, and unpasteurized milk.
Appropriate caloric intake during pregnancy
The energy requirements during pregnancy increase mainly due to protein and fat that are needed for metabolic activities. Protein synthesis primarily occurs in the fetal, placenta, uterine, and breast tissue. Most fats are used as energy stores for the mother. The baby account for about a third of increased energy needs which equates to an average of about 300 kcal per day.
Carbohydrates – Approximately 45 – 65% of total caloric intake during pregnancy should come from carbohydrates. Pregnant women should consume a minimum of 175 grams of carbohydrates to meet the fetus’s brain’s need for glucose. Good food choices include vegetables, fruit, and whole-grain products that contain fiber and a variety of other nutrients (1).
«Research shows that a healthy diet during pregnancy improves the mother and the baby’s health.»
Fiber – Relaxed muscle tone and iron supplementation during pregnancy may increase incidents of constipation and hemorrhoids. Foods high in fiber can help prevent constipation. The daily recommended fiber intake is 28g per day. Good food sources include wholegrain cereals, fruits and vegetables, nuts and seeds, and legumes and beans. Fiber also provides “food’ for the beneficial bacteria that live gut. These bacteria have been shown to aid digestion, support nutrient synthesis, and alleviate constipation during pregnancy.
Protein – The recommended intake of protein during pregnancy is 71 grams daily. Protein is needed to form fetal and maternal tissue. Good food sources of protein include beans, chicken, fish, eggs, cheese, and meat. Pregnant women who follow a vegan diet must ensure an adequate intake of essential amino acids from a variety of tofu, soy-based products, legumes, beans, and lentils (1). They also need to pay special attention to include foods that contain vitamin B12, vitamin B6, iron, calcium, and zinc
Fats – Dietary fats should contribute 20 to 35% of total calories during pregnancy. It’s estimated that pregnant woman consumes 33% of their total calories from fat. Fats are used as an energy source for the growth and development of the fetus. Good food sources include flaxseeds, walnuts, and sunflower oil. Essential fatty acids also play an important role in the brain and eye development of the fetus. Good food sources include oily fish and flaxseeds. 500mg of Omegas 3 supplementation is considered safe for pregnant women (3)
In addition to achieving increased energy needs, pregnant women need to have an adequate intake of vitamins and minerals.
Calcium – The need for calcium does not increase during pregnancy, although extra calcium is needed for the fetus’s skeletal mineralization and maintenance of the mother’s bone health. There are physiological changes that occur during pregnancy that accommodate these needs without having to increase the dietary intake of calcium (3). The absorption of calcium from food increases during pregnancy and the excretion of calcium in urine decreases. The recommended daily allowance (RDA) for calcium during pregnancy is 1000mg. Good food sources of calcium include milk, cheese, nuts and seeds, and green leafy vegetables.
Magnesium – The RDA for magnesium during pregnancy is 350mg. Magnesium is a component of bones and teeth. Magnesium is also needed for the growth of the fetus and is involved in nerve function and enzyme activities in metabolism. Magnesium may also help to reduce muscle spasms. (1).
Iron – Iron is needed for the growth and development of the fetus and the placenta and the formation of red blood cells. Iron deficiency can cause preterm delivery and low birth weights in infants. It is also related to lower intelligence scores, language, gross motor, and attention deficit in children (1). The RDA is 27mg of iron per day for pregnant women. Because most pregnant women don’t get enough iron from their diet, they are encouraged to supplement with iron. Iron may cause constipation in pregnant women who have unabsorbed iron in their intestinal tract (1).
Folic acid – Folate is important during pregnancy because it is responsible for cell division and neural development. It is also involved in the replication of DNA, gene expression, and amino acid metabolism. The RDA for folic acid is 600ug to help the fetus avoid neural tube defects (NTD) (3). Good food sources include green leafy vegetables, freshly squeezed orange juice, dried beans, and brown rice
Other key vitamins and minerals are also needed during pregnancy they include choline, vitamin A, vitamin D, fluoride, and iodine. There are also certain nutrients that are needed during specific time periods during pregnancy.
In the 1st Trimester – Folic acid intake is important because of the increased level of cell division and the development of the fetus’s nervous system.
During the 2nd Trimester – There is a need for increased energy intake. The recommended extra energy intake is 1340 kcal. Iron requirements are also greater during the second trimester for the development of the fetus.
In the 3rd Trimester- The daily recommended energy intake increases to 1452 kcal per day. The demand for calcium also peaks at this time and approximately 300mg per day is needed for the developing fetus. Iron requirements also continue to be greater during the third trimester.
- Brown, J.E., (2017). Nutrition Through the Life Cycle, 6th Cengage.
- Masterjohn, C. (2013). Vitamins for fetal development: Conception to birth. Retrieved from: https://www.westonaprice.org/health-topics/childrens-health/vitamins-for-fetal-development-conception-to-birth/
- McGuire & Beerman (2018). Nutritional Sciences: From Fundamentals to Food, Enhanced Edition. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth Cengage Learning.