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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.

All women who are pregnant should take a multivitamin containing 16-20 mg of iron and 0.4 mg of folic acid every day. Some women need to take more folic acid. Ask your health care provider about the amount of folic acid you should take.

How much weight should you gain?

It is normal and healthy to gain weight during pregnancy. It is important to gain the recommended amount of weight to have the healthiest pregnancy possible. 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 your age or 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. Gaining weight at a steady pace is a sign of a healthy pregnancy.

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 With Canada’s Food Guide

To make sure you get all of the vitamins, minerals and nutrients that you and your developing baby need, follow the Eating Well with Canada’s Food Guide.  Aim for the number of food guide servings from each food group every day.

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 from the food group of your choice every day.

Fluids
Fluids carry nutrients to your body and your growing baby, take away waste, keep you cool, help prevent constipation and help control swelling. Have 500 mL (2 cups) of milk every day. If you don’t drink milk, choose fortified soy beverages. When drinking non-dairy beverages, make sure that they are fortified or enriched. Enjoy water regularly and more often in hot weather and when you are active.

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

If you drink coffee or tea (green or black), limit yourself to 2 cups (500 ml) of drip brew coffee or 2-3 cups of tea a day. Aim for no more than 300 mg of caffeine a day when you are pregnant. This is the amount of caffeine in about 2 (8 oz) cups of coffee. Chocolate and some varieties of pop also contain caffeine. Avoid energy drinks.

Fill 1/2 your plate with vegetables and fruit!

fill your platecanada's food guide chart

 

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


Special Food and Beverage Concerns

What you Need to Know About Eating Fish
Fish is a healthy choice when you are pregnant and a great source of protein and other nutrients, such as vitamin D, zinc, iron and omega-3 fats.

However some types of fish and shellfish may contain mercury. Because mercury is a toxin it affects the developing brain. It is especially important that women who are pregnant or nursing and young children, limit their exposure to mercury. You can continue to enjoy the benefits of eating fish by following these recommendations.

Fish to Eat
All Canadians should eat at least two Food Guide servings of fish each week. One Food Guide serving is 2 ½ oz (75 g). Vary the type of fish you eat.

Choose fish that is lower in mercury, such as:

  • anchovy clams herring salmon
  • Atlantic mackerel cod lake white fish sardines
  • blue crab flounder mullet shrimp
  • capelin haddock mussels smelt
  • char halibut pollock trout
  • tilapia oysters hake

Fish to Limit
Limit the amount of fresh and frozen tuna, shark, swordfish, marlin, orange roughy and escolar to 5 oz (150 g) per month.

What about canned tuna?
There are no limits on eating light tuna because it is made from younger and smaller tuna species (e.g. skipjack) that have less mercury. Limit your intake of albacore (white) tuna, which is higher in mercury, to no more than 10 oz (300 g) per week.

Mercury in Fish (Government of Canada)

Vegetarian Eating
Most vegetarian diets, if planned and chosen well, can support a healthy pregnancy. If you do not eat any foods that come from animals, it is sometimes harder to meet your nutrient needs while you are pregnant. Ask your health care provider to refer you to a Registered Dietitian for nutrition counselling to ensure your diet is well balanced.

Herbal Teas
The safety of all herbal teas and drinks during pregnancy has not been tested. Safe teas when limited to 2-3 cups a day are: ginger, bitter orange/orange peel, Echinacea, peppermint, red raspberry leaf, rosemary and rosehip. It’s best to avoid all other herbal teas.

Artificial Sweeteners
Some sugar substitutes are safe in moderation during pregnancy. They shouldn’t replace nutrient rich foods needed for a healthy pregnancy.

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. It is safest to avoid the following high-risk foods because of how these foods are prepared and stored.

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), and poultry.
  • 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. homemade Caesar salad dressing, eggnog and raw cookie dough).
  • Raw sprouts.

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; don’t rely on colour for doneness (e.g. hamburger 160° F (71° C) chicken pieces 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; even melon, cantaloupe and oranges.
  • 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.
  • Sanitize kitchen surfaces with a small amount of chlorine bleach added to room temperature water (1 tsp bleach to 4 cups water). Leave this solution on the surface you are cleaning for one minute.

Questions about healthy eating?Call and speak to a registered dietitian about nutrition and healthy eating with Telehealth Ontario at 1-866-797-0000.

For information on local registered dieitian support see “Local programs and services”

Resources

Healthy Eating for a Healthy Baby (Best Start Resource Centre)
Food Safety for Pregnant Women (Health Canada)

Food Safety and Pregnant Women (YouTube – Health Canada)

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