Nutrition Resources for Pregnant Moms

Eating a healthy diet during pregnancy is one of the best things you can do for yourself and your baby. After all, the food you eat is your baby's main source of nutrition. Smart choices about pregnancy nutrition can help you promote your baby's growth and development.

Listed below are several examples of nutrients that are recommended during pregnancy, how they influence your baby’s development and what foods are good sources of that nutrient.

NutrientFood SourceWhat it Does for Baby
Calcium Dairy products, nuts, beans, green leafy vegetables Helps grow baby’s teeth and bones.
Iron Red meat, spinach, peas, dried fruit, eggs, enriched grains and cereals Produces the oxygen carrying protein in baby’s blood called Hemoglobin. Prevents anemia in pregnant mothers.
Protein Meat, fish, eggs, milk, soy products, nuts Needed for baby’s brain, muscles, blood, and bone growth.
Folic Acid Dark leafy vegetables, beans, oranges, dairy Prevents birth defects (neural tube defects such as spina bifida) and helps blood develop.
Vitamin A Yellow or orange fruits and veggies, leafy greens, dairy products Helps baby’s eyes and skin grow.
Vitamin B Meats, eggs, dairy, whole grains Helps baby’s body use energy to grow.
B6 and B12 Meats, eggs, dairy, whole grains Aids in nervous system and blood development.
Vitamin C Citrus fruits, berries, tomatoes, green pepper, cabbage, potatoes Helps baby take in iron and use it effectively.
Vitamin D Sunshine, fatty fish (salmon), fortified milk Helps build your baby’s bones and teeth.

Pregnant women need extra iron, folate and other trace nutrients (zinc, copper, etc.) To get these extra nutrients a prenatal vitamin supplement is recommended for most women. Talk to your provider about any vitamins you are already taking. Excess amounts of some vitamins can be harmful.

Other Considerations When Eating

As you plan your pregnancy diet and make decisions about what to eat there are a few special issues you should keep in mind.

Caffeine
Moderate caffeine intake (approximately two cups daily of brewed coffee) does not appear to increase the occurrence of miscarriage or preterm birth. It is a good idea however, to limit caffeine during pregnancy as it can affect sleep, cause light-headedness and nausea. Caffeine has also been shown to increase frequent urination and may lead to dehydration.

Mercury
Fish and shellfish are great sources of protein, omega 3 fatty acids, and other nutrients. However, pregnant women should not eat certain kinds of fish that are high in mercury, which can be harmful to fetal development. Avoid eating shark, swordfish, king mackerel or tilefish during pregnancy. Common seafood that is low in mercury include shrimp, salmon, pollock, catfish and chunk light tuna. You can safely eat up to 12 ounces (2 meals 6 ounces each) of these per week. Solid white or albacore tuna has higher mercury content and should be limited to one 6-ounce serving a week.

Listeriosis
Listeriosis is an illness caused by a bacteria found in food - commonly in unpasteurized milk, soft cheese, and undercooked meats, poultry, and shellfish. This bacteria can be harmful to pregnant mothers and babies. To prevent exposure to listeriosis, wash all fresh fruit and vegetables before using them. Always wash your hands and any utensils, countertops or cutting boards that have been in contact with raw meat.

Planning Healthy Meals

Calories are the single most important factor in determining birth weight. The recommended increase in caloric intake for pregnant women with a normal BMI (Body Mass Index) is 300 calories per day in the first trimester of pregnancy, 340 calories per day in the second trimester and 452 calories per day in the third trimester. If your BMI is 25 or higher these recommendations will be different.

The United States Department of Agriculture has developed many tools for pregnant women to reference to develop and personalize their meal plans to ensure they obtain the right kinds of foods and proper amounts for pregnancy and the different trimesters.

The groups that have been recognized as the best sources of nutrients during pregnancy are :

  • Vegetables
  • Fruit
  • Milk and Dairy
  • Starch (grains, cereal, potatoes)
  • Meats, Beans and Eggs
  • Fats and Oil

Meal Plans by Calories

The sample meal plans below show different plans for different calorie levels - use these daily menus to assist with planning your meals. They are made with a certain number of servings from each group - more serving size samples are listed below the menus.

  • If you have a normal BMI, typically start at 1,800 calories per day and increase to 2,200 per day by your third trimester.
  • If your BMI is 30 or greater, your recommended diet is 1,800 calories per day for your entire pregnancy. You should be eating to gain a variety of nutrients, but total calories are lower. You will use your excess weight for general calories and obtain essential nutrients from food you eat.

Tips for Success

  • Remember portion size is important and all food must be measured using standard measuring cups and utensils.
  • All foods that are cooked should be measured after cooking and be sure to remove fat and bones from meat.
  • You should always bake, boil, grill or broil to reduce fat content. Be sure to include any fats used to prepare pans when cooking as part of the fat in your meal plan.
  • Eat meals and snacks at regular times and try not to skip meals. The best plan for pregnancy is breakfast, lunch, mid-afternoon snack, dinner and evening snack. Eating frequent, smaller meals spreads the calories throughout the day to keep your metabolism and energy high.
  • Try to avoid foods that are high in cholesterol, trans fats, salt and all forms of sugar. Excess intake of sugar can cause you to develop gestational diabetes. This is especially true for overweight or obese individuals (BMI of 25 or greater). You may see the sugars listed under a variety of names such as fructose, dextrose, glucose or corn syrup, honey or sweeteners. As a rule of thumb, naturally occurring sugar (such as the sugar in fruit) is better for you than adding granulated sugar or corn syrup.

Sample Menus for an 1,800 Calorie per Day Diet

Breakfast

1 MILK 1 cup of 1% milk
2 STARCH 2 slices of multi-grain bread
1 FRUIT 1/2 banana
2 FAT 2 tsp butter

Lunch

1VEGETABLE 1 medium tomato
1 MEAT 1/4 cup Tuna
1 FRUIT 1 orange
2 STARCH 2 slices of wheat bread
1 FAT mayonnaise

Afternoon Snack

2 FRUITS or VEGETABLES 1 pear or 2 Tbsp raisins
  Sliced cucumber or 1/2 cup broccoli

Dinner

1 VEGETABLE 1/2 cup cauliflower
1 FRUIT 1 1/4 cup strawberries
3 STARCH 1 small potato, 1 slice of bread, 1/2 cup corn
2 MEAT 2 oz roast pork
2 FAT 2 tsp margarine

Evening Snack

1 FRUIT 1 apple
1 MILK 1 cup 1% milk
2 STARCH 6 graham crackers
1 FAT 1 Tbsp cream cheese

Sample Menus for a 2,000 Calorie per Day Diet

Breakfast

1 MILK 1 cup of 1% milk
2 STARCH 2 slices of multi-grain bread
1 FRUIT 1/2 banana
1 FAT 2 tsp butter

Lunch

1VEGETABLE 1 medium tomato
2 MEAT 2 oz lean ham
1 FRUIT 1 orange
3 STARCH 2 slices of wheat bread or 1oz chips
1 MILK 1 Cup 1% milk
2 FAT mayonnaise/ margarine

Afternoon Snack

1 STARCH 3/4 Cup of pretzels

Dinner

2 VEGETABLE 1/2 cup cauliflower, cup of cooked carrots
1 FRUIT 1 cup melon
2 STARCH 1/3 cup whole grain rice, 1 dinner roll
4 MEAT 4 oz grilled chicken
2 FAT 2 tsp margarine

Evening Snack

1 FRUIT 1 peach
1 MILK 1 cup sugar-free cocoa
1 STARCH 3 cups of hot air popcorn

Sample Menus for a 2,200 Calorie per Day Diet

Breakfast

1 MILK 1/2 cup skim milk for cereal &1/2 cup nonfat yogurt
3 STARCH 2 slices of multi-grain bread & 1/2 cup bran flakes
1 FRUIT 1 cup raspberries
1 FAT 2 tsp butter

Lunch

2VEGETABLE 1 medium tomato/ lettuce
2 MEAT 2 oz turkey
1 FRUIT 1 orange
3 STARCH 2 slices of wheat bread &1oz chips
1 MILK 1 Cup 1% milk
2 FAT mayonnaise/ margarine

Afternoon Snack

1 STARCH 8 crackers
1 VEGETABLE cucumber slices
1 FAT 1 tsp cream cheese

Dinner

3 VEGETABLE 1/2 cup beans, cup of cooked carrots, 1/2 cup mushrooms
1 FRUIT 1 cup melon
2 STARCH 1/3 cup whole grain rice, 1 dinner roll
4 MEAT 6 oz grilled lean steak
2 FAT 2 tsp margarine

Evening Snack

1 FRUIT 1 peach
1 MILK 1 cup sugar-free cocoa
1 STARCH 3 cups of hot air popcorn

Examples of the amount of food that counts as one serving are listed below. If you eat a larger portion, count it as more than 1 serving. For example, a dinner portion of spaghetti would count as 2 or 3 servings of pasta. Fats and oils should be used sparingly.

Sample Serving Sizes

Milk, and Dairy

  • 1 cup of milk or yogurt
  • 1 1/2 ounces of natural cheese
  • 2 ounces of process cheese

Meat, Dry Beans, Eggs

  • 2-3 ounces of cooked lean meat, poultry, or fish
  • 1/2 cup of cooked dry beans, 1 egg, or 2 tablespoons of peanut butter count as 1 ounce of lean meat

Vegetable

  • 1 cup of raw leafy vegetables
  • 1/2 cup of other vegetables, cooked or chopped raw
  • 3/4 cup of vegetable juice

Fruit

  • 1 medium apple, banana, orange
  • 1/2 cup of chopped, cooked, or canned fruit
  • 3/4 cup of fruit juice

Carbohydrates

  • 1 slice of bread
  • 1 ounce of ready-to-eat cereal
  • 1/2 cup of cooked cereal, rice, or pasta