Healthy pregnant or breastfeeding women need to get between 300 to 500 additional calories per day to meet their energy needs and support the healthy growth of their baby.
During pregnancy or while breastfeeding your baby, be sure to eat a variety of healthy foods.
What Nutrients Do Pregnant or Breastfeeding Women Need?
Here are some of the essential nutrients that will help you and your baby thrive. They're found in fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, nuts, beans, dairy products, and lean meats. Your doctor may also recommend a daily prenatal multivitamin with iron.
Calcium helps build strong bones and teeth, and plays an important role in helping the circulatory, muscular, and nervous systems work properly. Pregnant and breastfeeding women should get 1,000 mg of calcium a day. Healthy sources of calcium include low-fat dairy products, calcium-fortified orange juice and milk-alternatives, cereals, and kale.
Eating carbohydrates helps provide energy to support the growth and development of a baby and, after delivery, breastfeeding. The best sources of carbs are whole grains, fruits, and vegetables, which also are good sources of fiber. Try to limit refined carbs — like white flour and white rice — and added sugars.
Fiber is a nutrient that can help ease the constipation that’s common during pregnancy. Whole grains (like whole-wheat bread, whole-grain cereals, and brown rice) and fruits, vegetables, and legumes (beans, split peas, and lentils) are good sources of fiber.
Folic acid helps with the development of a baby's brain and spinal cord. It's also needed to make red blood cells and white blood cells. Women who get at least 400 micrograms (0.4 milligrams) of folic acid daily before conception and during early pregnancy can reduce the risk that their baby will be born with a neural tube defect (a birth defect involving incomplete development of the brain and spinal cord).
Pregnant women should get 600 micrograms (0.6 milligrams) of folic acid during the second and third trimesters. Breastfeeding women need 500 micrograms (0.5 milligrams). Good sources of folic acid include fortified breads and cereals. Folate is the natural form of this vitamin and is found in leafy green vegetables, citrus fruits, avocados, lentils, and beans.
Fat is an important part of any healthy diet. During pregnancy, fat is needed to support your baby’s growth and development. Choose healthy fats (unsaturated fats) and limit unhealthy saturated and trans fats. Healthy fats are found in olive oil, canola and other vegetable oils, nuts and seeds, avocados, and fatty fish like salmon.
Iodine helps the body's thyroid gland make hormones that help with growth and brain development. Not getting enough iodine during pregnancy can put a baby at risk for thyroid problems, developmental delays, and learning problems. Pregnant and breastfeeding women should use iodized salt in their cooking and eat foods high in iodine, like seafood and dairy products. They also should take a daily prenatal vitamin that includes 150 micrograms of iodide (a source of iodine that's easily absorbed by the body). If your prenatal vitamin doesn't have enough, talk to your doctor about taking a supplement.
Eating a diet rich in iron and taking a daily iron supplement while pregnant or breastfeeding helps prevent iron-deficiency anemia. Women who don't get enough iron may feel tired and have other problems. Good dietary sources of iron include lean meats, poultry, and fish, fortified cereals, legumes (beans, split peas, and lentils), and leafy green vegetables.
Protein helps build a baby's muscles, bones, and other tissues, and supports growth, especially in the second and third trimesters of pregnancy. Pregnant women need more protein than women who are not pregnant but should not use protein supplements, like shakes and powders. Healthy sources of protein include lean meat, poultry, fish, beans, nuts and nut butters, eggs, and tofu.
Vitamin A helps develop a baby's heart, eyes, and immune system. Vitamin A deficiency is rare in developed countries, but too much vitamin A can cause birth defects. Prenatal vitamins should not contain more than 1,500 micrograms (5,000 international units) of vitamin A and pregnant women should not take vitamin A supplements. Good sources of vitamin A include milk, orange fruits and vegetables (such as cantaloupe, carrots, and sweet potatoes), and dark leafy greens.
Vitamin B12 plays an important role in the formation of a baby's red blood cells, as well as brain development and function. Vitamin B12 is found in animal products like meat, fish, milk, and eggs, and fortified products, like cereal and non-dairy milk alternatives. If you're vegetarian or vegan, talk to your doctor to find out if you need to take B12 supplements during pregnancy and while breastfeeding.
Vitamin D helps the body absorb calcium for healthy bones and teeth. Vitamin D is made when the skin is exposed to sunlight. Good food sources of vitamin D include fortified low-fat or fat-free milk, fortified orange juice, egg yolks, and salmon. Experts recommend that pregnant and breastfeeding women get 600 international units of vitamin D daily.