Nutrition during pregnancy

What do I need to do differently?

There is no doubt that there are plenty of things to think about over the coming months. One thing to get started on straight away is to make good food choices that will help both you and your baby.

Are you eating well? What exactly should you eat? What should you avoid and why? Here are some facts and tips for the different types of food to watch out for during this very special time.

Firstly you need to eat more of certain foods. Some people see pregnancy as an opportunity to eat freely. After all you are going to put on 10-12 Kg, at least that is the expected weight gain for a healthy pregnancy.

However, pregnancy is a risk period for the development of obesity and it is always more difficult to lose weight than gain it. Getting the balance right and eating well now is important for the health of the baby as well as the mother.

So how do I eat well?

Eating regular meals and a wide variety of food is the definition of 'eating well'. It really is that simple.

It also means making time for yourself and eating at least three meals each day.

Snacking between meals will be very helpful for those who experience fatigue during the day. Fruit, yoghurt, crackers and cheese, a scone or muffin is the type of snack that is recommended.

A cup of coffee and a chocolate bar, however, is not recommended. It is energy you need as opposed to feeling awake. No more than two cups of coffee per day is recommended during pregnancy.

The reason for choosing a scone over a chocolate bar is that the energy in the scone will be more sustaining than the instant rush from the confectionery bar.

What about food cravings?

Although there are many opinions as to why cravings occur, there is no clear answer. No study has been able to say one way or the other what causes them or why some women experience them while others don't.

Whatever the craving, it should be worked into mealtimes and not eaten to excess. If for example you find you now adore ice cream, a fresh fruit salad and a scoop of ice cream for dessert will fit in with the concept of 'eating well' whereas eating a carton of ice cream for breakfast will not!

Which foods should I eat more of?

You should eat more of the following foods in the second half of your pregnancy:

  • Calcium rich food: Your baby’s teeth will begin to develop as early as the sixth week of pregnancy and calcium is also needed for bone development. Milk, cheddar cheese and yoghurt are the best sources of calcium. Some examples of calcium rich foods are milk on cereal, a glass of milk, a cheese sandwich, all types of yoghurt, hot chocolate, a smoothie, a milkshake, pizza and lasagne. Calcium is also found in the soft bones in tinned fish, in white bread and in small amounts of broccoli, cabbage and spinach (very small amounts).
  • Iron rich foods: Iron is needed for the growth of your baby’s brain. As you go through pregnancy your baby will build up a store of iron which will last until they reach six months. 75% of women do not eat enough iron. The best dietary source is lean red meat and you should aim to eat it 3-4 times a week. Fortified breakfast cereals, beans, eggs, apricots, prunes, figs, spinach and broccoli also contain iron but you also need a good supply of vitamin C to make use of the iron.
  • Vitamin C Rich Foods: Vitamin C rich foods include oranges, tangerines, clementines, satsumas, grapefruits, lemons, limes, kiwi, blackcurrants, mangoes and nectarines. Any drink made from these fruits is also high is vitamin C. Potatoes are also a reasonably good source. The need for vitamin C increases by 33% during pregnancy. Choose two of the foods listed above to meet your daily Vitamin C requirements.
  • Oily Fish: Mackerel, herring, salmon, sardines and kippers contain an oil which is essential for the development of your baby’s brain and eyes. Aim to eat oily fish 2-3 times a week.

Which foods should I avoid?

  • Peanuts: These are a possible allergen.
  • Unwashed fruit and vegetables Take extra care when eating out and only choose cooked fruit and vegetables.
  • Liver: It may contain too much vitamin A.
  • Raw eggs: Ensure the yolk and white are solid when having a boiled or fried egg and avoid homemade mayonnaise.
  • Undercooked meat: Even cooked until pink is not cooked enough.
  • Unpasteurised milk and milk products such as cheese and yogurt (both cows and goats milk): Check the label on farmhouse and imported cheese labels for clarification.
  • Soft cheese such as camembert or brie and blue veined cheese.
  • Alcohol: The balance of evidence suggests that drinking alcohol should be avoided during pregnancy.

What about folic acid?

Folate is a folic acid supplement available from your pharmacy. It contains 400 micrograms of folic acid and should ideally be taken three months prior to conception and up until the twelfth week of pregnancy. It aids the vital development of your baby’s spine and brain, thereby preventing the conditions spina bifida and anencephaly (jointly known as Neural Tube Defects or NTD).

Some foods are fortified with folic acid and will help to increase the high intake required during pregnancy. These include bread, breakfast cereal and milk supplemented with folic acid.

How can I avoid constipation?

To avoid constipation, choose high fibre foods such as whole wheat or wholegrain breakfast cereal, wholegrain bread, pasta and rice.

Fruit and vegetables are also an excellent source of fibre. Aim to eat four or more pieces a day. In practical terms this means eating at least one portion of fruit or vegetables at each meal and then one more in between meals.

Eight to 10 glasses of water each day is also vital to help avoid constipation.

What about heartburn?

Your pharmacist will be able to give you a remedy for heartburn.

What about morning sickness?

Try to continue to eat small meals at regular intervals despite the sickness.

Is there anything else I need to know?

  • Always use gloves when gardening.
  • Always wash hands with warm, soapy water after handling raw meat.

Nuala Collins, BSc, Nutrition and Dietetics

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