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Healthy Eating During Pregnancy

Enjoy healthy balanced eating to get all the nutrients and energy you need to get ready for pregnancy and breastfeeding. For more information on health before, during and after pregnancy, visit the Healthy Pregnancy page.

Balance your meals with vegetables and fruit, whole grains, lean meat and alternatives, and lower fat milk and alternatives. For general healthy eating information, refer to our healthy eating homepage.

Eat regular meals and snacks. Try to eat at least every 3–4 hours. Include breakfast every day. Pregnant women need extra food each day in their second and third trimester. This extra food could be an extra healthy snack, like hummus and raw vegetables, or an orange and a few whole grain crackers.

Listen to your appetite. Eat when you are hungry and stop when you are full. When you are hungry between meals, choose healthy foods such as yogurt, fruit, vegetables, whole grain crackers, etc.

Take a prenatal supplement each day. Women who are pregnant need a supplement with 400mcg (0.4mg) of folic acid and 16–20mg of iron. A prenatal supplement doesn’t replace healthy eating. It will help you get the extra nutrients you need while you are pregnant.

Folic acid (or folate), iron, calcium, vitamin D and omega-3 fats are important nutrients during pregnancy.

Folic acid is needed for your baby’s brain, spine and skull to grow properly and to prevent birth defects known as Neural Tube Defects.

  • Along with eating foods rich in folate, you will need extra folic acid from a supplement. Take a multivitamin with at least 400 mcg (0.4mg) of folic acid every day for at least 3 months before pregnancy.
  • Some women need more than 400mcg (0.4mg) of folic acid per day; talk to your health care provider about the amount of folic acid you should take. Don’t take more than 1000mcg (1mg) per day unless advised by your doctor.
  • Since many pregnancies are unplanned, all women who could become pregnant should take a multivitamin with 400 mcg (0.4mg) of folic acid and eat foods rich in folate every day.

You need extra iron during pregnancy. Look for a prenatal supplement with 16–20mg of iron.

There are only a few food sources of vitamin D: milk, fortified soy beverage, fortified yogurt and fish. A prenatal supplement will also provide vitamin D for pregnant women.

Choose fatty fish that are low in mercury to help meet your omega-3 needs.

  • Talk to your health care provider before taking a fish oil supplement. Avoid taking cod liver oil with prenatal supplements. The amount of vitamin A from both supplements could harm your growing baby.

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Women come in many shapes and sizes, all of which can be healthy. Most women have a healthy weight gain during pregnancy if they follow a few general tips:

  • Eat a variety of healthy foods from the 4 good groups
  • Be active
  • Eat when you are hungry and don’t restrict food
  • Maintain good mental health by managing stress

It is important to gain a healthy amount of weight for both you and your baby. This amount will depend on your weight before pregnancy and many other factors, like genetics, health and lifestyle. It is also important to pay attention to how quickly you gain weight. Weight gain is usually slow in the first trimester. Most weight gain happens in the second and third trimester.

Talk to your health care provider about your healthy weight gain during pregnancy.

NOTE: If you have gained more weight than recommended, don’t diet to lose weight. Cutting out food and calories can put you and your baby at risk. Please see your health care provider if you have any questions or concerns.

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Caffeinated drinks and herbal teas shouldn’t take the place of healthy drinks like milk, unsweetened fortified soy beverage and water.

Caffeine

When you’re pregnant, caffeine stays in your body longer and passes through the placenta to your baby. Too much caffeine can affect your baby’s growth and the nutrients your baby gets.

If you are pregnant, breastfeeding or may become pregnant, have less than 300mg of caffeine per day. This is the amount of caffeine in about 2 eight ounce (250mL) cups of coffee. Other drinks and food may have caffeine, like tea, cola and chocolate.

Avoid energy drinks during pregnancy and breastfeeding. Energy drinks are high in caffeine and have other ingredients that may harm your baby.

Herbal Teas

Be careful if you use herbal teas or drinks while you’re pregnant. Not all herbal teas have been tested for safety in pregnancy. Some can harm your baby or cause early labour.

Herbal teas that are considered safe in moderation (no more than 2–3 cups per day):

  • bitter orange/citrus peel, ginger, rose hip, Echinacea, peppermint, red raspberry leaf, rosemary

Avoid all other herbal teas. Herbal supplements are not recommended.

You and your baby are at a higher risk of food poisoning when you are pregnant. Food poisoning is caused by food that has been contaminated by bacteria, viruses or parasites. Certain bacteria, viruses and parasites can harm your baby.

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Many women may feel sick during pregnancy. It often happens in the first few months and eases by the second trimester. Feeling sick, or not being able to eat well in the first few weeks of pregnancy hasn’t been shown to affect your growing baby.

Heartburn and constipation are also common in pregnancy. Heartburn happens because your growing baby presses against your stomach and your hormones are changing. Constipation may happen because food moves through your body slower when you are pregnant so you can absorb the extra nutrients you and your baby need.

Talk to your health care provider before using any over-the-counter medications, alternative therapies, laxatives or antacids.

Talk to your health care provider if you can’t stop vomiting, you feel too sick to eat at all, or you are experiencing weight loss or dehydration.

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The Health Unit can help support your healthy eating habits by connecting you to Registered Dietitians and programs like Good Food for a Healthy Baby, which provides free prenatal vitamins and grocery vouchers. If you would like more information please call 1-800-660-5853.

For a list of all food-related programs available in Leeds, Grenville and Lanark, visit the Food Inventory by foodcoreLGL.