Good nutrition during pregnancy will help to keep a developing baby and its mother healthy. The need for certain nutrients is increased at this time.

Good nutrition throughout pregnancy is essential. During pregnancy the foods eaten provide:

  • nutrients that the baby needs to grow and develop
  • nutrients that the mother needs to keep herself healthy

It is important to choose a wide variety of healthy foods to ensure the nutritional needs of both mother and baby are met.

A pregnant woman needs to consume a little more energy (kilojoules) than the amount needed before she was pregnant. Weight gain is normal and healthy during pregnancy. Weight gain that is healthy for a mother and their baby will depend on what the mother’s weight and Body Mass Index (BMI) was before she fell pregnant.

The following nutrient needs increase during pregnancy:

Therefore good nutrition during pregnancy is more about the quality of food eaten than the quantity.

Try to eat:

  • lots of fruit, vegetables, wholegrain breads and cereals
  • moderate amounts of low fat dairy food and lean meats.

Choosing a wide variety of foods from each food group will help to meet the extra demands, however it may be necessary to eat more:

  • lean meat, chicken, fish and non-meat alternatives (such as dried beans, lentils, tofu and eggs (ensure cooked))
  • nuts and seeds
  • low fat milk, cheese and yoghurt
  • green leafy vegetables.

It is also recommended that a folate supplement be taken prior to conception and for the first three months of pregnancy to help reduce the risk of neural tube defects such as spina bifida.

Food Safety in Pregnancy

During pregnancy, a woman’s immune system becomes suppressed, making it more difficult to fight off infection. Pregnant women have a higher risk of developing a food borne illness caused by listeria, campylobacter and salmonella. Pregnant women are also at risk of developing toxoplasmosis. Infection with these ‘bugs’ can be dangerous to the health of the baby. Therefore, mothers need to be more cautious about their food choices to keep their baby safe.

Tips to avoid food-borne illness during pregnancy:

  • reduce the risk of Listeria infection by eating foods that have been freshly cooked or prepared
    • avoid:
      • buffets, salad bars and sandwich bars
      • meats that are raw or undercooked, cold deli meats, packaged/ready-to-eat meats including cooked cold ready-to-eat (unless reheated until steaming hot)
      • pre-packaged or pre-prepared fruits and vegetables
      • chilled seafood eg. raw oysters, sashimi, sushi and cooked, chilled prawns or smoked salmon
      • soft or ‘wet’ cheeses like brie, camembert, feta and ricotta
      • unpasteurised milk products and juices
      • refrigerated paté , meat spreads or smoked seafood
      • raw or undercooked eggs
  • rinse fresh fruits and vegetables in running water before preparing
  • avoid raw sprouts
  • follow safe food handling practices including washing hands, food preparation surfaces and utensils thoroughly.

Mercury and fish

Pregnant, and breastfeeding women are encouraged to continue eating fish and seafood (keeping in mind the tips above) as they are a great source of omega 3 fatty acids and protein. However, large, deep-sea fish can contain high levels of mercury. If consumed, the mercury from these fish may affect the developing nervous system of unborn babies and infants.

 To reduce the risk of birth defects, pregnant women should limit their intake of fish high in mercury:

  • shark (flake), broadbill, marlin and swordfish should only be eaten once per fortnight with no other fish during that fortnight
  • orange roughy (sea perch) and catfish should be eaten no more than once per week, with no other fish that week
  • two to three serves per week of any other fish not mentioned above may be eaten safely.
An Accredited Practising Dietitian can provide expert nutrition and dietary advice to help meet the extra demands of pregnancy safely to help give your baby the best start.