Pregnancy and Nutrition
Health and well-being during early pregnancy is an important time for both mother and baby. It’s vital that mum-to-be takes in a well-balanced diet, rich in nutrients for both her and her growing baby.
This section is designed to offer practical advice and important information to help all mums to be make informed choices for a happy and healthy pregnancy.
The majority of foods are safe to eat in pregnancy and, for most women, the risks associated with eating or drinking are very small indeed (apart from the possible effects of frequent heavy drinking – see below).
Nutrition and diet for mums-to-be
Some women may need to take extra care to meet all their nutritional needs during pregnancy, including
- those who don’t eat many foods from animals, or who follow a vegetarian or vegan diet
- others with restricted or limited diets
However, all women should consider the following essential nutritional needs:
- folic acid – it is recommended that women who are planning to conceive should take 400 microgram folic acid tablet every day until the twelfth week of pregnancy. It’s also recommended that she increases her intake of foods containing folic acid such as green leafy vegetables, fortified breakfast cereals, wholemeal bread and brown rice
- vitamin D – it is also advisable that pregnant women and women who are breastfeeding take vitamin D supplements. Most of our vitamin D is made in the skin when we’re out in the sunshine. However, in the UK the sunshine is only strong enough in the summer between about 11am to 3pm. This is when we often cover up or apply sun block, so many of us do not have enough vitamin D in our bodies. Vitamin D is naturally found in oily fish and eggs, with small amounts in butter and margarine. It is also found in liver, but pregnant women are recommended not to eat liver as it can contain too much vitamin A.
- iron levels – some women start pregnancy with low iron stores or they may be slightly anaemic. Blood is usually tested at a women’s first ante-natal appointment, when she will be advised to take iron supplements, if needed. Increasing the amount of iron in her diet may help her to avoid having supplements, which can cause constipation and interfere with the absorption of other nutrients. Good sources of iron include red meat, kidneys, fortified breakfast cereals, bread, pulses such as baked beans and kidney beans, eggs and green vegetables.
- calcium – it is vital for a woman to have the correct calcium intake during pregnancy, especially if she doesn’t usually eat dairy products. Calcium can be found in:
- green vegetables
- tofu made with calcium
- fortified soya milk
- Vitamin B12 – taken either as a supplement or via fortified foods is important for any pregnant women who doesn’t eat animal products
When to be cautious
Eggs are nutritious and a cheap source of protein.
|There is no need to avoid nuts, or peanuts, in pregnancy, unless the woman has an allergy and is, of course, avoiding them anyway.|
A unit is half a pint of ordinary beer/lager or one pub measure of spirits; a small (125 ml) glass of wine is 1.5 units.
What about cravings?
When pregnant, a woman may feel she wants to eat certain foods more than before. There are lots of theories about cravings. Some experts think it’s her body telling her she needs certain nutrients. There could be hormonal and psychological reasons for cravings – or it could just be pure indulgence.
As a rule it is OK to give in to food cravings as long as they are not harmful to the woman and her baby. It is also important to make sure she doesn’t put on excessive weight through over-eating when pregnant. A balanced diet, with a few treats, is always the best policy.
A pregnant woman can share any worries with her midwife. It’s most likely she will be able to give reassurance and understanding.