Eating well during your pregnancy is one of the best things you can do for your developing baby – and for yourself. After all, it's a lot of hard work growing a new little person!
It may be a cliché that pregnant women need to “eat for two,” but in actual fact, you probably won’t need to eat much more than usual until the second or third trimester. Even then, you'll probably only need an extra 200-300 calories – that’s basically an extra slice of toast and a smoothie.
This means that what you eat is even more important than usual – you'll want to pack as much nutrition as you can into every meal to make sure your baby is getting everything he or she needs.
It’s important to keep regular mealtimes during pregnancy, so you won’t run out of energy during the day. It's a good idea to always start the day with a healthy breakfast, and try to eat properly at other mealtimes too.
If you feel sick during early pregnancy, try to make sure that the meals you are able to eat are good quality and nourishing. You might find it helps to have smaller meals more often. Eating small, healthy meals also helps later on in pregnancy when you might find yourself quickly feeling very full or suffering from heartburn.
All the good things
Eating a variety of foods is the best way to give both you and your baby lots of different, valuable nutrients. The building blocks of a healthy pregnancy diet are:
- Lots of fruit and vegetables - at least 5 portions a day
- Plenty of carbohydrates such as rice, pasta and potatoes
- Meat, fish, eggs, pulses or tofu for protein
- Dairy foods or non-dairy sources of calcium
- Oily fish like salmon, trout or mackerel, which are rich in Omega 3 & 6 fatty acids
- Yogurt-based foods containing probiotics ("friendly" gut bacteria)
- Prebiotic-rich food like wholegrains, bananas, onions, garlic, asparagus, artichokes, tomatoes, leeks and chicory
Pile on the veggies
Healthy eating doesn't have to be complicated or take up lots of time. A quick steak will help keep up your iron levels. A jacket potato with cheese, or pasta with sauce, plus salad, is easy and nourishing. Pile extra vegetables onto a pizza - spinach, sweetcorn and red peppers are all great choices - to help get your 5-a-day portions of fruit and vegetables. Enjoy a rainbow of different coloured fruits and vegetables, and try to make them fill around half of your plate.
1 of your 5-a-day
You'll need 80g of fruit or veg to make one of your five-a-day, but don't worry, you don't need to measure every one! Instead, use these rough guidelines to help you estimate.
- A handful of broccoli (or any other raw vegetable)
- About 3 heaped tablespoons of cooked vegetables
- One piece of medium-sized fruit, like an apple or an orange
- Two handfuls of berries
- A glass of fruit juice or a bowl of soup with a vegetable base
- Two or three smaller fruits like kiwis or apricots
Although bright and fresh is usually best, when it comes to getting enough fruit and vegetables in your diet, frozen, chilled, canned, dried or 100% juice all count too.
(Remember, though, that even 100% fruit juice contains lots of sugar, so it should only be used to make up one portion of your five-a-day.)
Folic acid, or folate, is a B vitamin that's very important for developing babies. In fact, it's so important that doctors advise women who are trying to conceive to take a daily 400mcg supplement of folic acid up until at least the 12th week of pregnancy.
You can also get some extra folic acid by eating foods like broccoli, spinach, brussel sprouts, asparagus, peas, chickpeas, baked beans, brown rice, fortified breakfast cereals, wholemeal bread and some fruit (such as oranges and bananas).
Pregnancy increases your body’s need for iron, so you'll want to factor this into your diet. Good iron-rich foods include red meat, pulses, green leafy vegetables, fortified breakfast cereals and bread. Have some fruit juice or other food high in vitamin C at the same time, as this will help your body absorb the iron better.
Vitamin D is essential for healthy bone growth. When you're pregnant, you're growing a whole new skeleton for your baby, so you'll want to make sure you're getting enough!
In the summer, we get most of our vitamin D from exposure to sunlight; however, you can also get small amounts from foods like oily fish, eggs, and dairy foods like milk and yogurt. Some foods, such as breakfast cereals, are fortified.
Of course, in the UK we don’t always see very much sun! That's why doctors advise pregnant and breastfeeding women to take a supplement containing 10ug/day of vitamin D, especially in the winter. If you're already taking a pregnancy supplement, you can check the level of vitamin D, and speak to your doctor if you think you might need more.
Organic – is it best?
Organic produce has a lot to offer – like great taste and zero pesticides, among other things! When you're pregnant, you'll probably want to limit your exposure to pesticides and other chemicals, so organic produce is a healthy choice.
If you can't afford to go 100% organic, though, don't worry; you can prioritise your shopping by using the annual Dirty Dozen list of the veggies and fruits with the highest pesticide residues. Avoid these offenders, and you can keep your exposure to a minimum without blowing the food budget.