A balanced diet for a pregnant woman: How much and what to eat?
No two pregnancies are alike, so while we can offer a general guide, you need to tailor your diet plan to your individual needs and follow your doctor’s advice. However, there are some tips we can offer for nourishing your body and the little one growing inside it.
Follow the basic rules of healthy eating throughout your pregnancy. A daily balanced diet for a pregnant woman should contain:
- 5 servings of fresh fruits and vegetables
- 6 servings of whole grain carbohydrates
- 3 servings of dairy
- 2–3 servings of lean protein (chicken, certain fish twice a week, beans or peas)
Along with this, make sure you’re getting the vitamins and minerals that are essential for a healthy pregnancy:
- Folate and folic acid
- Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA)
- Vitamins A, B2, B6, B12, C, and D
How much you eat depends on your current weight and your stage of pregnancy. Generally, three meals a day and two to three snacks are optimal in a balanced diet for a pregnant woman, although you may want to increase the snacks as your pregnancy progresses.
If you have dietary restrictions, talk to a doctor or a registered dietitian about coming up with a healthy, balanced diet for a pregnant woman. It’s completely possible to have a healthy pregnancy and sustain a vegan or gluten-free diet if your doctor is on board and it includes the right nutrients.
Healthy foods to eat when pregnant
It can be tricky figuring out foods to eat when pregnant. To narrow it down, we’ve put together a few gold standard picks that should be added to create a balanced diet for a pregnant woman.
Dark, leafy greens
Pregnant or not, it’s always a good idea to eat your greens. Dark and leafy vegetables like kale, spinach, and broccoli are
Lentils are especially are high in folate. Other legumes like beans and peas provide protein and will leave you feeling nice and full as well as nourishing your growing baby.
Full-fat yogurt is lower in sugar than many nonfat versions, is delicious, and contains lots of calcium. This is a great breakfast or snack option and is a great addition to any balanced diet for a pregnant woman.
Sweet potatoes, carrots, bell peppers
As well as making your plate nice and colorful, red, orange, and yellow vegetables contain beta carotene, which is converted into vitamin A.
Wild salmon is a great source of omega-3 fatty acids. Many pregnant women avoid fish altogether, but one or two servings of this a week is actually the best option.
Foods to avoid when pregnant
It’s just as important to know what to avoid eating when pregnant. Unfortunately, there are foods out there that are harmful to a developing baby. Here are some to look out for, but make sure you get a full list from your health care provider.
This is a big one that can lead to miscarriage or birth defects. Avoid fish known to contain high levels of mercury such as swordfish, king mackerel, and tuna. Stay away from raw fish as well, especially shellfish.
Raw milk and cheese can contain harmful bacteria like salmonella and E. coli. Pasteurization kills these, so make sure any dairy products you eat have been through this process.
Make sure to peel and wash your fruits and vegetables when pregnant. Skins and peels can contain bacteria like listeria or parasites that cause diseases like toxoplasmosis.
It’s recommended pregnant women stay away from alcohol altogether. Binge drinking can cause fetal alcohol syndrome (FAS) and also leaves the mother at risk for placental abruption or a small for gestational age (SGA) or low birth-weight infant.
Pregnancy cravings are hard to ignore. Some people believe your body is telling you what to eat for a reason, while others put them down to hormones messing with your mind.
Whether you should give into them really depends on what it is. Broccoli? Sure, eat as much as you want. Doughnuts? You might want to try practicing willpower so you don’t veer too far away from a balanced diet for a pregnant woman. Chalk? It happens, and if you’re craving nonfood items like this, look into getting tested for iron-deficiency anemia.
Healthy weight gain
Gaining weight is a sign of a healthy pregnancy. However, you shouldn’t be gaining any more than what's needed to protect and carry your baby. An average woman should gain 25–35 pounds during pregnancy. Underweight women should gain slightly more, while overweight women should gain a little less. Your doctor will provide you with a figure that’s right for you.
When you find out you're pregnant, try not to jump into the "eating for two" mindset right away. In the first trimester, you might want to begin eating a balanced diet for a pregnant woman, but you don’t need to eat more than usual. The caloric requirement should be increased by 300 calories a day during pregnancy and by 500 calories a day when breastfeeding.
Following these tips should lead to healthy weight gain. And remember, you can still exercise during pregnancy — just make sure you let your doctor know your routine.
Most of us don’t drink enough water as it is, so make it your mission to change this while pregnant. It makes you feel less nauseous, regulate your body temperature, and increase your energy.
Aim for 8–10 glasses of water a day. Always carry a bottle with you if you’re heading out. If the tap water in your area is suitable for drinking, then it’s probably fine for you. While sodas and fruit juices may quench your thirst, water is best for your developing baby.
Be aware of these choices and warnings but stay positive, and discuss any concerns with your doctor. A balanced diet for a pregnant woman should focus on eating healthy foods and getting those essential pregnancy nutrients to provide enough energy to get you and your little one through the next nine months.