What to Eat When Pregnant

We all know a healthy, balanced diet is important for your general wellbeing. However, it's especially important if you’re pregnant or planning a pregnancy. A healthy diet during pregnancy will help your baby develop and grow, and help you stay well too. Let’s take a closer look at what to eat when pregnant...

Silhoutte of pregnant woman with highlighted stomach and hanging questionmark

It's best to get all the vitamins and minerals you need from the food that you eat. However, folic acid is something you can take as a supplement as it's a vital vitamin needed during pregnancy. Vitamin D supplements may also be recommended, but speak to your healthcare professional to find out what they would recommend for you. 

You can also check out various eating guides for info on healthy eating and maintaining a balanced diet. You do not have to worry about following these for every meal, but it's good to get the balance right over the course of a week.

Eating for two is not a thing!

You may notice an increase in your appetite, or you might lose it completely due to morning sickness. Each day can be different so it's important to listen to your body and eat healthy foods that make you feel good. Even if you’re pregnant with twins or triplets, there’s no need to increase your food intake two or three times. 

Eat your greens

Eating fruit and veg during pregnancy is a great way to get those vitamins and minerals. They can also be a source of fibre which helps with constipation. You can eat your greens fresh, frozen, canned, dried or juiced, but just make sure they’re well washed beforehand. It’s recommended that you eat five portions of a variety of fruit and veg per day. One ‘portion’ is about three ounces, or the size of your fist.

Starchy foods in your pregnancy diet

Starchy foods give you energy, some vitamins, and fiber which help to make you feel full without containing too many calories. Examples include bread, potatoes, cereals, rice, pasta, noodles, maize, millet, oats, yams, and cornmeal. Carbs should make up one-third of the food that you eat, and feel free to make your meals a little healthier by opting for wholegrain or higher fiber options such as wholewheat pasta, brown rice, or try leaving the skin on the potatoes on.

Protein in your pregnancy diet

We often think of meat, fish, or eggs when we think of protein-rich foods. They are indeed packed with protein, but beans, pulses, and nuts can also be a great source. It's best to choose lean meat (avoid liver) and ensure that poultry, burgers, sausages, and whole cuts of meat such as lamb, beef, and pork are cooked until steaming all the way through. The meat should not be pink, and the juices from the meat should run clear.

Try to eat two portions of fish per week, one of these should be oily such as salmon, sardines, or mackerel. Avoid eating shark, swordfish, and marlin when pregnant or trying to get pregnant. Oily fish is great, but can contain pollutants (toxins), so it's best to have these no more than twice per week if possible.

Eggs are a stable source of protein for many. However, you should avoid eating some raw or partially cooked eggs due to the risk of salmonella. This does not mean that all eggs are off-limits, some local health authorities deem eggs safe to eat raw or partially cooked (for example a soft boiled egg) as the hens have been vaccinated against salmonella. Check your local regulations to see if these apply to the eggs before purchasing. If you’re not sure, it's best to cook eggs through so that the yolk and white are hard. Remember that mousse, mayonnaise and soufflé may contain raw egg and should be avoided.

Dairy in your pregnancy diet

Dairy also contains a host of good stuff that's much needed in a pregnancy diet. Milk, cheese, fromage frais, and yogurt are important because they contain calcium and other nutrients that your body and your baby need. You can choose low-fat or low-sugar varieties if appropriate to help keep your diet well-balanced. Unpasteurized milk and cheeses are not recommended, so be on the lookout for these.

Sugary and fatty foods 

Food and drink that are high in sugar are also high in calories, making weight gain more likely and can lead to tooth decay, especially during pregnancy. Fatty foods are very high in calories so it's best to have them in small amounts less frequently. Some examples of the sweet or fatty treats on our shelves are:

  • All spreading fats (e.g. butter)
  • Oils
  • Salad dressing
  • Cream
  • Chocolate
  • Crisps
  • Biscuits
  • Pastries
  • Ice cream
  • Cake
  • Desserts
  • Sodas

So what are some snacking alternatives to add to your pregnancy diet?

It's always good to have some snacking alternatives up your sleeve if you're pregnant and feel like you need a little something! Feel free to get more creative, but here are some simple staple ingredients that are great for you and your baby:

  • Fresh fruit
  • Vegetable and bean soups
  • Ready to eat figs, apricots, or prunes 
  • Low fat/sugar yogurt with fruit
  • Salad vegetables such as carrot, celery, or cucumber
  • Small sandwiches or pitta bread with cheese, lean meat, mashed tuna, salmon, or sardines
  • Hummus with pitta or vegetable sticks

Vegetarian or vegan pregnancy diet

Many of us are opting for more plant-based diets, moving away from meat or dairy too. When pregnant it's important to get enough iron, vitamin B12 (usually found in meat and fish) and vitamin D. Let's cover these three nutrients (and more) to help see where you can get the most of them whilst maintaining a vegetarian or vegan diet during pregnancy

Iron can be found in pulses, dark green vegetables (such as purple sprouting broccoli). It can also be found in eggs (for vegetarians who include them in their diet), fortified breakfast cereals with added iron, and dried fruit (such as apricots).

Vitamin D is produced when you expose your skin to sunlight but can also come from food sources such as egg yolk, fortified foods with vitamin D (breakfast cereals and fat spreads), and dietary supplements. 

Calcium is something we all need during pregnancy. As a vegan, good sources of calcium other than dairy include dark green leafy vegetables, pulses, fortified unsweetened soya, rice and oat drinks, brown and white bread, calcium-set tofu, sesame seeds, and tahini, and dried fruit.

You can also add Omega-3 supplements into your diet to replace nutrients that are naturally found in oily fish. However, avoid liver-based supplements such as cod liver oil, as they contain vitamin A (retinol), which can be harmful for a developing fetus.

Be sure to discuss any particular dietary requirements with your healthcare professional if you are unsure what you should include in your pregnancy diet. If you are taking dietary supplements, check if they are suitable for vegetarians and vegans too. 

Can you drink alcohol when pregnant?

You should avoid alcoholic drinks as, during pregnancy, any alcohol consumed by you will pass from your bloodstream to the baby’s bloodstream. A baby’s liver is one of the last organs to mature during pregnancy and therefore, your baby cannot process alcohol and this can seriously affect their development.

Drinking alcohol, especially in the first three months of pregnancy, isn’t recommended as research suggests it increases the risk of miscarriage, premature birth, and of your baby having a low birth weight. Although the risks are very low, the more you drink, the more the risks increase so it's best to keep off alcohol when trying to get pregnant and as soon as you find out that you are pregnant. 

Prepare for your pregnancy

Thanks for taking the time to read up on what to eat when pregnant! If you’re not yet pregnant, there are a few things you can take into account before you start the next chapter on your fertility journey, such as knowing fertility indicators and the best time to take a pregnancy test. Check out our full list of things to know before planning a pregnancy for more details.

Plan pregnancy with Natural Cycles

Did you know, there’s an app that can help you get pregnant? Natural Cycles uses basal body temperature data to pinpoint where you are in your cycle so you can find your most fertile days. After conception, you can also use the Natural Cycles app to follow pregnancy and keep track of the changes in your body, and monitor the development of your baby over the course of your pregnancy. 

Discover Natural Cycles.

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Written By

Jack Pearson

With 10 years of experience working in the field of fertility, Jack Pearson is Natural Cycles’ in-house expert. As Medical Affairs Manager, he dedicates his time to conducting groundbreaking research and educating healthcare professionals.

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