Healthy food is crucial to healthy pregnancy and healthy baby. During pregnancy, you need certain essential nutrients. You should get these from the food. Or, if necessary, from supplements. Also, certain foods should be avoided because these are harmful for the fetus.

Essential nutrients

The five essential nutrients that you need throughout pregnancy are:

  • Iron is required to make hemoglobin, a protein in the red blood cells that carries oxygen to the body’s tissues. Pregnant women need twice as much iron as non-pregnant woman, so that more blood is made to supply oxygen to the baby. Iron deficiency can cause anemia, headaches, and fatigue. Severe iron deficiency anemia increases the risk of premature birth, low birth weight baby, and postpartum depression. Required: 27 milligrams a day.
  • Folate and folic acid. Folate is a B vitamin. Its synthetic form is folic acid. It prevents brain-development problems, and spinal cord (neural tube defects) problems in the fetus. And it reduces the risk of premature birth and of low-birth-weight baby. Required: 400 micrograms (mcg) a day before conception, and 600 to 1,000 mcg during pregnancy.
  • Protein is crucial for growth of baby’s brain and tissues and organs. It also increases mother’s blood supply. Required: 71 grams a day.
  • Calcium is required for strong bones and teeth. It also helps healthy circulatory, muscular, and nervous systems. Required: 1,000 milligrams (mg) a day, or 1,300 mg a day if you are a teenager.
  • Vitamin D works with calcium to help baby’s bones and teeth. Required: 600 international units (IU) a day.

Foods to get the required nutrients

For healthy mother and baby, have food in suggested quantities from all these seven groups:

  • Fruits: 3-4 servings a day of medium-size fruit, preferably fresh, that may include ½ banana, at least one citrus fruit like one small orange, and not more than ¾ cup of 100% fruit juice, like calcium and Vitamin D fortified orange juice. Other good fruits are avocados, blueberries, raspberries, goji berries, strawberries, acai berries, apples, citrus fruits, mangoes, pears, pomegranates, and grapes.
  • Vegetables: 3-5 servings a day. One serving is one cup of raw leafy vegetables, or ½ cup of cooked vegetables. Chose different colored vegetables: red, orange, dark leafy greens, yellow. Include spinach, kale, chard, beans, broccoli, asparagus, artichokes, cauliflower, celery, peppers, cucumbers, salad greens, squash, corn, lentils, peas, beans, chickpeas, soybeans, red bell peppers, and carrots.
  • Dairy foods: 3 servings a day of low fat or non-fat milk, yogurt especially Greek yogurt, cottage cheese, and cheese. One serving is 1 cup of milk or yogurt, 1.5 ounces of natural cheese or 2 ounces of processed cheese. If you cannot digest milk, or are lactose intolerant, chose lactose-free products or calcium fortified foods like soymilk.
  • Protein: 2-3 servings a day of lean meats (but avoid liver), poultry, fish, eggs, beans, lentils, nuts like walnuts, peanuts and almonds, and seeds such as sunflower, pumpkin, chia, and watermelon. One serving equals 2-3 ounces of cooked meat, poultry, or fish; 1 cup of cooked beans; 2 eggs; or 1 ounce (about 1/4 cup) of nuts and seeds. Include fish which have high Omega 3 fatty acids such as freshwater trout, herring, salmon, and anchovies. Shrimp, pollock, tilapia, cod and catfish are also safe to eat. Use minimum fat/oil to cook.
  • Whole grains: Eat six servings of grains per day. One serving is 1 slice of bread, about 1 cup of most cereals or calcium-fortified ready-to-eat cereal or oats fortified with iron, or 1/2 cup cooked cereal, one cup rice, or pasta, boiled lentils, and quinoa.
  • Water: Drink about 2 litres, about eight glasses, a day. Headaches, anxiety, tiredness, bad mood, and reduced memory are a few of the symptoms of mild dehydration. Increased water intake prevents constipation and reduces the risk of UTI.
  • Special Foods: A few recommended foods are Legumes, sweet potatoes, fish liver oil. And dried fruits like figs, apricots, prunes, dates but not more than one serving a day.

For variety in diet, change the quantity and types of foods.


Even if you are taking the right diet, you might miss a few nutrients. Your doctor may prescribe supplements to fill the gaps. For example, a vitamin supplement before conception and during pregnancy, and other supplements if you are a vegetarian or have underlying health conditions. Do not take herbal supplements without your doctor’s advice.

Food safety

Pregnant woman and fetus are more prone to food borne illnesses. Pregnant woman because their immunity is reduced because pf hormonal changes during pregnancy. And fetus because its immune system is not fully developed.

Avoid stale, raw salads, fruit salads, coleslaw, unpasteurised dairy products, and soft cheeses. Avoid undercooked food. Wash hands with soap for 20 seconds or more before touching food or cooking.

Foods to avoid

Avoid or reduce in quantity the foods that are harmful to the mother and the baby.

Avoid these foods:

Alcohol. Its use in the first three months of pregnancy, even if woman does not know she is pregnant, is most harmful. It can cause abnormal facial feature in baby. Alcohol use anytime during pregnancy can cause miscarriage, stillbirth, and low birthweight. It can also cause lifelong mild to severe movement, balance and muscle tone problems, behavior, attention, learning, thinking and speech problems, heart defects, and poor growth before and after birth.

Smoking. Even one cigarette a day can cause underdeveloped baby, premature birth, damage to baby’s brain and lungs, birth defects such as cleft lip, cleft palate, or both, and increase the risk of abnormal bleeding during pregnancy, and delivery and of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS).

Baby’s health and wellbeing will improve if alcohol use and smoking is stopped anytime during pregnancy.

High mercury fish like marlin, shark, bigeye tuna, swordfish, and mackerel. Regular eating of these fish may raise the mercury level in your blood and that can damage fetus’ brain and nervous system.

Foods to which you have an existing medically diagnosed allergy or intolerance or to which you develop these during pregnancy.

Reduce the intake of these foods:

Caffeine. Its excess use may cause  miscarriage, preterm birth, or low birth weight baby. Reduce caffeine to 200 milligram a day, that is, one 12-ounce cup of coffee a day, or 4-5 cups per day of tea, hot chocolate, or cola drinks. When breast feeding, you may have up to 400 milligram a day. Coffee and coffee-flavored products like yogurt and ice cream, chocolate and chocolate products like chocolate syrup and hot cocoa, tea, some soft drinks, energy drinks, and some medicines used for pain relief, migraine headaches, and colds have caffeine. 

Oils and fats such as butter, salad dressings, cream, chocolate, crisps, biscuits, pastries, ice cream, cake, puddings, and fizzy drinks.


Pregnancy is beautiful, is a time to cherish, a beginning of “wonder, hope, a dream of possibilities.” But to enjoy it, you and the baby must remain healthy. Eating right is one of the ways to do it.

Dr. Sadhanakala

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