Planning a Prenatal Diet

Prenatal nutrition and diet for pregnant women can help mom and baby stay healthy

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD Beth Bolt, RPh

Expectant mothers have to consider certain everyday decisions of their life in a new way — including the food choices they make. So what should these women keep in mind now that they are "eating for two?"

Many health experts agree that there are some foods pregnant women should focus on adding to their diet, some foods they should avoid and some vitamins they should consider.

Nutritional Necessities

For the most part, according to the Mayo Clinic, a healthy eating plan for moms-to-be should follow the same principles of general healthy eating. However, there are some nutrients that these women should take care to consider, including folate.

"Folate is a B vitamin that helps prevent neural tube defects, serious abnormalities of the brain and spinal cord," the Mayo Clinic explains. This nutrient can be found in green leafy vegetables, citrus fruits and dried beans and peas.

Calcium, another important nutrient, can help build strong bones and teeth in the developing baby, and help make sure the mother's circulatory and muscular systems are running properly, says the Mayo Clinic. This nutrient can be found in dairy products and certain vegetables like broccoli and kale. Vitamin D, found in fish like salmon, can also help the baby's bones and teeth develop.

The Mayo Clinic also suggests that pregnant women focus on getting plenty of protein to help the baby grow — particularly during the second and third trimesters — from sources like eggs, fish, lean meat, poultry, dried beans and tofu.

Expectant mothers should also make sure to include iron in their diet, from sources like lean red meat, poultry and fish.

"Your body uses iron to make hemoglobin, a protein in the red blood cells that carries oxygen to your tissues. During pregnancy your blood volume expands to accommodate changes in your body and help your baby make his or her entire blood supply — doubling your need for iron," explains the Mayo Clinic.

Dietary Don'ts

Nutrition during pregnancy is not just about adding in more of the good stuff; pregnant women also have to consider taking out certain items from their diet.

"Because pregnancy affects your immune system, you and your unborn baby are more susceptible to the bacteria, viruses, and parasites that cause foodborne illness," explains the US Department of Health & Human Services (HHS). The unborn baby is also sensitive to toxins, like mercury, that may be present in some foods.

In light of these possible risks, HHS recommends that pregnant women avoid a number of foods, including unpasteurized milk and soft cheeses made from unpasteurized milk, like brie, feta and queso fresco, as these products may contain bacteria like E.coli and Listeria.

Raw seafood, like shellfish or sushi, may contain parasites or bacteria like Vibrio that can be dangerous for pregnant women.

HHS also recommends avoiding certain kinds of fish, including swordfish and king mackerel, as these can contain high levels of mercury that can cause problems for the baby.

Considering Supplements

Many women wonder if there are any supplements they should take during pregnancy. The Mayo Clinic noted that this may especially be a concern for women with special diets or health issues.

However, in an interview with dailyRx News, Andre F. Hall, MD, OB/GYN at Birth and Women’s Care in Fayetteville, North Carolina, said that he usually recommends against the use of supplements during pregnancy.

"I recommend three balanced meals daily along with a prenatal vitamin," said Dr. Hall.

According to the Mayo Clinic, prenatal vitamins often focus on providing women with folic acid (the synthetic form of the nutrient folate) and iron, along with a number of other nutrients.

"Supplements, unlike prenatal vitamins, are not regulated by the FDA (US Food and Drug Administration)," explained Dr. Hall. "As a result, it is sometimes difficult to know exactly what might be in a particular supplement. Since there is a developing child involved, I choose not to risk it."

Women should talk with their doctor about the use of supplements and vitamins during pregnancy, and about overall nutrition and diet. Eating a healthful, balanced diet with a variety of nutrients can help keep both mother and baby healthy as they grow together.

Review Date: 
May 6, 2014