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According to the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA), about 300 extra calories are needed daily to maintain a healthy pregnancy. These calories should come from a balanced diet of protein, fruits, vegetables, and whole grains with sweets and fats kept to a minimum. A healthy, well-balanced diet during pregnancy can also help to minimize some pregnancy symptoms such as nausea and constipation.
Nutrition is a primary factor in the health of the mother and the baby. The following daily food servings for pregnant women are recommended by the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG):
These serving recommendations are for women who are of normal weight before becoming pregnant. Underweight or overweight women should discuss their nutrition needs with their physician.
Fluid intake is also an important part of healthy pregnancy nutrition. Women can take in enough fluids by drinking 6 to 8 glasses of water each day, in addition to the fluids in juices and soups. An expectant mother should talk with her physician about restricting her intake of caffeine and artificial sweeteners. All alcohol should be avoided in pregnancy.
The US Public Health Service recommends that all women of childbearing age consume 400 micrograms (0.4 mg) of folic acid each day. Folic acid, a nutrient found in some green, leafy vegetables, most berries, nuts, beans, citrus fruits, fortified breakfast cereals, and some vitamin supplements can help reduce the risk of birth defects of the brain and spinal cord (called neural tube defects). The most common neural tube defect is spina bifida (in which the vertebrae do not fuse together properly, causing the spinal cord to be exposed) which can lead to varying degrees of paralysis, incontinence, and sometimes mental retardation.
Folic acid is most beneficial during the first 28 days after conception, when most neural tube defects occur. Unfortunately, many women do not realize they are pregnant before 28 days. Therefore, folic acid intake should begin prior to conception.
Most physicians will prescribe a prenatal supplement before conception, or shortly afterward, to ensure all of the woman's nutritional needs are met. However, a prenatal supplement does not replace a healthy diet.
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