Pregnancy and diet – Better Health Channel

Pregnancy and Diet also Good nutrition during pregnancy can help to keep you and your developing baby healthy. Your need for certain nutrients, such as iron, iodine and folate, increases when you are pregnant.

A varied diet that includes the right amount of healthy foods from the five food groups generally provides our bodies with the vitamins and minerals it needs each day. However, pregnant women may need to take vitamin or mineral supplements during pregnancy (such as folate and vitamin D).

Consult your doctor before taking any supplements. They may recommend that you have a blood test or see a dietitian to review your need to take a supplement.

Healthy weight gain during pregnancy

Steady weight gain during pregnancy is normal and important for the health of the mother and baby. However, it is also important not to gain too much weight. Excess weight gain during pregnancy can increase your risk of a number of health issues including gestational diabetes.

If you are pregnant, a good approach is to eat to satisfy your appetite, and continue to monitor your weight.

Depending on your BMI at the start of your pregnancy, the following weight gain is recommended during pregnancy:

BMI at start of pregnancy
(kg/m2)
Recommended weight gain during pregnancy

(kg) 

< 18.5 (underweight) 12.5 – 18.0
 18.5 – 24.9 (healthy) 11.5 – 16.0
 25.0 – 29.9 (overweight) 7.0 – 11.5
 > 30 (overweight) 5.0 – 9.0

If you are overweight, pregnancy is not the time to start dieting or trying to lose weight. Weight gain within these ranges is important to support the growth and development of your baby.

To maintain an appropriate weight gain during pregnancy, it is important to:

  • choose healthy foods from the five food groups
  • limit discretionary foods and drinks high in saturated fat, added sugars and added salt, such as cakes, biscuits and sugary drinks
  • remain active during your pregnancy.

Healthy eating for pregnant women

Choose a wide variety of healthy foods from the five food groups during pregnancy to make sure your and your baby’s nutritional needs are met. Good nutrition will support the health and growth of your baby. You may find that you need to eat more of some foods to ensure key nutrients are obtained, but there is no need to ‘eat for two’.

You can eat well during pregnancy by:

  • Enjoying a variety of fruits and vegetables of different types and colours. It is recommended that you consume 2 serves of fruit and 5 serves of vegetables every day
  • Increasing your intake of grain and cereal foods to 8½ serves a day. Choose mostly wholegrain and high fibre options
  • Choosing foods that are high in iron, such as lean red meat or tofu. Iron-rich foods are important for pregnant women. 3½ serves of meat or meat alternatives are recommended
  • Making a habit of drinking milk, and eating hard cheese and yoghurt, or calcium-enriched alternatives. Reduced-fat varieties are best. 2½ serves per day are recommended
  • Drinking plenty of water

Foods and drinks that are high in saturated fat, added sugar and salt are not a necessary part of a healthy diet. Limit your intake of these to small amounts.

The Australian Dietary Guidelines outline what is a healthy diet for pregnant women to make sure they have enough energy and nutrients for themselves and for their growing baby.

Australian Dietary Guidelines serving recommendations for pregnant women, by food group

 Food groupServes per dayExample serving size 
Vegetables and legumes/beans18 years or under: 5
19–50 years: 5
½ cup cooked vegetables
½ cup cooked or canned* beans, peas or lentils
1 cup green leafy or raw salad vegetables
½ cup sweet corn
½ medium potato or other starchy vegetables
1 medium tomato
 Fruit18 years or under: 2
19–50 years: 2
1 medium fruit, such as apple, banana, orange
2 small fruits, such as apricots, kiwi fruits or plums
1 cup diced or canned fruit (no added sugar)

Or only occasionally

125 ml (½ cup) fruit juice (no added sugar)
30 g dried fruit (such as 4 apricot halves, 1 ½ tablespoons sultanas)

Grain (cereal) foods, mostly wholegrain and/or high-fibre varieties18 years or under: 8
19–50 years: 8½
1 slice bread, ½ medium roll or flat bread (40 g)
½ cup cooked rice, pasta, noodles, barley, buckwheat, semolina, polenta, burghul or quinoa
½ cup cooked porridge, 2/3 cup wheat cereal flakes, ¼ cup muesli
3 crispbreads
1 crumpet, small English muffin or scone
Lean meats and poultry, fish, eggs, tofu, nuts and seeds and legumes/beans18 years or under: 3½
19–50 years: 3 ½
65 g cooked lean meats, such as beef, lamb, veal, pork, goat or kangaroo
(90–100 g raw)
80 g cooked lean poultry, such as chicken, turkey (100 g raw)
100 g cooked fish fillet (115 g raw) or one small can of fish
2 large eggs
1 cup cooked or canned* legumes/beans, such as lentils, chickpeas or split peas
170 g tofu
30 g nuts or seeds, nut/seed paste*
Milk, yoghurt, cheese and/or alternatives, mostly reduced fat18 years or under: 3 ½
19–50 years: 2 ½
1 cup (250 ml) fresh, UHT long-life, reconstituted powdered milk or buttermilk
½ cup (120 ml) evaporated milk
2 slices (40 g) hard cheese, such as cheddar
¾ cup (200 g) yoghurt
1 cup (250 ml) soy, rice or other cereal drink, with at least 100 mg of added calcium per 100 ml

*Choose canned foods with no added salt.

Folic acid (folate) and pregnancy

Folate (known as folic acid when added to foods) is a B-group vitamin found in a variety of foods. Folic acid helps protect against neural tube defects in the developing foetus. It is important for pregnant women to make sure they are receiving enough of this important vitamin.

For women who are planning a pregnancy, and during the first three months of pregnancy, a daily folic acid supplement of 500 micrograms is recommended, as well as eating foods that are naturally rich in folate or are fortified with folic acid.

Folate in your diet

Excellent food sources of folate include:

  • asparagus
  • bran flakes
  • broccoli
  • Brussels sprouts
  • chickpeas
  • dried beans
  • lentils
  • spinach.

Very good food sources of folate include:

  • cabbage
  • cauliflower
  • leeks
  • oranges
  • orange juice
  • parsley
  • peas
  • wheat germ
  • wholegrain bread.

Good food sources of folate include:

  • hazelnuts
  • vegemite
  • parsnips
  • potato
  • salmon
  • strawberries
  • tomato
  • unsalted peanuts
  • walnuts.

Although liver is high in folate, it is not recommended for women who are, or could be pregnant, because of its high vitamin A content.

Iron and pregnancy

During pregnancy, a woman’s requirement for iron increases. This is because the developing foetus draws iron from the mother to last it through the first five or six months after birth.

Iron losses are reduced during pregnancy, because the woman is no longer menstruating. However, this is not enough to offset the needs of the developing foetus. It is important for pregnant women to eat iron-rich foods every day, such as meat, chicken, seafood, dried beans and lentils, and green leafy vegetables.

Animal sources of iron are readily absorbed by the body. Iron from plant sources is not absorbed as easily, but absorption is helped when these foods are eaten together with foods that contain vitamin C (such as oranges). This is important for women who follow a vegetarian diet.

The recommended daily intake (RDI) of iron during pregnancy is 27 mg a day (9 mg a day more than for non-pregnant women). Iron deficiency during pregnancy is common in Australia, and iron supplements may be needed by some women. It is important to discuss your need for supplements with your doctor, as iron can be toxic (poisonous) in large amounts.

Iodine and pregnancy

Iodine is an important mineral needed for the production of thyroid hormone, which is important for growth and development. If you don’t have enough iodine intake during pregnancy, it increases your baby’s risk of mental impairment and congenital hypothyroidism (previously known as cretinism).

Foods that are good sources of iodine include:

  • seafood
  • seaweed (including nori and kelp)
  • eggs
  • meat
  • dairy products.

Iodised salt also includes iodine. It is important to avoid adding salt at the table or in cooking, but if you do, make sure it is labelled iodised.

Due to the re-emergence of iodine deficiency in Australia, iodised salt is now added to all commercially sold bread in Australia and New Zealand, with the exception of organic and unleavened bread.

Pregnant and breastfeeding women have increased iodine requirements. Iodine supplementation of 150 micrograms per day is recommended for women planning a pregnancy, throughout pregnancy and while breastfeeding.

Vitamin D and pregnancy

Vitamin D is essential for your baby’s growth and development and your own health during pregnancy.

We get most of our vitamin D from the sun. Ultraviolet (UV) radiation from the sun produces vitamin…

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