A healthy, balanced diet both before conception and during pregnancy will help give your baby the best start in life.
Fruit and vegetables are key to any healthy diet. Aim to eat at least five portions of different fruit and vegetables every day - these can be fresh, frozen, tinned, dried or juice. If you choose to eat raw fruit or vegetables ensure that they are thoroughly washed or peeled before eating. Different coloured fruit and vegetables provide different nutrients, so try to eat a wide variety.
Choose starchy foods at each meal, such as bread, pasta, rice, potatoes and pulses (eg lentils and beans) to provide energy and nutrients.
Protein is essential for growth. Include lean meat, poultry, fish (limit oily fish such as salmon, mackerel and pilchards to 1-2 portions per week), nuts, grains, pulses and seeds.
Calcium-rich foods should be included in your diet - aim to have at least three servings of dairy foods per day such as a glass of semi-skimmed milk, a low-fat yogurt and a small piece of cheese. Vitamin D is vital for calcium absorption - most of the vitamin D we need is made in the body by the action of sunlight on our skin.
Also known as folate in its natural state, folic acid is one of the B-group vitamins. Folic acid has been shown to reduce the risk of neural tube defects in the baby such as spina bifida. Ideally you should have started to take a daily 400 microgram supplement before you were pregnant as it is particularly important before conception and during the first twelve weeks of pregnancy. Include foods in your diet that are naturally high in folic acid, eg green vegetables and foods that have been fortified with folic acid, such as some breads and breakfast cereals.
Iron is necessary for healthy blood. A lack of iron can lead to iron deficiency anaemia which is associated with frequent infections, tiredness and low moods. Iron needs are increased during pregnancy so choose plenty of iron-rich foods such as red meat, green vegetables, fortified breakfast cereals, pulses, bread and dried fruits. Vitamin C helps with the absorption of iron from foods so serve fresh fruit or juice or vegetables with iron-rich food. Tea and coffee can make it harder for your body to absorb iron so avoid drinking them when eating iron-rich foods. If the iron level in your blood becomes low, your midwife may suggest that you take iron supplements.
Iron: Vegetarians need to ensure they include plenty of iron in their diet as vegetable sources are not as well absorbed.
Calcium: Vegans and vegetarians who consume few dairy products need to ensure they get sufficient calcium in their diet and may need a supplement. Good sources include soya milk. green vegetables, almonds, tofu, wholegrain cereals and pulses.
Vitamin B12: This vitamin is essential for the development of your baby. It is found in dairy products, fortified soya milk, eggs and yeast extract. However B12 is not found in vegetable foods so vegans may not obtain enough from dietary sources, check with your midwife to see if a supplement is necessary.
Weight gain during pregnancy
Most women will put on around 10-12.5kg (22-28lb) during their pregnancy. However, weight gain varies and depends on your pre-pregnancy weight. It is especially important to eat a healthy diet when pregnant so cut down on foods high in fat and sugar - too much weight gain could increase your blood pressure. It is also important not to diet during pregnancy.
Healthy snacks and drinks
Snacking on healthy food can help keep energy levels up. Drink fresh fruit juices and plenty of water rather than fizzy, sugary drinks. Cut down on fatty, sugary snacks such as cakes, biscuits and crisps and choose alternatives:
- Fresh fruit
- Dried fruit eg apricots, raisins
- Raw vegetable sticks eg carrots, peppers, cucumber
- Low-fat yogurt
- Vegetable soup
- Wholemeal toast with low fat spread
- Sandwiches, rolls or pitta bread with salad and lean ham, chicken or cottage cheese
- Breadsticks and houmous
- Toasted teacakes, muffins or crumpets with low fat spread
- Glass of milk or milkshake made with fresh fruit
Foods to limit
Foods high in vitamin A
Excess consumption of vitamin A can harm your baby so you should avoid taking any supplements containing vitamin A including fish liver oil supplements. Also avoid eating liver which is high in vitamin A and liver products such as pâté.
It is important to limit the amount of caffeine that you have each day. It occurs in some foods eg chocolate and hot drinks eg tea and coffee. Caffeine is also found in some soft drinks and energy drinks. The Food Standards Agency recommends that pregnant women should limit their caffeine intake to no more than 300mg a day. High levels of caffeine can result in babies having a low birth weight or even miscarriage.
What contains 300mg of caffeine?
- 4 cups of instant coffee
- 3 cups of brewed coffee
- 6 cups of tea
- 8 cans of cola
- 4 cans of energy drink
- 8 x 50g bars of plain chocolate
When a pregnant women drinks alcohol, the alcohol can pass to the baby through the placenta and affect the baby's development. Excessive drinking can lead to low weight at birth and can also affect the physical and mental development of the child. Therefore avoid getting drunk and drink no more than 1 or 2 units once or twice a week.
How much alcohol is a unit?
|No. of units||Amount of alcohol|
|1 unit:||25ml measure of spirit (40% alcohol)|
|1.5 units:||125ml glass of wine (12% alcohol)|
|2 units:||175ml glass of wine (12% alcohol)
1 pint beer, larger or cider (3.5% alcohol)
Foods to avoid
|Raw or partially cooked eggs||Salmonella|
|Shark, marlin and swordfish||High mercury levels|
|Raw shellfish||Food poisoning|
Visit The Food Standards Agency for lots more useful advice (this link will open a new window).
For advice on pregnancy and a vegetarian or vegan diet:
The Vegetarian Society
www.vegsoc.org (This link will open a new window)
The Vegan Society
www.vegansociety.com (This link will open a new window)