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Healthy Eating – Pregnancy

pregnant woman on scales

Healthy eating plays a very important role in having a healthy pregnancy. When you eat a well-balanced diet not only do you provide the right nutrients to help your baby grow and be healthy, but you also improve your own health. You:

  • reduce your chances of low iron (anemia), high blood pressure, and gestational diabetes.
  • gain the recommended amount of weight.
  • have more energy.
  • prepare your body for labour, delivery, and breastfeeding.
  • create healthy habits now that will help you become a good role model for your child in the future.

Take Note: All women who could get pregnant, who are pregnant, and who are breastfeeding should take a prenatal vitamin containing folic acid and iron every day. Folic acid reduces the risk of birth defects in early pregnancy. Some women need to take more folic acid or iron. Ask your health care provider about the amount you should take. It is important to take only what is recommended by your health care provider. Not all prenatal vitamins are the same so check the label to make sure it contains what and how much your health care provider recommends for you.

How much weight should you gain?

A healthy weight gain not only helps your baby have a healthy start, but it reduces your risk of complications in pregnancy and at birth and improves your long-term health. How much weight you should gain depends on how much you weighed before you got pregnant and other factors such as if you are expecting more than one baby. Talk to your health care provider about a healthy weight gain for you. The recommendations in the chart below are based on your Body Mass Index (BMI – a number based on a comparison of your weight to your height) before you got pregnant.

table of estimated weight gain during pregnancy

Health Canada’s Pregnancy Weight Gain Calculator helps you determine the recommended weight gain that will promote a healthy pregnancy.

Pay attention to how quickly you gain weight. If you are gaining more, or a lot less, than 1 pound (0.5 kg) a week speak to your health care provider. There are risks to gaining too much or too little.

diagram depicting weight gain by area on body

 

Feeling unwell?

Try the tips under Heartburn and Nausea on the “Changes in Pregnancy” page. If you can’t stop vomiting, your heartburn won’t go away or you feel too sick to eat at all, talk with your health care provider.

What about twins?

You will need extra calories and nutrients and should expect to gain more weight than someone carrying one baby. Gaining the right amount of weight, especially between 20 to 28 weeks is important, because of the higher risk of giving birth early and having low birth weight babies. It is best to gain this weight slowly and steadily. Ask your health care provider for recommendations that are best for you.

Eating Well During Pregnancy

Eat “twice as healthy, not twice as much”. Eat plenty of vegetables and fruits, whole grains, and protein. Choose protein foods that come from plants more often. Try to limit highly processed foods that are high in sodium, sugar, and saturated fat.

For a healthy, balanced diet and information about serving sizes, follow Canada’s Food Guide

During your first trimester you do not need to eat any extra calories. During your second and third trimesters you need 2-3 extra Food Guide servings every day.

Here are a few examples of foods you can add to your meals and snacks:

  • A bowl of whole-grain breakfast cereal with a cup of milk and a banana
  • A piece of cheese and a slice of whole-grain bread
  • A mixture of nuts and dried fruit and a hard-boiled egg

Fill 1/2 your plate with vegetables and fruit!

fill your plate

Baby Building Nutrients

How it Helps Baby and You

  • helps your body make blood
  • helps to prevent birth defects in the spine and brain, known as neural tube defects (NTDs)

NOTE: Your doctor may recommend that you take a larger amount of folic acid if you have a family history of NTDs or certain medical conditions.

Food Sources

  • beans, chickpeas and lentils
  • fortified cereals
  • romaine lettuce
  • oranges & orange juice
  • spinach & broccoli
  • peas & brussel sprouts

How it Helps Baby and You

  • work together to build healthy bones and teeth
  • vitamin D is needed to absorb calcium
  • help ensure your bones stay dense and strong and don't thin in the future

Food Sources

Calcium:

  • best food sources are milk and milk products such as yogurt with vitamin D added
  • If you do not drink milk:

beverages fortified with calcium (e.g. orange juice), fortified soy beverage,
cheese

Other food sources:

  • legumes
  • some green leafy vegetables (kale or turnip greens)
  • almonds
  • whole grains

Vitamin D:

  • milk
  • egg yolks
  • higher-fat fish such as salmon, mackerel and sardines
  • fortified breakfast cereals
  • margarine

How it helps baby and you:

  • makes healthy blood for you (yours doubles) your growing baby and the placenta
  • carries oxygen to the cells for energy
  • prevents low iron (anemia) which makes you feel more tired and catch colds and other infections
  • helps your baby's brain development, behaviour and general health

Food Sources

There are two types of iron in food; heme and non-heme. Your body absorbs heme iron better.

Sources of Heme Iron:

  • red meat - beef, pork, lamb, veal
  • turkey and chicken
  • fish and seafood
  • liver (limit during pregnancy because it contains high levels of vitamin A which may be harmful to your developing baby)


Sources of Non-Heme Iron:eggs

  • breakfast cereal (fortified with iron)
  • breads and pasta (whole grain and enriched)
  • beans, lentils, dried peas
  • seeds and nuts
  • dark leafy green vegetables
  • dried fruits


To help your body get the most iron from non-heme sources:
Eat foods rich in vitamin C (helps increase absorption):

  • tomatoes and tomato juice
  • sweet red peppers
  • kiwi
  • oranges or orange juice
  • cantaloupe
  • strawberries
  • broccoli
  • Avoid coffee or tea one or two hours before or after a meal


How it helps baby and you:

  • needed for health and development of your baby's eyes, brain and nervous system

3 types of omega-3 fatty acids:

  • DHA, EPA and ALA
  • your body does not make enough of these fats so you must get them from your food


Fluids

Your blood volume increases during pregnancy, so you need to drink lots of fluids everyday—and even more during warmer weather and while exercising.

Make water your drink of choice.

Avoid alcoholic drinks altogether. There is no safe amount of alcohol intake during pregnancy.

Caffeine is a type of stimulant that is found in certain foods and beverages, including coffee, black and green tea, pop, and chocolate. If you choose to have caffeine during pregnancy, it is recommended to drink no more than 2 cups (8 oz) of medium strength coffee or 2-3 cups of tea a day. Try “half-caf” or de-caffeinated beverages instead. Avoid energy drinks.

Foods to Avoid When Pregnant

Because of changes in your immune system during pregnancy, you and your baby are more susceptible to foodborne illness from bacteria such as Salmonella, E. coli and Listeria.

Avoid the following foods while pregnant:

  • Unpasteurized juices, cider, milk, cheeses, and dairy products
  • Pasteurized soft cheeses (e.g. brie, camembert, feta, goat cheese and blue-veined cheeses) unless heated to steaming hot 165° F (74° C)
  • Uncooked and undercooked meat, seafood (e.g. smoked salmon, sushi, oysters, clams)
  • Deli meats (e.g. ham, bologna, roast beef, turkey breast, hot dogs) unless heated to steaming hot
  • Patés
  • Cold leftovers unless reheated to original cooking temperatures
  • All foods made with raw or lightly cooked eggs (e.g. some salad dressings, eggnog and raw cookie dough)
  • Raw sprouts

See Health Canada’s Guide to Food Safety for Pregnant Women for more information.

Fish High in Mercury 
Mercury is a metal that can be harmful to your developing baby. Some fish and other types of seafood absorb mercury more than others. Types of fish to avoid or limit during pregnancy include marlin, shark, swordfish, and bigeye tuna.

Low-mercury fish (5oz or 150g/week) however is a healthy choice when you are pregnant as it is a great source of protein and other nutrients, such as vitamin D, zinc, iron, and omega-3 fats.

Use A Guide to Eating Fish to help you choose fish lower in mercury.

Food Safety

Prepare food safely to stay healthy:

  • Wash your hands, surfaces, and equipment (including sponges and dish cloths) often.
  • Thaw frozen foods in the refrigerator or in a microwave, not on the counter at room temperature.
  • Use a food probe thermometer. Cook all meat to safe temperatures (e.g. hamburger to 160° F (71° C), chicken pieces to 165° F (74° C), whole poultry to 180° F (82° C), food mixtures 165° F (74° C)).
  • Cook eggs so the egg yolk and white are solid, not runny.
  • Always refrigerate leftovers right away and use a fridge thermometer to ensure your fridge is at 39° F (4° C) or colder.
  • Wash all vegetables and fruit well under running water.
  • Have your well water tested for bacteria at least three times a year (spring, summer and fall). Sample bottles are available at the Regional Public Health Lab and at Peterborough Public Health.

Questions about nutrition during pregnancy? Find a Registered Dietitian or call Health Connect Ontario at 811 to speak to a Registered Dietitian.

For more information on local nutrition support see Local Programs and Services

Resources

Healthy Eating for a Healthy Baby (Nutrition Connections)

Food Safety for Pregnant Women (Health Canada)

Food Safety and Pregnant Women (YouTube – Health Canada)

 

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