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Prenatal Nutrition


As a healthcare provider, you play an essential role in helping expectant mothers choose the right nutrition for themselves and their developing babies. Healthy eating choices and adequate nutrient intake during pregnancy can go a long way in supporting a baby’s growth and development.

A healthy pregnancy starts with a healthy diet. Expectant mothers should choose foods with a dense nutrient per calorie ratio. Download a printable sample menu demonstrating a balanced daily pregnancy diet.
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Common prenatal nutrition topics

During pregnancy, the female body undergoes tremendous physical change to accommodate a growing fetus, which is bound to spark questions and concerns in the minds of moms-to-be. Below are 5 common prenatal nutrition topics that pregnant women might want to discuss during their doctor visits.

Morning sickness

During the first half of pregnancy, some women experience morning sickness. Some women experience the nausea and vomiting worse than others, but there are multiple actions that may help them feel better. One or more of the following can be used to ease the symptoms of morning sickness:

  • Rest
  • Avoid bothersome odors
  • Eat 5 or 6 small meals per day, instead of 3 large meals
  • Eat crackers before getting out of bed in the morning to help settle the stomach
  • Avoid spicy and fatty foods

Ginger is also a natural reliever of nausea. Drinking ginger ale or tea made with real ginger can help ease the nausea of morning sickness. There are also ginger herbal supplements that can be taken. Patients should use caution when combining multiple supplements.

Weight gain

Weight gain during pregnancy depends on the woman’s weight beforehand. Body mass index (BMI) is commonly used to determine healthy pregnancy weight gain. Women with a normal BMI before pregnancy should gain between 25 and 35 pounds during pregnancy. Overweight and obese women are at a higher risk for pregnancy complications and should not gain as much weight while pregnant. Women with a BMI greater than 30 should gain between 11 and 20 pounds. It might be recommended for women with a BMI greater than 40 to lose moderate weight while pregnant.

Prenatal vitamins

The best way for pregnant women to receive extra nutrients is by eating a variety of healthy foods each day. Prenatal vitamins and mineral supplements are frequently recommended due to the extra iron and folic acid needed during pregnancy. Use caution when combining prenatal vitamins with other supplements. Excess amounts of certain nutrients can be harmful to both the expectant mother and unborn baby.

Fish and shellfish

Certain large, long-lived fish contain high levels of methylmercury, which can be harmful to a developing baby. Pregnant women should avoid eating shark, swordfish, king mackerel, and tilefish. Other smaller fish have lower levels of mercury and are safe to eat while pregnant (such as shrimp, canned light tuna, salmon, pollock, and catfish). Expectant mothers should not eat fish more than 2 times a week (12 oz). Albacore tuna has a little more mercury than canned tuna, so reduce albacore tuna allowance to 6 oz a week (about one meal).

Caffeine (coffee, soda, tea, etc.)

Moderate amounts of caffeine (200 mg/day, which is equal to about 16 oz of brewed coffee) does not seem to cause miscarriages or preterm births, but it is clinically unclear whether or not caffeine intake increases the risk of having a low birth weight infant. Although apparently safe in small doses, excess caffeine can interfere with sleep, contribute to nausea, cause light-headedness, and increase urination, which can lead to dehydration. It is important for pregnant women to stay hydrated. Low-fat or skim milk and 100% fruit juices are good options, but expectant mothers should try to make water their beverage of choice.


Each passing trimester comes with its own issues. Many women experience digestive tract problems during pregnancy, such as constipation or hemorrhoids, which can cause great discomfort. Fiber and fluids are the best way to alleviate these issues. Insoluble fiber acts as a natural laxative to help keep the digestive process running smoothly and fluids only help to make the process easier. Fiber is only found in plant foods, like whole grains, wheat bran, cereals, vegetables, fruits, dried peas and beans, nuts, and seeds. Pregnant women should increase dietary fiber gradually so that the digestive tract can adapt accordingly. Although water is best, juices and milk are also good sources to help get the suggested 8-12 glasses of fluids per day.

Alcohol (beer, wine, and spirits)

Everything an expectant mother ingests is absorbed by the growing baby. Consuming alcohol, in any amount, at any time during pregnancy, can increase the chance of miscarriages, premature birth, mental retardation, fetal alcohol syndrome, and other birth defects. No amount of alcohol has been proven safe during pregnancy. Because of this, it’s best that expectant mothers abstain from consuming any amount or type of alcohol until after the baby is born.

Pregnancy food safety overview

Pregnant women are at increased risk for foodborne illness
but the best prevention is relatively simple.
The FDA recommends 4 Simple Steps:

  1. Clean - Wash hands, cutting boards, and raw fruits and vegetables
  2. Separate - Keep raw meat, poultry, and seafood separate from ready-to-eat foods
  3. Cook - Cook foods thoroughly and don’t leave cooked food out
  4. Chill - Refrigerate or freeze perishable foods

Key nutrients

A healthy pregnancy diet is not only about calories and food groups, but also important individual nutrients found in food and prenatal vitamins. Click on a category below to learn more about key nutrients important for the health of the expectant mothers and their growing babies.

Names Benefits Good Sources 
Folic acid
(folate or folacin) 
  • Helps with nervous system development
  • Reduces the risk of neural tube defects such as spina bifida
  • Oranges and orange juice
  • Green leafy vegetables
  • Avocado
  • Fortified cereals
  • Peas and beans
  • Sunflower seeds
  • Wheat germ
  • Nuts
Vitamin A
  • Helps with baby's immune system, vision, bone, and skin development
  • Sweet potato, carrot, pumpkin and other orange vegetables
  • Kale, turnip greens and other dark green leafy vegetables
  • Mange and other orange fruits
  • Beef liver
Vitamin B12
  • Works with folate to produce red blood cells
  • Helps the body use fatty acids
  • Lean meat (beef), fish (salmon, low in mercury), and poultry
  • Eggs, milk and other dairy products
Vitamin C
  • Helps form collagen, which helps cells bond
  • Helps absorb iron when consumed with iron-rich plant foods
  • Cabbage, bell peppers (red), broccoli, potatoes, tomatoes, brussels sprouts, raw spinach
  • Melons, papaya, kiwi, mango, berries, oranges, grapefruit, and other citrus fruits and juices
Vitamin D
  • Helps with bone development
  • Helps the body absorb calcium
  • Milk and egg yolks
  • Fatty fish (low in mercury)
Vitamin K
  • Promotes bone development
  • Assists the body with blood clotting
  • Dark green leafy vegetables
Names Benefits Good Sources 
3 calcium-rich foods/day
  • Helps with the baby's bone and teeth development
  • Aids in baby's growth
  • Helps with muscle and nerve regulation
  • Reduce the risk of developing pregnancy-related high blood pressure
  • Milk, yogurt, cheese, and other dairy products
  • Kale, broccoli, bok choy
  • Calcium-fortified juiced and soy drinks
  • Tofu made with calcium sulfate
  • Regulates blood sugar levels
  • Stimulates protein production for tissue development

Prenatal supplements

  • Helps the baby's heart and circulatory development
  • Maintains healthy hair and skin color

Prenatal supplements

  • Bone and tooth enamel development

Prenatal supplements

  • Regulates metabolism
  • Supports healthy brain development
  • Iodized salt
  • Milk
  • Prenatal supplements
  • Helps carry oxygen through the blood to organs, tissues, and the baby
  • May help avoid tiredness and risk of anemia
  • Red meat
  • Liver
  • Enriched whole grain cereal and breads
  • Green leafy vegetables
  • Legumes
  • Eggs
  • Prenatal Supplements
  • Helps regulate energy metabolism, blood sugar levels, nerve transmissions, and muscle contractions
 Prenatal supplements
  • Helps regulate enzymes in the body
 Prenatal supplements
  • Helps with enzyme development
 Prenatal supplements
  • Helps with bone development and energy metabolism
Prenatal supplements 
  • Protects red blood cells and cell membranes
  • Helps maintain the immune system
 Prenatal supplements
  • Helps with enzyme development 
  • Beef, lamb, turkey
  • Eggs and milk
  • Shellfish (low in mercury)
  • Whole grains
  • Nuts
  • Wheat germ
  • Tofu
  • Peanut butter

Names Benefits Good Sources 
(alpha linoleic acid)
  • Supports brain health and normal growth and development
  • Canola, soybean, flaxseed, perilla, and walnut oils
  • Dietary supplements containing flaxseed oil
 ARA (arachidonic acid)
  • Supports the baby's eye development
  • Vegetable oils
  • Nuts
  • Olives
  • Fatty fish (low in mercury)
(docosahexaenoic acid)
  • Supports brain health and normal growth and development
  • Vegetable oils
  • Nuts
  • Olives
  • Fatty fish (low in mercury)
Names Benefits Good Sources 
  • Gives the baby energy to help support the baby's growth and development
  • Fruits
  • Vegetables
  • Whole-grain breads and pasta
  • Helps support healthy digestion
  • May help alleviate constipation
  • Fruits
  • Vegetables
  • Whole grains
  • Dried peas and beans
  • Nuts and seeds
Names Benefits Good Sources 
8-12 glasses/day
  • Expands blood volume, which ensure the baby gets oxygen and nutrients
  • Can help maintain healthy digestion
  • Water
  • Skim or nonfat milk
  • 100% fruit or vegetable juice
Names Benefits Good Sources 
  • Helps with the baby's muscle, ligament, hair, fingernail, bone, brain tissue and blood cell development
  • Lean meat
  • Chicken
  • Fish
  • Dried beans
  • Milk
  • Eggs
  • Cheese
  • Nuts

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