How to Eat for a Healthy Pregnancy

The pregnant woman’s body needs more of everything, including calories, protein, calcium, iron, and most other vitamins and minerals—especially folic acid.

The average woman should consume 20 to 25 percent more calories after conception than before, allowing for a healthy weight gain of between 25 and 35 pounds. Fat plays a vital role in cell formation and fetal brain development, so consume 2 to 3 teaspoons a day of essential fatty acids during pregnancy. Select extra-virgin olive oil, flaxseed oil, or high-quality cold- or expeller-pressed vegetable oils.

Particularly crucial are omega-3 fats found in fish and fish oil supplements, flaxseeds, and some algae supplements. Try to consume, on average, at least 200 mg docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) a day from supplements, or eat omega-3-rich cold-water ocean fish twice a week.

Experts also advise upping your protein intake by 50 percent to support adequate tissue growth in the fetus. Other dietary mainstays include colorful fruits and vegetables plus whole grains, beans, and fermented soy foods. A handful of nuts and seeds a day makes a great snack.

During pregnancy, maternal blood volume increases by about 4 pints. Adequate iron is vital in protecting Mom against possible blood loss, and baby needs a three- to four-month supply of stored iron, before birth. Even when consuming animal protein, pregnant women find it difficult to meet increased iron requirements solely through food sources, so prenatal supplements become essential.

Important for bones and teeth in both mother and baby, calcium may also be difficult to obtain solely from dietary sources. If you’re lactose intolerant, for example, every day consume some yogurt with live, active cultures whose bacteria create lactose-digesting enzymes, or consider digestive enzymes (some prenatal formulas contain them) to help you digest dairy. Eating plenty of leafy greens and choosing fortified, nondairy alternatives (like nut, rice, and soy beverages) is another way to get calcium.

Folic Acid & Pregnancy

Folic acid is the supplement form of folate (vitamin B9). Getting 400 micrograms daily before conception as well as during early pregnancy is one of the most important things a woman can do to help prevent birth defects in her baby. 

The vitamin is found in the following foods: fortified orange juice; dark green, leafy veggies such as spinach and kale; and enriched grains such as breakfast cereals, breads, and pastas. 

Prenatal vitamins are an excellent, easy way to get the right amount of folic acid. 

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