03 Aug 2010

Healthy eating before, during and after pregnancy.

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Nutrition is essential to maintain healthy body function, and now more than ever, nutrition is essential to assist your growing baby. Stock your home with healthy fresh foods, remember, what is stored in your pantry is what your family and future children will eat.

From as early as a few months old, your baby will be watching what you consume!

Before pregnancy. Most people are not aware that the most important time of your pregnancy from a nutritional point of view is around the time of conception. Accordingly you should adopt a healthy eating pattern preferably BEFORE you conceive.

Know your produce! Choose foods which are in season and therefore good value for money, stay local! Prepare and cook the majority of foods yourself, thus knowing and controlling the ingredients.

Vitamins and minerals are needed in greater amounts in pregnancy and the easiest way to address these needs is through a balanced diet.

Folate is important for growth and development pre-pregnancy and in the first trimester. A daily supplement of folate is recommended from before conception until at least the end of the first trimester (at least 400micrograms/day). A small number of women (including those who are overweight and those with diabetes and epilepsy) require a higher dose of folate (5 miiligrams/day).

Iodine is critical for your baby’s brain development and most of us have a diet deficient in iodine. Make sure that you used iodised salt and that your prenatal vitamin supplement includes iodine (Fabfol, Blackmores Pregnancy Gold and Blackmores ifolic are good examples of supplements that contain correct amounts of both iodine and folate).

Iron needs are greatly increased in pregnancy, as the baby will be laying down its stores for the first 6 months of life. Breastfeeding places great demand upon your iron stores. Good sources of iron include red meat, poultry, fish, and leafy green vegetables. Spatone is a healthy natural iron supplement with minimal side effects. It is available from most health food / vitamin shops. Taking your iron supplement with orange juice is a good idea because the vitamin C in the OJ assists with the absorption of iron.

Calcium is essential for the growth and development of the baby’s bones, particularly in the second trimester. Ensure that you consume enough calcium to stop your stores being drawn upon placing you at risk of osteoporosis in the future. Good sources of calcium include milk, cheese, yoghurt, almonds, soft bones in tinned tuna and salmon, leafy green vegetables. If you are consuming less than one glass of milk per day you should take a calcium supplement. Tums (available pretty much anywhere) contain 200 milligrams of calcium so three or four Tums per day is an inexpensive calcium supplement that has the important side effect of helping with heartburn!

Prior to starting any other supplements discuss this with your caregiver, as some can be harmful to your baby.

Weight gain

in pregnancy is very individual for each woman. Women commencing pregnancy with a healthy weight could expect to gain 12-14 kgs. The amount of weight you should gain will be discussed with you. Eating a variety of foods and a balanced diet will help you achieve this goal.

Women who are overweight at the beginning of pregnancy should try to minimise their weight gain during pregnancy by following these nutritional guidelines. Daily exercise (for example brisk walking or swimming for 45 minutes per day) is important for all women but is particularly beneficial for women who are overweight.

Each day try to eat:

  • Breads and cereals: 4-6 servings

  • Protein: 1-2 servings

  • Fruit : 3-4 servings

  • Vegetables & legumes: 6 servings

  • Calcium: 2 servings

Breads and cereals – Try to choose wholegrain or wholemeal products. Examples of 1 serving include:

  • 2 slices bread
  • 1 cup of cooked pasta/ noodles/rice
  • 1 ⅓ cups of breakfast cereal

Protein- Meat, fish, nuts, tofu, legumes, and nuts, choose lean cuts of meat. Examples of 1 serving include:

  • 60 – 100gms cooked meat
  • 80-120gms fish (see precautions later)
  • 2 eggs
  • ½ cup nuts

Fruit – Examine what is in season, eat fruit and try not to drink it as juice. Examples of 1 serving include:

  • A medium banana/apple
  • 2 small pieces of fruit (eg. kiwi fruit/mandarins)
  • ½ cup of tinned fruit- unsweetened juice.

Calcium – examples of 1 serving include:

  • Small tub of yoghurt
  • 250ml of milk
  • 250 ml soy milk (fortified with calcium)
  • 2 slices of cheese

    Small handful of almonds

Vegetables & Legumes – examples of 1 serving include:

  • ½ cup cooked vegetables

    1 small potato

  • 1 cup of salad

    ½ cup cooked lentils, kidney beans, pulses.


  • Unpasteurised dairy products
  • Soft cheeses
  • Pates, pre-prepared salads and fruit salads

  • Cold processed meats

  • Raw seafood

Listeria is bacteria which can be found in the foods above, which if transmitted can have serious implications for your baby. Hygiene when preparing and storing food is important. Eat foods which are freshly prepared from fresh ingredients and / or are freshly cooked and served hot.

Mercury- some fish may contain mercury which can be harmful to the baby’s developing nervous system. Although on the other hand, fish is a rich source of omega 3 fatty acids which is important for the development of the baby’s central nervous system. The following guidelines, as recommended by NSW Food Authority, will help you get the right balance.

2-3 serves/week: bream, snapper, octopus, shellfish, sardines, canned tuna & salmon, flathead, whiting.

1 serve/fortnight of deep sea fish: shark (flake, salmon, fresh tuna & salmon, swordfish, marlin)

Check out www.foodstandards.gov.au for more information about foods you should be careful of or avoid altogether. Eating together is an integral part of family life. Choose well and enjoy the meals you are consuming in the knowledge that you are making wise choices for your future child. This information sheet was written by my expert midwifery colleague Amanda Bartlett.

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