Nutrition During Pregnancy

What you eat during your pregnancy can affect your child’s health and even that of your grandchildren! This 3-minute video tells you why eating well is important during pregnancy for both you and your child. Spanish subtitles are available for this video.

Top Food Choices for Pregnant Moms


For a fast overview, see this 2-minute video, “Goals for Healthy Eating During Pregnancy.” For overview in Spanish, click here.

See a handy, 1-page picture guide to your pregnancy diet here. For Spanish, click here.

Always drink plenty of water. It helps every organ of your body work better. Choose it instead of energy drinks or soda.

Vegetables and fruits
All fruit and non-starchy vegetables give you fiber, water, vitamins, minerals and phytochemicals. They are low in calories, so they help you have a healthy pregnancy weight. Aim for about three cups of vegetables a day. If you buy canned vegetables, look for “low sodium” or “no salt” on the label. Eat two different fruits each day. If eating canned fruit, make sure it is packed in fruit juice, not syrup.

Low-fat dairy
Eat fat-free or low-fat Greek yogurt, skim milk or 1% milk, calcium-fortified soymilk and reduced-fat cheese. Be sure to look for yogurts that are low in added sugars. Three servings a day should give you the calcium you need to build your baby’s bones while protecting your own. While calcium-fortified almond, oat and coconut milks are good sources of calcium, they lack the protein that cow’s milk and soy milk have.

Whole grains
Whole wheat bread, brown rice, oatmeal and whole-wheat pasta are great choices. Look for the words “whole grain” on cereal boxes. Whole grains give you fiber and vitamins that refined (white) grains lack.

Eat beans, lentils and split peas 3 to 4 times a week to get iron and fiber. Canned beans and soups should be “low sodium” or “no salt added.”

Nuts and seeds
Eat a small handful of nuts or seeds 4 to 6 times a week. In addition to protein, they provide healthy fat, minerals and vitamin E. Walnuts and flaxseeds are good sources of omega-3 fatty acids, which are needed for brain development.

Lean beef, lamb, pork and poultry
Meat gives you a form of iron that’s easy for your body to absorb. To limit unhealthy saturated fats, eat no more than 6 ounces of meat a day, trim away visible fat and take the skin off chicken. Avoid breaded and fried meats.

Fish and seafood
Eat fish or seafood once or twice a week to get more brain-boosting omega-3s.
Canned salmon, tuna, shrimp and sardines are lower cost choices.

If you don’t eat meat, fish or milk products, get the protein, iron and zinc from plant sources. Click here for tips on vegan and vegetarian pregnancy diets. Click here for tips in Spanish.

Snacks for Pregnant Moms


A healthy snack should be low in sugar and salt and include at least two food groups.

For snacks consider:

  • Any fruit or non-starchy vegetable with a cup of milk
  • Avocado on whole-wheat toast or whole-grain crackers
  • Hummus and raw veggies, such as baby carrots, cherry tomatoes, celery sticks and snap peas. Click here for a low-cost hummus recipe.
  • Black bean dip and raw vegetables, such as carrots, tomatoes, celery and snap peas. Click here for a black bean dip recipe.
  • Apples slices with peanut butter or sunflower butter
  • A hard-boiled egg and a slice of whole-grain bread
  • Low-sugar trail mix that includes nuts, peanuts or seeds
  • Smoothies made with yogurt and frozen fruit. For a delicious smoothie recipe click here.
  • Greek yogurt dip and raw veggies, such as broccoli and red pepper strips. Click here for a yogurt dip recipe.
  • Garbanzo bean dip and raw vegetables, such as broccoli and strips of red pepper. Click here for a garbanzo dip recipe. 

In the second and third trimesters, you need to add only about 300 calories to your daily diet. However, you may need to eat five or six times a day — three small meals and two or three healthy snacks — to get enough nutrients. Eating frequent small meals may help you avoid common pregnancy discomforts such as heartburn, bloating, cravings and constipation.

Foods Pregnant Women Should Avoid


Click here for a nutritionist’s advice on foods to avoid or limit during pregnancy.

Avoid fish high in mercury
Avoid orange roughy, shark, marlin, swordfish, king mackerel and tilefish. Exposure to mercury can cause brain damage to your unborn child. Here’s a one-page guide to safe fish to eat during pregnancy. For Spanish, click here

Avoid foods that may give you food poisoning
These foods include:

  • Undercooked meats, seafood and eggs
  • Raw cookie dough, cake batter or other foods that contain raw egg, such as
    homemade eggnog and hollandaise sauce
  • Deli meats and uncooked hot dogs
  • Unpasteurized fruit juices, milk, and cheeses such as queso blanco, queso fresco, queso panela, brie, feta, camembert, Roquefort or blue-veined cheeses
  • Unwashed fruits and vegetables

Food poisoning can cause miscarriage and premature birth. To hear about one woman’s experience with food poisoning during pregnancy, watch “Erin’s Story” here. Autotranslate subtitles are available in Spanish.

Here’s a must-see infographic, “Food Safety for Baby and Me.” For Spanish, click here

For information in Spanish about food safety during pregnancy, click here

Be on the Lookout

Pregnant women who eat more than 3,700 milligrams of sodium per day have a 54% greater risk of high blood pressure during pregnancy than those who eat 2,600 milligrams of sodium daily. Learn more about salt during pregnancy here. For Spanish, click here.

Limit sugar
A sugary diet can raise the risk of gestational diabetes, preeclampsia and premature birth. Pregnant women should limit added sugars to about 7 teaspoons (30 grams) or fewer a day. The average American adult eats about 18 teaspoons of added sugar daily. You can cut down on the sugar in your diet by avoiding soda, energy drinks, fruit drinks, sports drinks, flavored milks, and sweetened teas and coffees. These beverages account for almost 50% of the excess sugar in the American diet.

Limiting sugar during pregnancy might even help your baby’s brain development! Learn about the connection between excess sugar during pregnancy and children’s cognitive abilities here. Autotranslate subtitles are available in Spanish. 

Limit saturated fat
Eating too much saturated fat during pregnancy is linked to pre-eclampsia, gestational diabetes and preterm delivery. Whether you are pregnant or not, a daily diet high in saturated fat can put you at risk for heart disease. Learn easy ways to limit “sat fat” here. For Spanish, click here

Read the Nutrition Facts
If you read the Nutrition Facts Label when you shop you can avoid buying foods too high in salt (sodium), sugar or saturated fat. Here is a 2-minute video on how to read a Nutrition Facts Label. For a 9-minute video in Spanish, click here

You can choose healthier food at fast-food restaurants if you know the Nutrition Facts first. Click here to find fast foods lower in salt, sugar and saturated fat. For tips on eating healthier foods in fast food restaurants, click here

“I know it’s not healthy, but I really want to eat it!”
Click here for tips from a registered dietitian on how to manage your cravings for sweets and other foods during pregnancy.  Click here for tips in Spanish on how to manage your cravings for sweets and other foods during pregnancy. 

Make a Plan


Would you like to know about how many calories you should be eating each day? Or the amount of food from each food group that is right for you? Then get your own individualized eating plan with this MyPlate Plan calculator.

It will estimate your calorie needs based on your age, height, pre-pregnancy weight, current trimester of pregnancy, and exercise level. For Spanish speakers, click here. Once you know your calorie needs, you get your eating plan. Review this plan with your doctor before you follow it. Your doctor may be able to refer you to a dietitian for counseling if you feel you need help following a healthy eating plan. Seeing a dietitian is especially important if you have a diet-related condition, such as gestational diabetes. Spanish speakers, click here.

Join WIC now!

Dietitians at the WIC Program can assess your diet and help you make diet goals for your health and your baby’s development. WIC (Women, Infants, and Children) is a supplemental nutrition program that can help you buy those foods that are most needed during pregnancy: vegetables and fruit, whole grains, beans and low-fat milk. About 40% of all pregnant women in the United States are eligible for WIC. Pregnant women enrolled in WIC tend to have healthier diets and healthier weight gain during pregnancy. Sadly, only half of eligible pregnant women enroll in this crucial nutrition program before their babies are born. Enroll in WIC as soon as you can. Polk County residents apply here. Access the website in Spanish by clicking on the box that says “language.”


Nutrition 4 Young Children
The Mickle Center, 1620 Pleasant Street, Ste. 249, Des Moines, IA 50314

Healthy Mothers, Healthy Babies


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