Pregnancy and Nutrition

The best time to begin eating a healthy diet is before you become pregnant. Eating well before pregnancy will help you and your baby start out with the essential nutrients which you both need.  The U. S. Public Health Service, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), as well as the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force recommends that all women planning or capable of becoming pregnant consume or take a daily supplement of at least 0.4 mg to 0.8 mg (400 to 800 micrograms) of folic acid daily.  The CDC reports that having enough folic acid in your body can help to prevent major birth defects.  Women who might get pregnant should get at least 400 micrograms (0.4 mg) of folic acid a day. Experts recommend that women take a daily supplement that has 400 to 800 micrograms.  Women who are pregnant or breastfeeding should get 600 micrograms (0.6 mg) of folic acid a day.   If a neural tube defect occurred with a previous pregnancy, a higher dose of folic acid during may be recommended.   Eating a healthy diet is always the first best idea during pregnancy however; a prenatal vitamin may be recommended to cover any nutritional gaps in a mother’s diet.

If you are pregnant your everyday diet really needs to include key foods which will provide the nutrients necessary for your baby.  Some of the key nutrients include calcium, iron, vitamins, minerals and folic acid.

Calcium is in cheese, milk, yogurt and sardines.  If you are lactose intolerant, lactose free milk is available which has not only calcium but vitamins A & D. Also, speak to you healthcare provider about calcium supplementation. There are also nondairy calcium fortified foods.  Orange juice is now fortified with calcium and says this on the label if it has been added. Calcium helps to build strong bones and teeth.

Red meat is often at the top of the list of iron-rich foods but many other foods contain this essential mineral. To improve your iron levels, it is important to eat not only foods that are rich in iron but also foods that are high in vitamin C (like tomatoes, citrus fruits and red, yellow and orange peppers) which helps your body absorb iron from other foods.  Iron helps red blood cells deliver oxygen to your baby. Beef, pork, lamb, dark-meat poultry and seafood are all significant sources of iron.  Beef livers, chicken livers and other organ meats are especially high in iron. Fish such as sardines, anchovies, and shellfish such as clams, mussels and oysters are high in iron. Meat, poultry and fish are good foods to eat if you are low in iron because the iron in animal foods, known as heme iron, is the type of iron that is best absorbed by the body.  If you do not eat meat other sources of iron include:  dried beans and peas, fortified cereals, enriched grain products (rice), eggs, leafy green vegetables, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, sweet potatoes, dried beans and peas, raisins, prunes, prune juice and peanuts.  Vegetarians who do not eat any animal foods will most likely need a supplement.

Vitamins are found in fruits, vegetables, meats, fish, poultry, liver, legumes, nuts, and orange juice.

Folic acid is the synthetic form of folate, a B vitamin that occurs naturally in some foods. Folate is the natural form of the vitamin found in foods, while folic acid is the synthetic form used in dietary supplements and in fortified foods. Folic acid and folate work the same in the body, with one exception: folic acid is better absorbed than the natural form.  Breads and cereal products don’t naturally contain folic acid, but many of these foods are enriched with the vitamin, according to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists.  Products in this group include pasta, rice, pasta, other grain products and ready-to-eat breakfast cereals. Daily values vary from food to food; check labels carefully to make sure you’re getting enough of the essential nutrients to stay healthy during pregnancy.

Folate occurs naturally in the following foods: beans and legumes, dark green leafy vegetables, liver, poultry, pork, and shellfish and wheat bran and other whole grains.  Dark leafy vegetables include dandelion and collard greens, turnip green, asparagus, broccoli, avocado, celery, kale, mustard greens, romaine lettuce, spinach and Swiss chard. Additionally, spinach is another source of iron.  Squash is also a good source of Folic Acid.  The Institute of Medicine recommends that women get their folate from the synthetic form every day from supplements and/or fortified foods along with folate present in foods from a varied diet.

Folate also occurs naturally in citrus fruits such as grapefruit, lemons, limes and oranges.  Eating one small orange provides about 30 micrograms but a serving of orange juice contains even more — about 75 micrograms in a 6 oz. glass. Oranges also provide you with many other vitamins and minerals including vitamin C. Also part of the citrus fruit family, tangerines are a type of mandarin orange that contains folate, with about 19 micrograms in one large tangerine.

Other important nutrition choices to consider are drinking caffeinated beverages and alcohol during pregnancy.  It is a good idea to limit the amount of caffeine consumed while pregnant. Although there are conflicting results in studies on this topic; excess caffeine intake during pregnancy can interfere with sleep, can cause lightheadedness and lead to dehydration.  Remember, chocolate contains caffeine — the amount of caffeine in a chocolate bar is equal to 1/4 cup of coffee.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention there is no known safe amount of alcohol use during pregnancy.  Alcohol has been linked to premature delivery and low birth weight babies.  All types of alcohol are equally harmful, including all wines and beer. Alcohol in the mother’s blood passes to the baby through the umbilical cord. Drinking alcohol during pregnancy can cause miscarriage, stillbirth, and a range of lifelong physical, behavioral, and intellectual disabilities. These disabilities are known as fetal alcohol spectrum disorders (FASDs).

The American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. (2013, September). Frequently Asked Questions FAQ 001 Nutrition During Pregnancy. Retrieved from ACOG Resources and Publications:

United States Department of Agriculture. (2011, June). Health & Nutrition Information for Pregnant & Breastfeeding Women. Retrieved July 10, 2014, from

Organization of Teratology Information Specialists. (2011). Caffeine and pregnancy. Retrieved from MotherToBaby:


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