Nutrition whilst pregnant

Healthy eating during pregnancy is one of the best gifts you can give to your baby-to-be. Good nutrition will support his or her growth and development, maintain your health and possibly benefit their health in later years. Now that you’re pregnant, your daily nutritional needs are greater but not exactly doubled. Focus on choosing foods high in nutrition quality rather than increasing your portion sizes. When eating for two, a healthy weighing woman with a body mass index between 18.5 and 24.9 needs only to increase her food intake by 10% and gain between 11.5 to 16 kg. Eating 2 more fruits or one fruit and a light snack (e.g. a small healthy wrap) can do the trick and prevent unnecessary weight gain. Your recommended pregnancy weight gain depends on how many babies you are carrying and your pre-pregnancy weight; not gaining enough or gaining excessive amounts of weight can cause problems for you and your baby. The table below is a guide providing the number of serves required from the five different food groups needed to meet your nutrient demands, mainly the increase in folate, iron, zinc, iodine and essential fatty acids. You’ll notice that extra calcium is not needed. Treat yourself with a sweet sparingly and be strict with no happy hour rendezvous.

The recommended daily servings from each food group from Food for health: Dietary Guidelines for Australian Adults (includes the adjustments made for calcium according to the Nutrient Reference Values for Australia and New Zealand, 2006)

Food group Number of serves
Example of a serve


4 to 6

2 slices of whole grained or soy bread1 cup of whole grain cereal1 cup cooked pasta or rice½ cup muesli



1 medium/large sized fruit e.g. orange2 small sized fruit e.g. apricots1 cup of canned fruit½ cup of fruit juice1½ tablespoons of dried fruit


5 to 6

1 cup of green leafy vegetables e.g. spinach½ cup of raw or cooked vegetables (refrain from boiling)



250 mL cup of low or reduced fat milk200 g of low or reduced fat yogurt40 g or 2 slices of low or reduced fat cheese

Meat/meat equivalents

2 eggs65-100 g (palm sized) cooked meat80-120 g (palm sized) cooked fish½ cup cooked lentils


0 to 2½ 

1 (40 g) donut3 (35 g) sweet biscuits½ small bar (25 g) chocolate

1st Trimester Nutrition

It’s common for many women to enter their first trimester of pregnancy unaware of the little organs and tissues already beginning to take form. During the first two months of pregnancy, your baby-to-be is an embryo whose cells are undergoing many cell divisions and differentiations to develop the structures for all its major organs. Being well-nourished in the micronutrients your baby-to-be needs during this time can provide a great start to their developmental journey. Bear in mind that the requirements for most nutrients increase during pregnancy and those mentioned bellow are selected because if the mother were deficient, it could cause adverse effects on the fetus.

Folate under the Spotlight

One major organ developing at this time is the neural tube. It closes on the sixth week of pregnancy to develop into the baby’s brain and spinal cord. Its proper formation requires folate (also known as folic acid) to support the DNA synthesis of these rapidly dividing cells. If folate deficient, this development is impaired causing malformations known as neural tube defects. Throughout your first trimester, eat folate rich foods such as green leafy vegetables (lightly cooked), citrus fruits, legumes, seeds and fortified grain products like cereals and breads and one folate supplement daily to protect against neural tube defects.

Start & stick to a diet rich in Omega-3 and Iodine

After the closure of the neural tube, the baby’s brain and spinal cord will continue to develop until birth and during its early years.

A maternal diet rich in omega-3 and iodine will support brain and overall fetal development. Even mild to moderate deficiencies in both omega-3 and iodine may cause learning difficulties and affect physical development. Oily fish such as salmon, trout and cod fish (avoid fish high in mercury content like flake and orange roughly), vegetable and flaxseed oils are excellent sources of omega-3. Seafood is also a great source of iodine as are plants grown in iodine rich soil and products made of iodised salt such as breads and margarines. In addition to eating these foods, taking an omega-3 and iodine supplement will help you meet your extra requirements. Consult with your doctor before commencing any nutrient supplement particularly if you have a thyroid condition and want to take iodine supplements.

Your Iron requirements have increased

Iron is an essential nutrient located in the core of your red blood cells that accepts and releases oxygen and carbon dioxide during gaseous exchange. As your pregnancy progress your body will gradually increase its absorption of iron to support the expansion of your blood volume and your baby’s red blood cell creations. Vitamins B6 and B12 are also needed for this formation and like iron, their requirements rise during pregnancy. The increase in iron can be met by eating foods rich in iron, such as red meats, fish, poultry, eggs, legumes and iron-fortified grain products with citrus foods containing vitamin C to enhance absorption. Blood tests will be performed annually during your pregnancy to check for iron deficiency and if necessary, your doctor will recommend iron supplements. B6 and B12 intakes are generally met when consuming a variety of these foods but deficiencies may occur in vegan diets (see a doctor if concerned). It’s very important to support these nutritional demands to prevent problems that can arise from maternal anaemia (a low number of red blood cells).

2nd & 3rd Trimester Nutrition

The fetus will grow most rapidly, relative to its size, in the womb during the second and third trimesters than in any other stage of its lifespan. Protein, omega-3 and the micronutrients found in fruits and vegetables are needed by all the cells in the fetus for proper development so keep up your generous servings from these food groups.

Protein is the body’s making material

The creation of new fetal and maternal tissues occurs primarily in the second and third trimesters which can be well supported by a diet sufficient in protein. Muscles and organs require the building blocks found in dietary protein call amino acids. The body does not store amino acids and some amino acids cannot be created or be made in sufficient amounts hence the body relies on dietary protein for supply. You can easily meet your protein requirements by eating meat and plant derived foods, beans, nuts, seeds and fortified wholegrain products.

Hang in there iron woman

Protein also provides a good source of iron which is located in the core of red blood cells that accepts and releases oxygen and carbon dioxide during gaseous exchange. During pregnancy the demand for iron increases from 18 to 27 mg/day, in order to supply the fetus with oxygen, support their blood development and keep you feeling energised. It’s possible to meet this amount by eating foods rich in iron, such as red meats, fish, poultry, eggs, legumes and iron-fortified grain products with citrus foods containing vitamin C to enhance absorption and if recommended by your doctor, iron supplements. Lean red meats, poultry and fish contain the best form of bio available iron (haem-iron) in comparison to vegetables and supplements that contain a less readily form of bio available iron (non-haem). You can enhance iron absorption from plant foods by eating them with meat and you should avoid taking iron supplements with milk, coffee and/or tea as they can interfere with absorption.

Don’t forget to eat Dairy

Even though there is no need for extra calcium, during these trimesters, your baby’s bones are calcifying to become stronger and so remember to have your two servings of dairy, preferably low fat and eat fish with edible bones, to support their development.

Omega-3 and Iodine

The brain is one of the last organs to develop and relies on omega-3 (DHA and EPA) and iodine to support its rapid increase in size. A diet providing 2-3 servings of fish (choose oily fish low in mercury such as salmon and sardines) a week is ideal. Iodine can also be found in seafood, vegetables grown in iodised soil and in products with iodised salt. It can be difficult obtaining a regular supply of these two nutrients (particularly if you are not a big seafood eater), thus many pregnant women prefer the simplicity of taking omega-3 (fish oil) and/or iodine supplements as extra assurance.

Food and eating tips to relieve pregnancy symptoms

  • Eat high fibre foods such as wholegrain products, fortified breads and cereals, legumes, seeds, fruits and vegetables, drink prune juice and water to help ease constipation
  • Cool down pregnancy heartburn by avoiding spicy and fatty foods along with fizzy or citrus drinks and avoid lying down straight after eating
  • When you feel a little queasy try eating 6 small frequent meals rather than 3 heavy meals daily, avoid foods with strong odours and try drinking ginger tea; it’s an ancient remedy for nausea
  • Try to adapt to your new tastes and find substitute for foods that you can no longer eat

The forbidden foods and beverages of pregnancy

  • Alcohol consumption during pregnancy can cause permanent mental and physical retardation of the fetus known as fetal alcohol syndrome. To prevent harm to your unborn child, the safest recommendation is no alcohol consumption during pregnancy
  • Remember to prepare all meals with safe handling e.g. washing fruits, vegetables and salads before consumption
  • Avoid eating animal liver for it contains high amounts of readily available vitamin A called retinol that if eaten frequently and in large amounts can cause toxic effects to your health and that of the developing baby
  • Non-food cravings aren’t safe to eat. Craving dirt may be symbolic of a mineral deficiency such as iron. Seek a doctor to correct any deficiencies.
  • Avoid fish high in mercury content, such as shark and orange roughy as mercury content can pose a toxicity threat to your health as well as that of your baby’s.
  • Eating or handling lightly cooked meat as well as exposure to cat faeces should be avoided as they can contain a parasite called Toxoplasma gondii which is generally harmless and asymptomatic to the mother but causes malformations in the fetus. There is no vaccine available therefore to avoid this disease, it’s best to stay well away from the kitty litter and kindly delegate this task to your partner instead. There is treatment available if accidental exposure should occur.
  • Pregnant women are more susceptible to the food borne illness listeriosis. Infection is generally asymptomatic or causes mild-influenza like symptoms in the mother. In the infant, it can cause malformations or even death. Treatment is available if accidental exposure occurs, however food carry this bacterium should be avoided during pregnancy.

High risk foods that carry this bacterium (Listeria monocytogenes) are listed below

  • Unpasteurised milk and milk products, such as soft cheeses
  • Raw and uncooked cured meat
  • Raw or partially cooked eggs
  • Raw shellfish and raw seafood
  • Smoked fish, smoked mussels and oysters
  • Soft serve ice-cream
  • Prepared salads
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