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The pregnant woman's guide to eating

Pregnancy is the only time in your life when what you eat directly affects another human being. That's why a healthy diet matters now more than ever. 

But learning how to balance your nutrition can be hard to do alone. To help you out, we've put together a guide for making the very best food choices. 

Eating for two—what it really means  

Now that you're expecting, you'll need lots of extra nutrients to meet the added demands of your growing baby. That includes extra protein, iron, calcium and folic acid. You may also need extra calories.

But that doesn't mean eating twice as much. Most moms-to-be only need about 300 extra calories a day during pregnancy—that's the amount in a glass of skim milk and half a sandwich. 

Not all calories are equal, though. Your baby needs nutrient-rich foods—not empty calories, such as those in sweets, sugary soft drinks and junk foods. 

Choose the right foods   

You can get nearly all of the nutrients your baby needs by eating a well-balanced diet. Every day, help yourself to foods from each of the five food groups: 

1. Grains—bread, cereal, rice, pasta and tortillas. Make at least half of them whole grains. Look for the words "whole grain" on food labels. 

2. Fruits—fresh, frozen, canned or dried. Juice that is 100% fruit juice also counts. 

3. Veggies—raw, cooked, frozen, canned or dried. Juice that is 100% vegetable juice also counts. Be sure to get a mix of dark green, orange, starchy and other vegetables, including dry beans and peas. 

4. Dairy—milk and foods made from milk, such as cheese, yogurt and ice cream. Choose fat-free or low-fat (1%) varieties. 

5. Protein—meat, poultry, seafood, beans, peas, eggs, nuts and seeds. Eat a variety of proteins and opt for lean or low-fat meat and poultry. 

For specific information about how much food from each group to eat each day, visit choosemyplate.gov/pregnancy-breastfeeding.html.

Ask about supplements

Be sure to talk to your provider about any vitamin supplements you may need.  Among other things, a prenatal vitamin supplement can ensure that you get the extra iron and folic acid you need during pregnancy.

Folic acid—a B vitamin—can help prevent birth defects of the brain and spine. But it can be very hard to get the recommended amount from your diet alone. 

Avoid harmful foods

Most foods are safe to eat when you are pregnant. But there are some foods that you are better off avoiding.

Most fish are high in protein, low in fat and full of healthy nutrients. But some fish contain high levels of mercury. Mercury can be especially harmful to your baby, reminds the March of Dimes.

It's best to avoid fish with high levels of mercury. These include:

  • Shark. 
  • Swordfish. 
  • King mackerel.
  • Tilefish. 

Check with your provider or local health department before eating any fish you catch yourself.

Other foods that can make you or your baby sick include:

  • Raw or lightly cooked eggs and foods made with them.
  • Unpasteurized milk or juices.
  • Unpasteurized soft cheeses, such as brie and feta.
  • Refrigerated smoked seafood or meat spreads.
  • Raw sprouts of any kind. 
  • Raw or undercooked meat, poultry and seafood.
  • Store-made chicken, egg and tuna salads.
  • Herbal supplements.

Very simply: Eating well when you're expecting also means knowing what foods to stay away from. 

More pregnancy news 

In addition to worrying about what to eat, it's common for pregnant women to stress over their weight gain and wonder, "Is this too much or not enough?" Take a look at our information on healthy weight gain during pregnancy

Reviewed 1/20/2022

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