Nutrition During Pregnancy

Amanda Schaffer, MS, RD is a Clinical Dietitian at Inova Loudoun Hospital with more than 15 years of experience. She works with patients and families to improve their nutritional status during illnesses. Amanda’s clinical interests range from neonatal, pediatric and maternal nutrition to medical and surgical adult patients.

Congratulations on your pregnancy! Did you know that many aspects of your baby’s development and future well-being can be influenced by your diet? Eating well when you’re pregnant is one of the first and best gifts you can give to your child – and it is a gift that can keep on giving over your child’s lifetime. You have nine months to feed your baby well before he or she is even born – a chance to create a healthier future for your baby.

During pregnancy, your body has increased energy, protein and micronutrients needs, which are required to support the demands of pregnancy and to allow for appropriate fetal growth. For that reason, it is important to include a variety of foods in your diet. This will ensure that you and your baby won’t get too much, or too little, of any nutrient. Increased nutrient needs for pregnancy include protein, DHA, folic acid, choline, iron, zinc, magnesium, and vitamins B6, C, D and E, just to name a few. 

To meet these increased nutrient needs, try to include an assortment of colors on your plate. Each color has distinct nutrient benefits.

  • Reds – tomatoes, grapefruit, watermelon, strawberries, cherries
  • Oranges and yellows – carrots, sweet potatoes, pumpkins, peppers, oranges, lemons, pineapples
  • Greens – broccoli, peas, lettuce, green beans, spinach, kale, Brussels sprouts
  • Blues and purples – blueberries, grapes, plums, prunes, blackberries
  • White – garlic, onions, leeks, scallions

Appropriate weight gain during pregnancy is important for the development and growth of your baby. When kept within a healthy range, weight gain can reduce the risk of complications during pregnancy and delivery. However, it is important to remember that weight gain can be sporadic and may not start in earnest until the second half of pregnancy if nausea and food aversions are an issue.

Obesity during pregnancy increases the risks for both mother and baby, including gestational diabetes, gestational hypertension, cesarean delivery (C-section) and birth defects. Furthermore, children born to obese mothers have an increased likelihood of developing obesity themselves.

Ideal weight gain during pregnancy depends on your pre-pregnancy body mass index (BMI):

Pre-Pregnancy BMI Recommended Weight Gain
<18.5 28 – 40 pounds
18.5 – 24.9 25 – 30 pounds
25 – 29.9 15 – 25 pounds
>/=30 11 – 20 pounds

If you are expecting twins or multiples, the recommended weight gain ranges are higher. Early weight gain is encouraged to decrease the risk of preterm labor and low birth rates. Speak with your healthcare provider for more information.

Remember, pregnancy is the one time in your life when your eating habits directly impact another person. The foods you eat during pregnancy can provide long-lasting effects on your baby’s health. Your decision to eat whole grains, colorful fruits and vegetables, legumes and lean proteins – while maintaining a healthy weight before and during pregnancy – will give your baby a strong start in life.

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