The Importance of Nutrition When Pregnant

Good nutrition is an important component of a healthy lifestyle and a healthy baby. The best time to review your nutritional status to make appropriate changes is prior to conception.  A very important time of fetal development is during the first several weeks of pregnancy when many women may not even realize they are pregnant. The nutritional changes that should occur prior to pregnancy must be individualized based on your medical status, weight and eating habits.

Pregnancy is one time in life when weight gain is not only desirable, but also encouraged. Recommended weight gain may depend on a number of factors, including pre-pregnancy weight. You might also expect to gain more if you are carrying multiple babies. Your health care provider can help you determine what a reasonable weight gain is for you. The American Academy of Family Physicians is a good resource for even more information.

Many babies can weigh 7 lbs-8 lbs. before they’re born, so it’s easy to see how a weight gain of 25-30 lbs. is average.  The USDA and AAFP are great resources to reference about weight gain during pregnancy, including a great toolkit from The Institute of Medicine.

The average weight gain may translate into an additional 200-300 calories/day. This increases the average daily caloric intake from 2100 calories per day to approximately 2400-2500 calories per day. The USDA My Plate is a great way to learn about healthy eating during pregnancy.

An increase in the serving size would be sufficient to satisfy the increased caloric needs. The increased caloric intake should not be made up by fatty foods, but rather with increases in protein, dairy, grains, fruits or vegetables. Eating healthy does not mean eating more, but rather eating right. Pregnancy requires more nutrients besides more calories. Food is divided into fats, protein and carbohydrates plus micronutrients

  • All of the fetal body systems use proteins as the major building block. Good sources of protein are lean meat, fish, milk and beans.
  • Carbohydrates are the major source of energy. Sources are grains, cereals, fruit, vegetables, and milk.
  • Fats are important for fetal nervous system development and for some vitamin absorption. Saturated and hydrogenated fats/oils should always be avoided.
  • Monounsaturated oils such as olive oil and canola oils are healthier. Omega-3 fatty acids such as docosahexaenoic (DHA) have been linked to higher infant IQs. For more information about DHA’s link to infant IQs there’s a great article provided by the US National Library of Medicine.   

The old adage "You Are What You Eat" changes slightly in pregnancy to "We Are What Our Mothers Ate". If you have any dietary concerns, it is always best to consult with your health care provider. Good Luck!