Nutrition During Pregnancy

Knowing what to eat, especially in pregnancy, can be confusing. Food has so many uses and meanings: it provides us with basic energy (calories) and nutrients (carbohydrates, proteins, fats, vitamins, minerals and other micronutrients) – the building blocks we need for survival. But there are other aspects of food that are also very important: how it tastes, how we prepare it (and how much time and energy we have to cook), what might be added to it, what we ate and still eat in our families and social culture, how our body uniquely respond to what we put in it (digestion, allergies), and how we feel about the sizes and shapes of our bodies.

It takes a lot of energy to grow a baby: an estimated 75000 calories, or an additional 300-400 calories each day. Weight gain in pregnancy comes from the fetus, the placenta, amniotic fluid, and the extra blood circulating in your body. How many pounds you gain depends on a variety of factors, and how healthy you feel is generally more important than a number on a scale. Some clients are motivated by their pregnancy to make healthier food choices than they did before, but it is important to find balance and not create more stress in this time of baby-growing by judging yourself harshly on everything you chose to eat.

Healthy eating means choosing foods that support your well being and the growth of your baby.

The benefits of good nutrition in pregnancy include:

  • Better blood sugar management.
  • Normal weight gain.
  • Good stores of iron, folic acid, and vitamin B12 in your blood.
  • Good bacteria (“probiotics”) in your gut and vaginal tract.
  • Improved tissue health and healing.
  • Long term health for both you and your baby.

A healthy diet includes:

  • Variety: lots of vegetables and fruits in all sorts of colours, whole grains, legumes (lentils & beans), nuts & seeds, herbs & spices, and if you are not vegetarian, animal products (dairy, eggs, meat).
  • Fewer processed foods: if you can make food yourself from simple ingredients, you can control what ingredients go into your meal (because many pre-made meals have large amounts of sugar, salt, fat and other additives that many of us would not really recognize as ‘food’!). You can also choose how it is cooked (steaming, sautéing and roasting are healthier than deep-frying) and, it will likely be more fresh!
  • Foods that you enjoy: taste and texture are also important when choosing what you would like to eat.
  • Drinking enough water: most of us need between 8-12 cups each day, and more when breastfeeding.

Nutrients that are particularly important in pregnancy are:


• Protein is necessary for development of all new cells, and is needed during pregnancy for fetal growth and cellular development. It is also required for the placenta, amniotic tissues, and maternal tissues.

• Recommended daily intake about 50g in your first two trimesters and 60 to 80g in your third trimester. Some examples of protein-rich foods(i)

  • tuna or chicken, 4 oz: 33-35g
  • salmon or beef, 4 oz: 26g
  • cooked lentils, 1 cup or tofu, 4 oz: 18g
  • eggs, 2 cooked: 13g
  • pumpkin seeds, ¼ cup: 10g
  • peanut butter, 2 tablespoons: 9g
  • yogurt, 1 cup: 8.5g
  • spinach, 1 cup: 5g
  • For the safest (least contaminated) types of fish, you can refer to this website:

Vitamins & Minerals

  • A prenatal multivitamin and mineral supplement can support your health but should be seen as an addition to as healthy diet, not a substitution for good food choices.
  • Eating lots of vegetables and fruit should get you most of the minerals and vitamins you need.

Folic acid: 400mcg is recommended daily (to avoid low birth weight infants and neural tube defects).

Supplementation is recommended for everyone. Additional food sources include: lettuce, spinach, asparagus, calf liver, parsley, collard greens, broccoli, cauliflower, beets, lentils and beans. Folic acid can be destroyed with prolonged cooking.

Calcium: builds baby’s bones, teeth and connective tissue, and is also important for muscles and nerves. 1000mg is needed each day(iii). Some of the best food sources include:

  • tofu, 4 oz: 775mg
  • sesame seeds, ¼ cup or sardines, 3.2 oz: 350mg
  • yogurt, 1 cup: 300mg
  • spinach or collard greens, 1 cup: 250mg
  • cheese, 1 oz: 200mg
  • broccoli or cabbage, 1 cup: 63mg
  • milk, 1% 8oz: 300mg
  • milk, 2% 8oz: 297mg
  • milk, Skim 8oz: 302mg
  • milk, Whole 8oz: 291mg

Iron: in pregnancy more iron is needed than at any other time in your life: 27g/day(iv) as your blood volume expands, and in order for your body to be okay with blood loss at birth. Food sources include:

  • oysters, mussels, 75g: 5-7g
  • spinach, 1 cup or cooked lentils, 1 cup: 6.5g
  • sesame seeds, ¼ cup: 5g
  • cooked beans, 1 cup: 4-5g
  • instant oatmeal or cream of wheat, 3/4 cup: 3-6g
  • Swiss chard, 1 cup: 4g
  • blackstrap molasses, 1 tablespoon: 3g
  • beef, 75g cooked: 1.5-3g
  • shrimp or sardines, 75g cooked: 2g
  • eggs, 2 servings: 1.8g

Vitamin C-rich foods help increase iron absorption. Eating fish at the same time as iron-rich vegetables also increases iron absorption. Dairy products and sugar interfere with iron absorption.


Recommended reading:

Canada food guide

Iron Content of Foods

The Natural Pregnancy Book by Aviva Jill Romm

Your Vegetarian Pregnancy by Dr. Holly Roberts

Vegan Pregnancy Survival Guide by Sayward Rebhal

World’s Healthiest Foods

Prenatal nutrition from Health Canada

Midwifery Today: Nutrition during Pregnancy

Kelly Mom: postpartum nutrition for mothers and babies