You may have heard that “eating for two” is a myth. So what’s the real story on healthy nutrition for pregnancy and breastfeeding?

Good nutrition promotes a healthy pregnancy and can establish a lifetime of good health for baby. Here’s the latest advice on how to prepare nutritionally for pregnancy, what to eat and to avoid during pregnancy, and how much weight you should aim to gain.

Before pregnancy

Before you’re pregnant is the ideal time to think about nutrition. Healthy eating habits you start before pregnancy will be hardwired once you’re pregnant. Decide if you can make healthy changes—such as eating more fruits and vegetables. Discuss if your weight is ideal with your nurse or health care provider. If you’re overweight, you’re at increased risk for complications of pregnancy such as gestational diabetes or high blood pressure.

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Folic acid

Begin taking a folic acid supplement at least three months before pregnancy. Folic acid is a form of the B vitamin folate and can reduce the risk of birth defects such as spina bifida when taken before and during pregnancy. Prenatal vitamins always contain folic acid.

During pregnancy

Even though eating for two is a myth, you do need to increase your calories—but only in the second and third trimesters when it’s recommended to eat an extra 300-400 calories per day. This is easy! Try healthful snacks in between meals, such as fruits, nuts or nut butters or a hard-boiled egg.

Foods to limit or avoid

Some foods should be avoided in pregnancy such as mercury-containing fish (shark, swordfish, mackerel and tile fish). Your nurse may also recommend that you avoid lunchmeats or soft cheeses to prevent exposure to the Listeria bacteria. Limit caffeine to two servings per day. As for alcohol, evidence shows that during pregnancy there is no safe type or amount or time during pregnancy when your baby won’t potentially be affected if you drink.

See also: Pregnancy During COVID-19: Looking After Your Emotional Health

Pregnancy Weight

Pre-pregnancy Weight Weight Gain recommendation
Underweight 28-40 pounds
Normal Weight 25-35 pounds
Overweight 15-25 pounds

During breastfeeding

Congratulations on the decision to breastfeed your new little one! In order to maintain a normal healthy milk supply, you need about 500 extra calories daily—more than during pregnancy! Breastfeeding will dehydrate you, so drink water each time you nurse your baby or use your breast pump. Continue to avoid fish that contain mercury because they can affect development of baby’s brain. Check with your nurse about whether to continue taking prenatal vitamins during breastfeeding.

Special circumstances

If you’re having a multiple gestation (twins or more!), have any dietary restrictions such as being vegetarian or vegan, or have had weight loss surgery, let your nurse know since you may need to follow special instructions.

See also: Pregnant During COVID-19


Susan Angelicola MSN, APN, is an advanced nurse practitioner and an expert adviser to Healthy Mom&Baby.

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