Diet and Vitamins During Pregnancy

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We should all, ideally, be eating a balanced nutritive diet daily. But during pregnancy balanced healthy eating becomes more important. It is a time when you need to be more conscious of what you take in, and a time when your body needs more of certain vitamins and nutrients. A healthy diet with proper vitamin supplements increases the likelihood that you will be able to become pregnant and give birth to a healthy baby.

What You Need More Of:

Iron helps your body carry oxygen. During pregnancy there is more blood flow and a higher oxygen/iron need. Iron rich foods include red meat (by far the most abundant source of iron), leafy greens, dried apricots & legumes. If you are anemic or become anemic during pregnancy your physician will recommend additional iron supplementation (between 30-120 mg/day).

Calcium is important for bone development in the fetus and bone strength for you. Eat a diet that includes milk, cheese and yogurt, if possible. During pregnancy (and before, and after!) women should take 1000-1500mg of Calcium Citrate per day.

Vitamin D
Vitamin D helps the body to absorb Calcium, and is vital for bone growth. Women should take 10mcg of Vitamin D per day.

Folate/Folic Acid
Folate is needed for the body to form new cells, including blood cells. During pregnancy the blood supply must increase to provide enough oxygen and nutrients to both mother and baby. Folate supplementation can help prevent malformations of the brain and spinal cord called neural tube defects (NTD). It may also help prevent some heart defects, cleft lips and cleft palates. As soon as you begin planning for pregnancy, or discover that you are pregnant, begin taking folic acid supplements. Folate can be found in leafy greens, eggs & legumes. During pregnancy you should not rely on your diet to provide enough Folic Acid. You need to take at least 400 mcg (0.4mg) of folic acid per day. If you are at high risk of having a baby with a NTD your obstetrician may recommend a higher dose.

During pregnancy your protein requirements go up. You should take in approximately 25% more protein during pregnancy. Protein is found in chicken, fish, eggs, meat, nuts and dairy products. Your goal should be 60grams of protein per day.

Your body is growing (stating the obvious here) and you need to provide the fuel. The average woman should be taking in approximately 300 calories more per day during pregnancy. Healthy 300 calories—lean meats, lean dairy, fruits and veggies!

Omega 3 Fatty Acids
Best source of these is fish. See Mercury in the following section to help choose appropriate fish, and speak with your Obstetrician about supplementation.

What You Need Less Of:

We all probably take in more salt than we need on a daily basis. And you need salt for healthy body balance. So this is a reminder to be conscious and not over-do the salt. Higher salt intake can lead to high blood pressure and increased weight gain during pregnancy.

Caffeine is a stimulant (yes, that’s why most of us drink it) but having your body rev up unnaturally is not ideal during pregnancy. This is a great time to begin drinking decaf and cut down on your daily caffeine intake.

Vitamin A
Vitamin A is necessary for proper health and eye development but can cause birth defects if taking in too high of a dose. The proper vitamin supplement dose for pregnant women is 800-1000mg/day. You do not need less during pregnancy than when not pregnant, but this is a note to be conscious that more is not better in this case. Don’t worry about too much Vitamin A from fruits or veggies – it is a variation of Vitamin A and your body handles it differently.

Mercury can cause neurological problems in your baby so you should limit consumption of high mercury containing fish. The National Resources Defense Council has a fairly comprehensive list of high, medium and low mercury fish and is updated regularly ( Moderate to high mercury fish should not be consumed more than 2-3 times per month and very high mercury fish should be avoided.


There are a variety of minor through major birth defects that can occur due to consumption of alcohol during pregnancy. At this point it is safe to say that no alcohol during pregnancy is the best option.

Just say No! If you have struggled with addiction or like to consume drugs recreationally, this is the time to stop and seek help (if necessary). Mothers who take drugs are more likely to miscarry and have babies with both physical malformations and mental deficiencies.

-Monique Araya, MD, FAAP

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