Nutrition During Pregnancy

How diet and weight gain affect pregnancy outcomes

Good nutrition can lead to a healthier and more comfortable pregnancy. It can give you more energy, reduce your risk of pregnancy complications such as anemia, morning sickness, and constipation, and make you feel better in general. Proper nutrition is also excellent for your growing baby. It provides all the important nutrients your developing child needs. It lessens the risk for congenital abnormalities and improves the chances that your baby will be born at a healthy birth weight. 

On the other hand, poor nutrition can lead to issues with your pregnancy. The results of a poor diet can include: 

By eating well and following your doctor’s guidelines for your diet and weight gain, you're more likely to have a healthy pregnancy and a healthy baby. Here’s what you need to know about nutrition during your pregnancy, along with weight gain recommendations and some tips for staying healthy.

Expected weight gain during pregnancy
Illustration by Brianna Gilmartin, Verywell 

Prenatal Care

During pregnancy, early and regular prenatal care is so important to monitor your nutrition, weight gain, and overall health. When you're given good advice and counseling on a proper diet by your doctor, you're more likely to gain the recommended amount of weight during pregnancy. During prenatal visits, doctors also help prevent complications by monitoring and treating health conditions that can affect your nutritional status.

The things that can impact your nutritional health include:

  • Your age
  • Pre-pregnancy weight
  • Pre-pregnancy health
  • Socioeconomic status
  • How many times you've been pregnant 
  • Smoking
  • Use of alcohol
  • Use of drugs
  • Diabetes 
  • High blood pressure
  • Kidney disease
  • Heart disease
  • Cancer
  • Infectious diseases such as HIV
  • Depression 

Severe Morning Sickness

Morning sickness is common in pregnancy, especially during the first trimester. You should always discuss your symptoms with your doctor, but mild nausea and vomiting are rarely an issue. However, for about 2 percent of pregnant women, nausea and vomiting can become severe. Severe nausea and vomiting during pregnancy is a condition called hyperemesis gravidarum.

Hyperemesis gravidarum can cause dehydration and weight loss. Pregnant women suffering from hyperemesis gravidarum are usually cared for in the hospital with IV fluids and medication. With treatment, doctors can maintain your nutritional health so it doesn't hurt the baby. But without treatment, excessive nausea and vomiting can be dangerous for you and your growing child. 

Weight Gain

Your pre-pregnancy weight and how much you gain during your pregnancy has an influence on: 

Your doctor will recommend how much weight you should gain based on how much you weigh when you become pregnant and your body mass index (BMI). The general guidelines are:

  • Women of average weight should put on between 25–35 pounds.
  • Underweight women should gain approximately 28–40 pounds.
  • Overweight women should try to keep weight gain between 15–25 pounds.
  • Obese women should only put on about 11–20 pounds.

On average, healthy women should gain about 6 pounds in the first three months, then approximately 0.5–1 pound per week until the end of the pregnancy.

How Much Weight Should You Expect to Gain During Pregnancy?

Underweight

Being underweight before pregnancy or not gaining enough weight during pregnancy can lead to low birth weight and premature birth. Babies born at a lower birth weight have a higher risk of developing specific health issues later in life such as heart disease, high blood pressure, and diabetes. 

Overweight

Women who are overweight before they become pregnant or gain too much weight during pregnancy can also encounter problems. Complications of obesity and excessive weight gain include: 

Babies born to obese moms are more likely to deal with childhood obesity and the chronic illnesses that go along with it.

Eating Right

A healthy, average-weight woman needs to take in about 300 more calories each day during pregnancy. Some pregnant moms take this as an invitation to eat all kinds of junk food. But the types of calories you choose are just as important as getting enough. You certainly don't have to deprive yourself of sweets and junk food while you’re pregnant, but you want to be sure you’re not sacrificing the important nutrients that your body and your baby need. 

You should try to eat a variety of foods from all the food groups and get healthy calories from:

  • Lean meats 
  • Safe seafood
  • Vegetables
  • Fresh fruit
  • Whole grains
  • Dairy products
  • Nuts
  • Healthy Fats

Vitamins & Nutrients

A healthy, well-balanced diet will help you to get all the important vitamins and minerals that you and your baby need, but here are a few nutrients that you should pay extra attention to while you’re pregnant: 

Folic Acid: Folic acid (or folate in its natural form) is a B vitamin. It helps to prevent neural tube defects such as spina bifida as well as other pregnancy complications. Bread and cereal are often fortified with folic acid, while folate is naturally found in chickpeas, spinach, avocados, broccoli, and lentils. 

Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA): DHA is an omega-3 fatty acid. It plays an important role in the development of the baby’s brain and eyes. You can get DHA from oily fish such as salmon, tuna, and halibut, or from eggs and foods fortified with DHA. 

Iron: You use the iron in your body to make red blood cells. While you're pregnant, you need iron to prevent anemia, and the baby needs iron to build up a healthy blood supply. Meat, liver, fish, beans, leafy green vegetables, whole grains, and nuts are some of the foods high in iron. Your doctor may also prescribe an iron supplement if you aren’t getting enough iron or if your blood tests show your levels are low. 

Calcium: Calcium is necessary for the development of your baby’s bones and teeth. Calcium is also an important nutrient for the heart and nervous system. You can get calcium through dairy products such as milk and cheese or through calcium-fortified products such as orange juice. If you are not getting enough in your daily diet, you may need to take a supplement

Vitamin D: Vitamin D and calcium work together. They help your developing baby build strong bones and teeth. Vitamin D is also important for the skin and eyes. You can get vitamin D from spending time outside in the sunlight or through fortified dairy products such as milk. 

Prenatal Vitamins: It can be difficult to get all the recommended nutrients you need each day from your daily diet alone, so you’ll probably also take a prenatal vitamin. Prenatal vitamins contain a combination of calcium, folic acid, vitamin C, and other vitamins and minerals to fill in the gaps. However, a prenatal vitamin is not a replacement for healthy eating. It goes along with the healthy foods you eat to help you and your baby get all the nourishment you need.

Fluids

You and your growing baby need water. You should drink about eight to ten 8-ounce glasses of water or other fluids each day to stay hydrated and healthy. If you’re exercising or it’s very hot, you may need more. You can meet your daily fluid requirements by drinking a variety of beverages such as: 

  • Water
  • Milk
  • Fruit juice
  • Ice tea
  • Hot tea
  • Soups

You just want to try to limit sugary drinks and how much caffeine you have each day.

Nutrition Tips

Some women eat well all the time and find it easy to transition to pregnancy. Other women have a harder time adjusting to a healthy diet and have trouble trying to make the recommended changes. But remember, you don’t have to be perfect. If you listen to your doctor’s advice and follow it the best you can, you’ll be well on your way. Here are some nutritional tips to help you stay as healthy as possible during your pregnancy.

  1. See your doctor for early and regular prenatal care to follow your nutrition, weight gain, and general health during your pregnancy.
  2. If possible, begin taking a daily supplement of 400 micrograms of folic acid before you become pregnant. Then, continue taking folic acid during your pregnancy and eat a variety of foods containing folate.
  3. During pregnancy, eat foods high in iron. You can also take vitamin C along with iron-rich foods to help your body absorb more of the iron.
  4. Try to get enough calcium and take your prenatal vitamin plus any other supplements that your doctor orders.
  5. Gain the appropriate amount of weight based on your BMI and your doctor’s guidance. 
  6. Avoid skipping meals or fasting. Instead, eat five times a day including breakfast, lunch, dinner, and snacks.
  7. Take the time to rest when you’re feeling tired. It will help to combat fatigue and stress. 
  8. Keep your body hydrated by drinking plenty of fluids, especially water.
  9. If you have any health conditions such as diabetes or high blood pressure you may need additional diet advice. Talk to your doctor, a nutritionist, or a dietitian.
  1. If your doctor says it’s okay, try to stay active. Mild to moderate exercise is usually well tolerated as long as you aren't experiencing any pregnancy complications.
  2. Look to your friends and family members as support or seek out women in online or in-person groups for assistance during your pregnancy. Sharing delicious, healthy recipes with other pregnant women can help you stay on track.
  3. Do not use alcohol or drugs while you’re pregnant, and if you smoke, try to quit. 
  4. Talk to your doctor if you have any questions about your health or your diet.

A Word From Verywell

Diet and nutrition are an important part of pregnancy and overall health. Good nutrition can lead to a safer, more comfortable pregnancy and a healthier child both at birth and in the long-term. It may be tough to eat correctly all the time, and chances are you may have to make some adjustments to your pre-pregnancy diet once you find out you’re expecting. But, by doing your best to eat well-balanced meals each day, following your doctor’s advice for weight gain, taking your prenatal vitamins, and avoiding alcohol, drugs, and smoking, you will be taking the right steps toward having a healthy pregnancy and healthy baby.

Guide to Your Baby’s First Year
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