Names, nursery colors, and choosing all the right baby gear – there are so many choices to make when you’re bringing a new life into the world. One of the most important decisions an expectant mother can make is to eat a healthy, balanced diet during pregnancy. Nutritious foods, quite literally, provide the building blocks for a healthy baby. They also help expectant moms feel better throughout their pregnancy, giving them the energy they need and helping reduce common pregnancy-related complaints such as nausea and constipation.
Here are four “eating for two” nutrition tips:
1: Know your calorie needs
“Eating for two” doesn’t mean pregnant women should eat enough food for two people at every meal. Rather, it means eating healthy foods -- and healthy quantities of them – to support both the woman’s changing nutritional needs and her growing baby. Many people overestimate how many calories expectant moms need. In fact, most pregnant women only need about 300 extra calories a day during their second and third trimesters. Because caloric needs vary, a pregnant woman should always consult a physician about her specific nutritional needs.
2: Focus on folic acid
Getting the right amount of folic acid, a type of B vitamin, during pregnancy helps reduce the risk of serious birth defects in the baby’s spine and brain. It’s especially critical in early pregnancy. In fact, folic acid is so important that experts recommend that all women of reproductive age should have 400 micrograms a day.
Folic acid is the synthetic form of folate, a naturally occurring B vitamin. To get enough of this important nutrient, many women take a prenatal supplement containing folic acid. It’s also found in fortified pasta, breakfast cereals, and breads. Foods rich in naturally occurring folate include dark green leafy vegetables, beans, and oranges.
3: Eat the rainbow
A good way to get most of the vitamins, minerals, and nutrients required during pregnancy is to eat a variety of colorful fruits and vegetables every day. These foods also contain “phytonutrients,” naturally occurring chemicals and compounds that are critical to a healthy body.
- Orange and yellow foods, including bananas, carrots, sweet potatoes, and citrus fruits contain beta-carotene, a type of vitamin A, plus potassium, folate, and vitamin C.
- Green foods are rich in folate, fiber, magnesium, and potassium. Try spinach, broccoli, avocado, and asparagus.
- Red foods, especially tomatoes, grapefruit, and watermelon, are good sources of lycopene, folate, and potassium.
- Blue-colored foods -- plums, blueberries, eggplant, and grapes -- pack a healthful punch of fiber, manganese, and potassium.
4: Get your calcium
One of the most important nutrients during pregnancy is calcium. This hardworking mineral helps regulate fluids and supports the normal function of the circulatory, muscular, and nervous systems. Calcium is also critical for the healthy development of bones and tooth buds in the fetus. Most expectant moms need about 1,000 mg of calcium a day. Foods rich in calcium include: milk, yogurt, cheese, kale, broccoli, and calcium fortified cereals and juices.
Supporting healthier pregnancies in the U.S.
It’s especially important to focus on nutrition and health for pregnant women in the United States. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists observes January 23 as Maternal Health Awareness Day to help educate Americans about our country’s maternal mortality crisis. You might be surprised to learn that America is the only country among all developed nations where maternal mortality rates are increasing.
There are many causes for the relatively high maternal mortality in the U.S. including a population with a high levels of chronic health conditions, racial inequities in health care delivery, and disparities in access to nutrition and support services often due to where an expectant mother lives. The COVID-19 pandemic has also had an impact on maternal mortality rates because the virus can cause severe illness – and even death – during pregnancy.
Mom’s Meals supports pregnant women by offering a range of convenient, nutritious meals delivered right to the home, including lower-sodium, heart-friendly, and diabetes-friendly options for women managing chronic health conditions. Learn more.