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What To Eat To Ensure A Healthy Pregnancy

By Carolyn “Carrie” J. Lee, PhD, CNE, RN

What To Eat To Ensure A Healthy Pregnancy

Who doesn’t want to be pregnant and have just cause to give in to all of those temptations and cravings? Fact is, eating healthy before and during pregnancy is essential to both your health and your baby’s health and development.

It’s best to start making quality food choices before pregnancy. Current recommendations start with getting at least 400 micrograms of folic acid each day to prevent the most common birth defects. It’s especially important to start taking folic acid before your pregnancy and through the first trimester when critical fetal development is happening.

Food sources of folic acid include fortified cereals, orange juice and beans. If you’ve had a baby with a previous neural tube birth defect, your healthcare provider may tell you to increase your daily dose of folic acid to as much as 4 milligrams. If you struggle with an eating disorder, have ever had bariatric surgery, a chronic disease or if you’re obese, consult with your provider before getting pregnant. Managing these conditions, and perhaps losing weight, can help set the stage for a healthy pregnancy and baby.

Special nutrients

Once you’re pregnant, you’ll need a few key nutrients, including 27 milligrams daily of iron to help healthy blood cells carry oxygen. Good sources of iron include fortified cereals, legumes and lean meats.

Calcium is also needed each day for strong bone development, and you can get your daily 1,000 milligrams in dairy choices, tofu with calcium and dark green vegetables .

And don’t forget your daily prenatal vitamin and a diet rich and diverse in fruits and vegetables, including citrus fruits, strawberries, bananas, dark green vegetables, carrots, legumes, bananas and nuts to get the total variety of vitamins and nutrients needed for healthy blood cells, enzyme function and metabolism.

Weight gain

Both too little or too much weight gain increase the health risks for you and your baby. Current recommendations from the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists regarding weight gain are:

    • Underweight: 28-40 pounds


  • Normal weight: 25-35 pounds



  • Overweight: 15-25 pounds



  • Obese: at least 15 pounds



  • Expecting twins: 35-45 pounds



Because of the growing number of overweight or obese women getting pregnant, experts are now looking at the implication of “low or no” weight gain recommendations among obese pregnant women. But unless recommendations change, it’s safest for women in this category to gain at least 15 pounds, most of which will be baby, fluid and the placenta.


Carolyn (Carrie) J. Lee, PhD, CNE, RN, is an associate professor of Nursing at the University of Toledo College of Nursing in Toledo, OH. She is also an expert advisor to Health4Women.org and Healthy Mom & Baby magazine.

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