What Should I Eat When I Am Pregnant?

pregnant strawberry picking

Kristi and Kayli – both expecting – talked with KUTV’s fresh Living about nutrition and exercise during pregnancy. Have a look!

A version of this post was originally published May 8, 2015

I love that my husband celebrated my very first Mother’s Day not after Aidan was born but when I was pregnant with 6 weeks to go. Carrying, growing, and nourishing your baby while pregnant definitely counts as being a mom! So…happy mother’s day to expectant mothers everywhere.

As a dietitian, I often get asked about pregnancy nutrition – what and how much should expecting mothers eat? Are there any pregnancy must-eat superfoods?  And what are some quick tips on how to incorporate those good-for-you things when you might not be feeling so great, are ravenously hungry, don’t have much of an appetite, or feel incredibly tired (not to mention busy, overwhelmed, excited and anxious).

One of the cool things about our bodies (there are many) is that different situations turn on or off different pathways. A lot of things change internally during pregnancy, one of which is the absorption of nutrients. Your body naturally retains and absorbs more of the nutrients that you consume while pregnant in order to support mother’s needs as well as the needs of the growing fetus.

So what do you actually need more of?

Calories (energy): Building a little person takes a lot of energy and, while expectant mothers aren’t quite eating for two (that fetus is a pretty little peanut), it is true that your body needs more energy & nutrients during pregnancy. Here’s why:

  1. Your metabolism gets a boost during pregnancy due to the energy demands of the uterus and fetus as well as the increased effort of the mother’s heart and lungs.
  2. Growing a baby means growing additional tissue and that requires energy.

As the baby grows and pregnancy progresses, these needs increase. Current recommendations suggest that pregnant women maintain their normal calorie habits during the first trimester (the goal is not to lose weight) and consume an additional 300-350 calories / day during the second trimester and 400-450 calories / day during the third trimester.

Of course, each person is an individual, and listening to your body is crucial. When I was pregnant with my little boy, I was starving during the first trimester, but that is also when I had the most food aversions. So, I had to focus on the things that sounded good and add a couple additional snacks into my day (or night) to stave off hunger pains. (I ate a lot of oatmeal and oranges.) For women whose pregnancy sickness is moderate to severe, this first trimester can be the toughest. (More advice from another mom and dietitian.) Smaller, more frequent meals including foods that sound good (or at least tolerable) coupled with hydration can help.

Eating yogurt

Yogurt gives you a protein & calcium boost!

Protein: Protein needs increase during pregnancy. We get protein from both animal and vegetable sources – dairy foods, meat, fish, eggs, beans, tofu, whole grains, nuts/seeds – both animal and vegetable sources provide different packages of nutrients that are beneficial.

Calcium: The calcium recommendation for pregnant and non-pregnant women is the same, but calcium is imperative for the developing fetus. Your body will naturally absorb more calcium from foods during pregnancy but paying attention to getting enough calcium rich foods is important. Dairy foods provide about 72% of the calcium in US diets and are a great source of readily available and absorbable calcium. Other sources: tofu, sardines, white beans, leafy greens, fortified beverages.

Iron: Iron needs increase as pregnancy progresses. The body naturally absorbs more, but red meat, beans, and fortified cereals can be a great way to boost iron from dietary sources. A chat with your doctor can help determine if an extra supplement is necessary.

Folate: Known to help prevent neural tube defects, the supplemental form of folate, folic acid, is recommended for all women before and during pregnancy. Good food sources: lentils, chickpeas, spinach, asparagus, fortified breads, cereal and pasta.

Other important pregnancy nutrients are listed below. These are not necessarily things that you should supplement with, but having an idea of where you can get these vitamins and minerals from food can be helpful as you plan meals and think about food choices during pregnancy.

  • Vitamin A – eggs, dairy, liver, yellow & orange fruits/veggies
  • Vitamin D – the Sun!!, dairy, fortified juices, cereals, fish
  • Omega-3 Fatty Acids – fish (best source), canola oil, walnuts, flax seeds
  • Zinc – meat, chicken (dark meat), dairy, nuts, beans
  • Iodine – iodized salt (primary source), dairy, seafood, eggs, beans, potato

Dairy Foods Collage

Our TOP 3 tips on where dairy fits into a healthy pregnancy:

  1. Dairy is an excellent protein source and adding an additional serving will help meet your needs. Consider: Greek-style yogurt, cottage cheese, or a glass of milk.
  2. Dairy foods are the best source of available calcium and 3-4 daily servings will help meet your needs.
  3. Pregnancy often comes with an increased appetite, but sometimes that means eating more frequently instead of eating more at each meal. Dairy foods make perfect snacks that combine carbs + protein for energy and satiety. Cheese stick, yogurt, cottage cheese, smoothie

– Kristi Spence 

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