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In a way—yes—you are eating for two. But what you might not realize is that your tiny baby only needs about 300 extra calories per day. So, while it’s a great idea to double up on all of the important nutrients you need, you don’t have to double the caloric intake. The great news about nutrition during pregnancy is that you have the ability to play a little part in your child’s destiny. By eating right and feeding yourself and your fetus all the necessary nutrients, you can take control of your child’s future health and set a strong foundation that will give you reason to be confident in a healthy infant, healthy toddler and healthy child.

That’s right, a balanced and healthy diet during pregnancy can have long-lasting effects on your baby—even encouraging health into adulthood. More immediately, you will promote fetal brain development, reduce the risk of certain defects, and increase your baby’s birth weight with the right nutrition.

Getting the right amount of calories is a major aspect of eating right for your developing child. Early on in your pregnancy, you might not need as many as 300 calories extra…but later on, you might need even more. Of course, it all depends on your bodyweight and specific needs. So, although 300 extra calories is a rough estimate, it’s really best to talk to your healthcare provider about the appropriate amount of extra calories for you.

The following is a list of what you need, every day:

  • Vitamin C
  • Protein
  • Calcium
  • Iron
  • Whole grains
  • Folic acid

If you eat lots of colorful vegetables, including extra dark, leafy vegetables as well as at least three servings of fruit, you’re on your way to a healthy pregnancy. Build up good bones to get you through pregnancy by getting plenty of calcium—but the calcium is also important for the bones of your developing child! If you are lactose intolerant or don’t eat dairy products, check out this information on alternative sources of calcium. It’s very crucial to have enough protein during pregnancy so that all of the cells that are growing so rapidly and forming your baby will be strong, and have enough amino acids (the building blocks that make up protein but also build cells). You might have to cut out some of your favorite treats during pregnancy, and raw fish is the number one food to go. Sushi and sashimi as well as raw oysters and seared tuna and all uncooked seafood can lead to complications and illness in your fetus. When eating fish, beware of mercury levels. In fact, the US Department of Health Services recommends that pregnant women and women thinking about getting pregnant limit intake of a variety of fish and shellfish to 12 ounces (approximately two meals) a week. Furthermore, it’s best to avoid swordfish, shark, king mackerel and tilefish because these fish contain high levels of mercury. Check local advisories about fish caught in your area before you eat freshly caught fish. Fish are great sources of protein and omega-3 fatty acids that are essential in a healthy pregnancy. However, a build-up of mercury levels in your body can harm the nervous system of your fetus. Also, try to avoid certain bacteria by eating hard cheeses instead of soft cheeses while you’re pregnant. Feta, brie, Camembert and Roquefort are all delicious delicacies that are best avoided until after the baby is delivered. The bacteria Listeria can affect your baby’s health and cause an infection. If you love cheese, try hard cheeses such as cheddar and pasteurized cheese.

Get enough fluids, especially water, in your diet. You should already be getting eight glasses (64 oz.) of water every day, but if you aren’t a conscientious fluid drinker, now is the time to start. Not only is your body made mostly of water, but so is your baby’s. And that means that you need to make sure your baby has enough water to grow and be healthy, just like you need enough water to grow and be healthy. So get yourself a great big jug, or a trendy thermos, and keep filling it up…all day long. You can also get some fluids throughout the day from other drinks, including milk (two-thirds water—great way to get calcium, too), juices (get your vitamins in as well), sparkling water and even (decaffeinated) iced tea. But, steer clear of sugar-loaded fluids and avoid soda. Enough fluids, especially if the majority is water, will also:

  • alleviate constipation
  • help your skin feel soft/ clear up your skin
  • relieve swelling
  • reduce risk of urinary tract infections
  • flush out waste and harmful toxins in your system

There are lots of stringent diet guidelines out there for pregnant women that ask you to count calories, optimize every meal, and constantly think about eating for the baby. And while eating for the baby is very important, and getting the right amount of nutrients is equally as important, pregnancy can be an already stressful time and the added pressure of sticking to a diet may just put you over the edge. So, whether you need to indulge in a little chocolate or a cheeseburger to help you deal with a tough day, or whether you don’t have the energy to prepare dark vegetables with every meal, the right diet is up to you to create, on your own terms. Just make sure that you eat enough food—not getting enough calories can be very damaging to your child’s health—and get plenty of the right nutrients for your child. All women freak out when they realize that they really are going to gain weight during pregnancy—and a lot of it. But that is a natural part of the process, and cutting out calories, fasting (even for religious reasons) or dieting will only hurt your baby’s health—and your own. For these nine months, stay away form dieting and surrender to the fact that you are going to gain weight, and it’s okay. If you think of your baby’s developing body every time you go to eat (or not eat), you’ll most likely make the right decisions.