By James N. Martin, Jr, MD
President, The American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists
As your baby’s sole source of nutrition during pregnancy, eating a well-balanced diet is essential. Many women have questions about how many more calories they need, what is safe to eat, and what foods to avoid.
Pregnant women need more calories and nutrients to support a developing fetus, but it’s important not to overeat. Most women only need a moderate increase of 100–300 calories per day—the equivalent of a bowl of cereal with skim milk. Early in pregnancy, nausea may make it difficult to increase your food intake. Eating smaller nutritious meals and snacks throughout the day can help you add extra calories.
Your weight gain should also be moderate and based on your pre-pregnancy weight. The range of weight gain should be 25–35 pounds for women of normal weight, 28–40 pounds for underweight women, 15–25 pounds for overweight women, and 11–20 pounds for obese women.
Increase nutrient intake by consuming a diverse diet that contains whole grains, lots of fruits and vegetables, healthy fats, dairy, lean meats and fish, and beans. Your doctor may also prescribe prenatal vitamins for extra folic acid and other nutrients necessary for healthy growth and development.
Fish is a good source of high-quality protein. Pregnant women can consume up to 12 ounces per week of a variety of fish and shellfish that are low in mercury such as shrimp, canned light tuna (rather than albacore), salmon, pollock, and catfish. Shark, swordfish, king mackerel, and tilefish should be avoided because they are high in mercury.
Calcium is a vital nutrient for a growing fetus. Most women get enough, but lactose-intolerant women should increase their consumption of calcium from non-dairy sources such as sardines, canned salmon, dark leafy green vegetables, and fortified orange juice. Your doctor can also prescribe calcium supplements if necessary.
Vegetarian and vegan women must be sure to get enough protein from non-meat sources such as beans, nuts, and soy products. Your ob-gyn may recommend an eating plan and supplements to provide adequate amounts of vitamins and minerals, especially iron and vitamins B12 and D.
If you are pregnant, avoid alcohol entirely. Do not eat unpasteurized milk or soft cheese; raw or undercooked meat, poultry, or fish; or prepared meats such as hot dogs or deli meat (unless cooked until steaming hot). These foods can harbor listeriosis bacteria, which can sicken both mother and baby. You should also tell your doctor about any vitamins, herbs, or other supplements that you take because they could be harmful to your fetus.
For more information, the Patient Education Pamphlet “Nutrition During Pregnancy” is available at www.acog.org/publications/patient_education. ♀