Congratulations – you’re expecting! It is undoubtedly a joyous time, but also one filled with many questions. According to Parents.com, three of the “9 Must-Ask OB-Gyn Questions” for pregnant women are related to nutrition1. In addition to needing more calories while pregnant, there are certain key nutrients which deserve some extra attention. These include Folic Acid, DHA, Choline, and Vitamin D. Read on to understand general diet recommendations, unique health benefits, and nutrition tips for pregnant women and babies.
General diet: First and foremost, two of the most basic goals for nutrition during pregnancy, barring any pre-existing conditions, are to (1) eat with balance and (2) safely gain an appropriate amount of weight. The recommended weight to gain throughout your pregnancy will vary from person to person and will depend on the weight you were prior to getting pregnant. It’s important to discuss this with your doctor so that you can determine what is best for you and your circumstances.
Regarding calories, women who were at a healthy weight before becoming pregnant require anywhere between 2,200 and 2,900 calories per day when they’re expecting. A gradual increase in calories is recommended – your caloric needs will change as you progress through your pregnancy.
- Trimester 1: no requirement for extra calories
- Trimester 2: an extra 340 calories per day are recommended
- Trimester 3: an extra 450 calories per day are recommended (add this on to what you were consuming before you became pregnant)2.
It is best if these calories come from whole foods, rather than sweetened beverages for example. Pregnant women should continue to focus on eating with balance, eating regularly (don’t skip meals!), and drinking plenty of water. Ensure each meal has a source of protein (chicken, fish, turkey, tofu, etc.), a nutritious starch (quinoa, brown rice, sweet potatoes, etc.), and non-starchy vegetables (broccoli, cauliflower, mushrooms, green beans, salad, etc.).
Folic Acid: Folic Acid is a critical nutrient during pregnancy. It is important for healthy development of the neural tube, which will become your baby’s brain and spinal cord. Also known as Folate or Vitamin B9, this nutrient is essential for many bodily functions, especially during periods of rapid growth and development. If you’re taking a prenatal specific vitamin, it will contain folic acid, however it’s also a good idea to include foods that contain this important nutrient. Foods rich in folic acid include dark green leafy vegetables (spinach, broccoli, brussels sprouts), beans, peanuts, fresh fruits, whole grains and eggs. Current guidelines recommend at least 600 micrograms (mcg) of folic acid daily for mamas to be. (For perspective, a cup of cooked broccoli has about 160 mcg of folic acid.)
DHA: Docosahexaenoic Acid (DHA) is the most abundant omega-3 fatty acid in the brain and eyes. Naturally found in breastmilk, it supports healthy infant growth and development; years of research support its role in infant brain and eye health. Recent research suggests that DHA may play a role in decreasing pre-term birth3 and even the development of childhood food allergies, such as eggs and peanuts4. In addition, a growing body of evidence suggests getting enough omega-3 fatty acids in pregnancy may affect the development of asthma in kids. Research also suggests there is a link between DHA levels and better sleep.
Dietary sources of DHA include fatty fish (anchovies, salmon, tuna, mackerel, halibut) and eggs. The challenge is that many physicians recommend limiting fatty fish intake during pregnancy due to concerns over mercury. The good news is that most prenatal vitamins include DHA and some even offer DHA from a vegetarian algae source! Be on the lookout for a prenatal that offers at a minimum 200 mg DHA/day.
Choline: Choline tends to be one of those nutrients we forget about, but it is so vitally important for pregnant women to consume. Our bodies make Choline, but not in sufficient amounts, therefore we have to rely on sources from our diets; but most of us, especially pregnant women, aren’t getting enough.
Choline is important for pregnancy because it supports the neurocognitive development of infants. The Food and Drug Administration recently established a Recommended Dietary Intake (RDI) for choline of 450 mg/day for pregnant women. Unfortunately, many prenatal vitamins in the US have either no choline or insignificant amounts. It is therefore important for pregnant women to consume foods sources of Choline in their daily diet. These include beef, eggs, chicken, fish, pork, nuts legumes and cruciferous veggies like broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, or kale5. (For perspective, one cup of cooked broccoli has about 60mg of choline.)
Vitamin D: By helping the body absorb calcium and phosphorus, Vitamin D supports healthy bone development in kids. Research also suggests that vitamin D plays a role in immune health. Studies have pointed to a link between low Vitamin D levels in pregnancy and low birth weight, preeclampsia, potentially asthma, and even glucose intolerance. Also essential for healthy skin and eyesight, it is recommended that pregnant women get 600 International Units (IU) per day. Sources include fortified milk, salmon, and 15 minutes exposure to sunlight. In addition, your prenatal vitamin should provide Vitamin D.
1Koutsky, Judy. (n.d.). Pregnant? 9 Must-Ask OB-Gyn Questions. Parents. Retrieved from https://www.parents.com/pregnancy/my-body/pregnancy-health/pregnant-9-must-ask-ob-gyn-questions/
2Klemm, Sarah. (2019, July 9). Healthy Weight During Pregnancy. Eat Right: Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. Retrieved from https://www.eatright.org/health/pregnancy/prenatal-wellness/healthy-weight-during-pregnancy
3Middleton P, Gomersall JC, Gould JF, Shepherd E, Olsen SF, Makrides M. Omega-3 fatty acid addition during pregnancy. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews 2018, Issue 11 . Art. No.: CD003402. DOI: 10.1002/14651858.CD003402.pub3
4Vahdaninia, M. et al: “Omega-3 LCPUFA Supplementation during Pregnancy and Risk of Allergic Outcomes or Sensitization in Offspring: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis,” Annal Allergy Asthma Immunology 122(3):302-313 e2, Mar. 2019.
5Korsmo, H. W., Jiang, X., & Caudill, M. A. (2019). Choline: Exploring the Growing Science on Its Benefits for Moms and Babies. Nutrients, 11(8), 1823. https://doi.org/10.3390/nu11081823
For more nutritional advice check out this blog on Stay at Home Meal Planning Tips and Tricks.
All content found on the Lansinoh.com website, including: text, images, audio, or other formats were created for informational purposes only. The content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. Author: Laura King, RDN, LDN, is a registered and licensed Dietitian Nutritionist in Maryland. She has spent the last 16 years working in healthcare and the nutrition industry, where she most recently used evidenced-based research to create innovative solutions in early life nutrition. Laura believes that breast milk represents the nutritional gold standard for infant feeding, and that supporting moms' nutrition through their breastfeeding journeys is paramount.