by Scheinberg D

Getting proper nutrition during pregnancy is important. The mother and baby's health depend on it. This includes the right calories, vitamins, and minerals.


The calories needed during pregnancy depends on the mother's age, weight, and activity level. The doctor can advise the amount that is right for each person.

Key Nutrients

The doctor will talk about what types of foods are best for the pregnancy. This includes what kinds of nutrients are needed. Some key ones are folic acid and iron. The doctor may advise taking vitamins.

Folic Acid

Women who are pregnant—or may become pregnant—should get 600 micrograms (mcg) of folic acid each day. This mineral is vital during the first weeks of pregnancy. This is often before a woman even knows she is pregnant. Getting enough folic acid can stop neural tube problems, such as spina bifida. It may also stop other birth problems like cleft lip and heart disease. It may lower the risk of having a miscarriage or stillbirth.

A pregnant woman can get enough folic acid by eating foods rich in it. Taking a folic acid pill may also be advised—before pregnancy and through the first trimester. Many pregnant women take prenatal vitamins. Some prenatal vitamins have folate. If so, a folic acid pill is not needed.

Foods rich in folic acid are:

  • Fortified breakfast cereal
  • Whole-wheat breads
  • Orange juice and citrus fruits
  • Green leafy veggies, such as spinach, broccoli, and romaine lettuce
  • Legumes


Iron is a mineral that helps red blood cells carry oxygen in the body. Pregnant women should get 27 milligrams (mg). Not getting enough can lead to iron-deficiency anemia and other problems.

Good sources are:

  • Lean red meat
  • Poultry
  • Fish
  • Dried fruits
  • Fortified breakfast cereals

Foods with vitamin C should be eaten with foods that have iron. This can help the body absorb iron. But drinking tea or coffee with these foods can slow absorption.

It can be hard to get enough iron from food. Most pregnant women take a prenatal vitamin that has iron. It is best to talk to the doctor about iron levels. Getting too much iron is not safe.


Calcium is very important during pregnancy. When a person does not get enough, their body takes it from their bones. This can lead to osteoporosis later in life.

Good sources of calcium are:

  • Low-fat or nonfat dairy products, such as milk, yogurt, and cottage cheese
  • Fish canned with bones
  • Green leafy veggies
  • Fortified soy milk or rice milk
  • Fortified orange juice
  • Other calcium-fortified foods

Some people do not eat dairy products or enough foods that have calcium. The doctor may advise calcium and vitamin D pills. The body needs vitamin D to absorb and use the calcium.



The body is better getting the nutrients from food during pregnancy. If you are eating healthful foods each day, you may not need a supplement. But many women may benefit from taking a prenatal vitamin. Some may need only an iron or folic acid pill. Others may need an iodine pill if they do not get enough. Talk to your doctor about your eating and lifestyle habits to find out if you need one.


No amount of alcohol is safe. Do not drink until after your pregnancy.


Having one to two cups of coffee or tea per day is fine during pregnancy. Some research has linked high intakes of caffeine (more than 300 mg per day) with having a hard time getting pregnant and a higher rate of miscarriages. Talk to your healthcare provider about how much caffeine you drink.


Seafood is a good source of omega-3 fatty acids. These help with your growing baby's brain. Pregnant women should eat seafood as a normal part of their diet.

Some seafood has high amounts of mercury. This can be harmful to a growing baby. Do not eat fish with a high mercury level. These fish are tilefish, king mackerel, swordfish, albacore tuna, and shark.

Good choices are salmon, sardines, catfish, canned light tuna, and shrimp. These are high in omega-3 fatty acids and low in mercury.


If you do not have a peanut allergy, consider eating peanuts. It may lower the risk that your child will have a peanut allergy.

Food Safety

Getting sick from unsafe foods could harm you and your growing baby. Here are some tips:

  • Wash your hands before you eat or make food.
  • When you make food, do not let raw meats or poultry touch other foods.
  • Cook meat well.
  • Reheat leftovers well.
  • Do not eat deli meats and hot dogs unless reheated until steaming.
  • Drink only pasteurized juice and milk.
  • Do not eat raw or soft cheeses.

Artificial Sweeteners

Most artificial sweeteners are safe to use in small amounts. These include acesulfame K (Sunett), aspartame (NutraSweet or Equal), and sucralose (Splenda). More research is needed on saccharin (Sweet’N Low) and stevia. These should not be used.


Getting enough fluids is vital for you and your baby. Try to drink plenty of water each day. Make sure your water does not have too much nitrate. It is found in some private wells. Other drinks such as juice and soda also help with hydration. But they are also high in calories and low in nutrients.


Choose My Plate—US Department of Agriculture 

Eat Right—Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics 


Dietitians of Canada 

Public Health Agency of Canada 


Artificial sweeteners and pregnancy. American Pregnancy Association website. Available at: Accessed April 7, 2021.

CSPI's guide to a safe and healthy pregnancy. Centers for Science in the Public Interest website. Available at: Accessed April 7, 2021.

Nutrition in pregnancy. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: Accessed April 7, 2021.

Nutrition in pregnancy. EBSCO Nursing Reference Center website. Available at: Accessed April 7, 2021.

Pregnancy and breastfeeding. My Plate—Department of Agriculture website. Available at: Accessed April 7, 2021.

USDA national nutrient database for standard reference. US Department of Agriculture website. Available at: Accessed April 7, 2021.

Vitamins and other nutrients during pregnancy. March of Dimes website. Available at: Accessed April 7, 2021.

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