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Five Pregnancy Nutrition Essentials

Updated on October 7, 2015

Eating Healthy for Two

Healthy eating is something that should concern all of us all the time. With our hectic lifestyles these days, it's hard to eat a well-balanced diet, and this lack of nutrition can be very dangerous. If we do not get enough nutrients from our food, our bodies will eventually suffer. But healthy eating is especially important for pregnant women.

When you are pregnant, there is another life that is dependent on you to get all the nutrients it needs to grow and flourish. You're not just eating for yourself anymore. You've got to think about what foods would be best for your baby.

There are certain things pregnant women should eat and certain things they should not. And there are some foods that a pregnant woman absolutely must eat if her baby is going to have the best start in life. If you don't get enough of these essential pregnancy nutrients, your baby's body will suffer along with yours.



Why should you eat spinach when you're pregnant? Well, it really wouldn't be a bad idea to eat spinach when you're not pregnant. It's full of vitamins and minerals that help with any number of medical conditions. For instance, it's great for the heart.

But, for the pregnant woman, spinach is mainly important because of the amount of folate it contains. Folate is a B vitamin that occurs naturally in food. The non-food form of the vitamin is known as folic acid. A lack of folic acid in a pregnant woman's diet has been linked with all sorts of problems with neural tube development.

What's the neural tube? It's the precursor to both the brain and the spinal cord. Incomplete development of this body part can be extremely serious - even fatal.

You need to eat at least 3 cups of spinach a day to get the recommended amount of folate. But you don't have to worry too much as long as you take a prenatal vitamin every day. Most prenatal vitamins have an adequate dose of folic acid.

Still, it's better to get your vitamins straight from the food source, and some women find that prenatal vitamins are difficult to take - especially in the early months when morning sickness is strongest.


The egg has been given a bad rap in the past due to its high cholesterol content, but, in fact, this little round food source has some really good things inside it. One awesome component of eggs is the amino acid choline.

So, what does choline do for the pregnant woman and her unborn baby? Like folate, it aids in the development of the neural tube. But, even more than that, choline has been shown to significantly improve the memory and learning functions of rats born to mothers who ingested a lot of choline.

How much choline should you be getting? About 450 mg per day - 4 eggs' worth. If you can't fathom the idea of eating 4 eggs a day, don't worry too much. Again, this amino acid is present in most prenatal vitamins in its natural state as lecithin. So, aim for at least one egg a day (preferably in the morning because the protein in the egg may actually help with your morning sickness), and be sure to take your prenatal vitamin at some point.



This yummy, low-fat snack should be eaten by expectant mothers daily because, like so many other dairy foods, it is a good source of calcium.

We all know that calcium is good for our bodies, but what makes it especially good for pregnant women? Calcium plays a role in maintaining the health of the fetus's circulatory and nervous systems. It also helps the body build and keep muscle and, of course, bone.

Most importantly for the expectant mother, though, is the fact that your baby will take the calcium it needs from your body if you don't feed it enough. This can lead to problems with osteoporosis later in life, and no one wants to experience that - or be forced to take Boniva once a month.

A pregnant woman needs at least 1000 mg of calcium a day. That's about 4 containers of Yoplait yogurt. But you don't need to just sit around and eat yogurt all day. Shoot for 2 containers and 1 cup of calcium-enriched orange juice. That will give you all the calcium you need, and the orange juice will give you an added boost of folate.

Baked Beans

Baked beans (and pretty much any other kind of bean) are a really good source of another important pregnancy nutrient - iron. Iron is essential for the proper development of the fetus's circulatory system.

It's recommended that a pregnant woman get at least 27 mg of iron per day. One cup of baked beans contains about five mg, so you would have to eat at least five cups of beans every day. That's a lot of beans! Some prenatal vitamins contain a significant amount of iron, and your doctor may prescribe an iron supplement if your blood levels show significantly low iron.

Low iron levels can lead to preterm delivery, and the infant may develop anemia later on. Rest assured that the baby takes its iron before your body can absorb it. So you will probably suffer more from low iron than your baby will.

It's nothing to sneeze at, though. Low iron can make an already exhausted pregnant woman feel even crummier, and it can even increase your risk of postpartum depression. Just do what you can to up your iron intake - either through diet or supplements.



Salmon is a wonderful source of the Omega-3 fatty acid DHA. Just one 6-ounce serving of salmon gives you more than one thousand times the amount of DHA your pregnant body needs. And this excess is stored by your body for later use. This is a good thing because pregnant women really can't eat a lot of salmon because of the mercury content.

Why is DHA important for pregnant women and their unborn children? It's essential for the baby's eye, brain, and nervous system development. DHA has also been linked with a decreased risk of preterm births. So, if you think your baby might be at risk for being born early, increase your DHA intake right now. Please note, though, that the benefits of DHA are much stronger if the DHA is consumed in the second and third trimesters.

This Is Just a Starting Point

This list is just a starting point for good nutrition during pregnancy. Yes, pregnant women need to eat all these foods, but they need to eat other foods, too.

Also, prenatal care is essential for the successful growth of any baby. Your healthy diet will certainly help your baby's development, but you can't use your diet as a substitute for doctors' visits.

Here's wishing you a safe and happy pregnancy and delivery.

Learn More About How to Have a Healthy Pregnancy Diet from Parents Magazine


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    • Joanna Verdan profile image

      Joanna Slodownik 5 years ago from New Jersey

      While I don't quite agree with you on all points you made, I completely agree that we should be favoring whole foods versus synthetic supplements.

      For example, I've written about the dangers of folic acid versus eating whole foods rich in folate. It's something that not many people know about, but excessive consumption of synthetic folic acid can be the cause of cancer. Fortunately eating whole foods rich in folate - such as spinach and other leafy greens - is completely safe, and has many health benefits.