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A Midwife’s Guide to Pregnancy Nutrition

27 Nov, 2023

In early pregnancy it is really important to have a good look at your diet so you can ensure all of your nutritional needs are being met. This is important for both your health, and also your baby’s health.

Pregnancy creates extra need for certain nutrients, including iron, calcium, iodine and many vitamins. You also need around 200-300 extra calories per day during pregnancy.

What foods should you include in a healthy pregnancy diet?
• Fresh fruit and vegetables
• Meat or meat substitutes
• Eggs
• Dairy
• 2-3 serves of low mercury fish each week
• High fibre foods such as whole grains, legumes, nuts and seeds, and fruit/vegetables
• Iron rich foods including meat, chicken, fish, legumes, leafy green vegetables or nuts every day
• Water – aim for at least 2 litres per day

Vegetarian/Vegan diets
If you are vegetarian ensure that you are eating plenty of nutrient dense foods such as legumes, tofu and eggs. If you do not consume any animal products (vegan) you may need to take a vitamin B12 supplement, as this vitamin is important for your baby’s brain development. If you are vegetarian or vegan I recommend seeing a dietician or nutritionist to ensure that all of your nutritional requirements are met.

Folate is a vitamin found in a variety of foods. It's recommended to take a folate supplement for two months before conception and for the first three months of pregnancy. This is to reduce the risk of spinal problems such as spina bifida in your baby. Iodine is another nutrient that is important for your baby’s brain development. It is recommended to take a pregnancy multivitamin containing iodine, or ensure your diet contains adequate iodine.

The dose of folate may also need to be increased if there is a family history of spinal problems, cleft lip/palate or you are taking an anti-epilepsy medication (please discuss with your doctor).

It is important to discuss supplements with your GP or midwife as there are other important nutrients such as iron and vitamin D which may need to be checked/supplemented.

Foods to avoid
There are certain foods that we recommend to avoid during pregnancy because of the risk of listeria and salmonella (food poisoning) that can be passed to your baby. These foods include:

• Uncooked seafood or meat
• Raw egg
• Deli meats (e.g. ham, salami, chorizo)
• Cold cooked chicken
• Unpasteurised milk
• Soft serve ice cream
• Pre-prepared salads
• Soft or raw cheeses (brie, camembert, feta and ricotta)
• Pate
• Limit high mercury fish

Remember to wash hands well before preparing food and to cook meat thoroughly. When re-heating food ensure that it is very hot and heated through.

There is no safe level of alcohol consumption in pregnancy, so it is recommended to avoid all alcohol when pregnant.

High levels of caffeine can increase the risk of miscarriage and baby having a low birth weight. However the good news is you probably don’t have to give up your morning coffee! It’s generally recommended in pregnancy to limit your intake of caffeine to 200 milligrams per day, which is about two cups of instant coffee. Be mindful that brewed coffee may be stronger, and often when we get a barista made coffee it actually has two shots of coffee (depending on cup size). Energy drinks should be avoided.

What about weight gain…
Of course some weight gain is inevitable (and beneficial) in pregnancy, but how much is too much? The recommended amount of weight gain depends on your pre-conception weight and can vary from approximately 5-18 kg. For most women eating a healthy diet is adequate, however if your pre-pregnancy weight is elevated you may want to speak to your care provider about ensuring your weight gain in pregnancy is on track.

Pregnancy is a great time to have a really good look at your diet, and see where things may be able to improved. Staying active in pregnancy and engaging in regular exercise can also help. There is lots of support out there so don’t hesitate to chat with your midwife if you have any questions about your diet.

Article written by PBC Expo Midwife

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