It’s important to eat right to support proper growth and development of your baby. But eating for two doesn’t mean eating twice as much! In fact, pregnant women only need about 300 extra calories a day. This is the amount in a small bowl of cereal with skim milk and some sliced banana.
Most of the weight you gain should occur in the last few months of your pregnancy, with only 1 to 4 pounds of weight gain during the first trimester. The total recommended amount of weight gain for pregnant women varies based on their pre-pregnancy weight as follows:
Underweight – BMI of less than 18.5: 28-40 pounds
Normal weight – BMI of 18.5 to 24.9: 25-35 pounds
Overweight – BMI of 25 – 29.9: 15-25 pounds
Obese – BMI greater than 30: 11-20 pounds
Gaining too much weight can increase the risk of problems like gestational diabetes, backaches, leg cramps, and high blood pressure.
What’s a healthy diet for pregnancy?
Now that you know how much more to eat, keep in mind that you shouldn’t increase calories through unhealthy food choices. While it’s certainly fine to indulge in a craving here or there, the majority of your food choices should be nutrient rich items that support proper growth and development. Try to eat a variety of nutritious foods each day. By eating lean protein sources, whole grains, dairy, and lots of different color fruits and vegetables, you provide your body and your developing baby with essential nutrients. Also, it’s important to remember the things you should avoid – like excessive caffeine (stick to less than 200 mg per day) and alcohol.
Seafood is important for pregnant women, because it contains omega-3 fatty acids that contribute to cognitive development. In fact, many studies have shown that low-mercury seafood consumption during pregnancy has been associated with children who, several years later, had better visual recognition, verbal intelligence, and other aspects of cognitive function. The FDA and EPA say pregnant women can safely eat up to 12 ounces of seafood a week, and the Dietary Guidelines recommend pregnant women consume 8-12 ounces of seafood each week, although other researchers argue that this amount should be higher. At a minimum, try to include at least 8 ounces of seafood that's low in mercury each week. Good low-mercury choices include: shrimp, crab, salmon, pollock, catfish, cod, and tilapia. Even canned light tuna can be included in this list (although canned white tuna and tuna steaks should be limited to 6 ounces per week). Avoid high mercury choices which include swordfish, shark, king mackerel, and tilefish.
What’s the deal with folate?
Folate or folic acid, both forms of a B vitamin, are essential for pregnant women. Studies have shown that this helps to prevent neural tube defects in developing fetuses. Most doctors recommend a prenatal multivitamin that contains folic acid to ensure you are meeting your needs. If you decide not to take a prenatal multivitamin, be sure you eat lots of folate-rich food sources like leafy green vegetables, beans, black eyed peas, asparagus, or oranges.
Are there any food safety recommendations?
Food poisoning can be more dangerous in pregnant women and their fetuses. Because of this, keep in mind these food safety tips:
- Cook all meat thoroughly. Because color is not always the best indicator, you may want to use a meat thermometer.
- Avoid raw fish and shellfish (like that in sushi) due to the risk of food poisoning. Seafood should be cooked to a temperature of 145F (when it’s flaky and white/opaque).
- Cook hot dogs and lunch meats until steaming hot. These can be a source of listeria, a bacteria that can cause food poisoning.
- Stay away from raw milks and cheeses – always select pasteurized dairy products. Despite arguments from raw milk enthusiasts, raw milk does not differ significantly in terms of nutrition from pasteurized milk, and has been responsible for many cases of food poisoning. In fact, the rates of foodbourne illness caused by raw milk are about 150 times greater compared to pasteurized product.
- Avoid soft cheeses unless they clearly state they are pasteurized. These include brie, feta, certain Mexican style cheeses (queso blanco and queso fresco), camembert, and blue cheese.
- Wash fruits and veggies before use.