Pregnancy Nutrition

We all know that a balanced diet is important throughout your life, but it becomes especially important during pregnancy.  The basics of nutrition during pregnancy are the same as they are when you are not pregnant – proteins, carbohydrates, vitamins, and minerals.

The USDA (United States Department of Agriculture) has an excellent, comprehensive web site that focuses on nutrition during pregnancy and for breast-feeding mothers.  (

Nutrition Highlights:

Weight Gain: To support your growing babies nutritional needs, you only need to an extra 300 calories per day.  These extra calories should come in the form of healthy additions like fruits, vegetables, dairy products, and protein.  Underweight women should gain more weight during the pregnancy than those that are overweight. Weight is often referenced as BMI (Body Mass Index). A normal weight BMI of 18.5-24.9, underweight is less than 18.5, and obese is greater than 30. Weight gain for a woman with a normal BMI should be 25-35 pounds.  Underweight women should gain more, and it is okay to loose weight if you are overweight as long as you are eating healthy. You can calculate your BMI using the CDC (Center for Disease Control) website

Needed Extras: Pregnant women need extra iron and folic acid during pregnancy.  The iron builds red blood cells and allow for oxygen delivery to the fetus.  Folic acid has been shown to decrease certain malformations called neural tube defects.  You should get at least 27 mg. of iron and 400 micrograms of folic acid per day.  This amount can be found in both non-prescription and prescription vitamins. Although you don’t need extra, make sure you get Calcium (1000 milligrams), Vitamin A (770 micrograms), Vitamin C (85 milligrams), Vitamin B6, and Vitamin B12.  These can be obtained through a healthy diet and are also added to vitamin supplements.

Caffeine:  We are unsure if high caffeine intake increases the risk of miscarriage.  Moderate caffeine intake does not appear to cause any problems in pregnancy. Caffeine intake should be limited to 200 milligrams per day – the equivalent of two (2) 8-ounce cups of brewed coffee.

Alcohol:  Excessive use of alcohol during pregnancy (2 drinks per day, every day) has been associated with Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS), a condition of malformations and developmental delays.  No one knows the amount of alcohol that triggers FAS so the best advice is to not consume any alcohol during pregnancy.

Omega-3 Fatty Acids:  More information is being found that show Omega-3 fatty acids are important to the brain development of your baby.  There are several Omega-3 fatty acids, but most of the credit is given to a specific one – DHA. The best sources of DHA are: seafood, algae, and especially coldwater fish. Popular sources of DHA are: salmon, sardines, and tuna. Eggs and organ meats have a small amount of DHA in them, but the healthiest source of dietary DHA is seafood.  No one knows the optimal amount of DHA needed in your diet.  Two 4-ounce servings of omega-3-rich fish per week should yield a sufficient amount of omega-3 fatty acids, especially DHA. Besides fish oils, vegetable oils (primarily flaxseed, soy, and canola) are also rich sources of omega 3 fatty acids, with flaxseed oil being the best.  Many supplements are available without a prescription.

Fish:  Fish and shellfish are important sources of many nutrients.  However, there is a concern that some types of fish contain too much mercury.  Fish that are high in mercury include shark, swordfish, king mackerel, “albacore” tuna and tilefish.  They should not be eaten during pregnancy.  Fish that are low in mercury content include shrimp, salmon, canned light tuna, and catfish.  You can safely eat two servings (12 ounces) of these per week.