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Nutrition in Pregnancy

Contrary to the popular saying, you don't need to "eat for two." A growing baby actually needs you to eat only 300 extra calories a day, which isn't a lot. In general, you should get about 2,500 calories per day.

You do, however, need to make sure that your diet is as healthy as possible.

Make sure you get:

  • At least 400 mcg of folic acid per day, to help prevent birth defects. Folic acid can be found in most multi- or prenatal vitamins.
  • A good range of proteins, fruits, vegetables, grains and milk
  • Enough fiber, so you can avoid constipation.
  • Enough calcium for yourself and your growing baby, about 1,200 mg per day
  • About 30 mg of iron per day
  • About 6-8 8-oz. glasses of water a day

What to limit during pregnancy

  • Caffeine (limit to 1-2 servings per day)
  • Fish such as tuna and salmon (Choose light tuna rather than white albacore)
  • Spicy or greasy foods, if you're prone to heartburn
  • Artificial sweeteners

What to avoid during pregnancy

  • Unpasteurized cheeses or juices
  • Undercooked meat and poultry

Nutrition for breastfeeding mothers

  • Your baby may be allergic to something you have eaten. If your baby has symptoms like diarrhea, rash or gas, the answer may be something in your diet. Try eliminating certain foods and see if the problem goes away. Keep a record of what you eat. If you do not see improvements, contact your baby's pediatrician.
  • It takes two to six hours for food you have eaten to pass into your breastmilk.

Prenatal vitamins

  • If you are taking an over-the-counter vitamin, check the content with your provider. Some brands, especially from a health food store, may have more vitamin A than you need. Avoid excessive Vitamin A supplements.
  • Remember to take your vitamin every day to avoid "doubling up," which is not recommended.
  • Take your vitamin with a fluid other than milk, as it reduces the absorption of iron.
  • Do not take calcium, Tums, Rolaids or another supplement within two hours of your prenatal vitamin.

Tips for good eating

  • Avoid fasting or going for long periods without eating. Don't skip meals! Instead, spread your food intake throughout the day.
  • Drink 6-8 eight-ounce servings of liquids per day. Milk, a serving of juice, and water should supply most of your fluid needs. Limit your caffeinated beverages (coffee, tea, cocoa and soft drinks) to two six-ounce servings per day.
  • Caffeine and artificial sweeteners remain controversial topics. From a medical viewpoint, there is no firm evidence that either substance is harmful in moderation. The Food and Drug Administration has deemed both substances safe during pregnancy. Our recommendation is to use good common sense when consuming either one. Don't short-change yourself or your growing baby by substituting coffee, tea and diet sodas for more nutritious drinks. They markedly decrease the absorption of iron (in food or pill form) when consumed with or right after a meal.
  • Planning your meals and snacks ahead of time helps you get a more-balanced diet.
  • If you are a vegetarian, nutrition education is essential. Make an appointment to see a registered dietitian.
  • Iron is essential to the formation of hemoglobin, which carries oxygen from the lungs to the rest of the body. During pregnancy, your iron needs increase dramatically as your baby stores enough iron to last for the first three to six months of life. It is important that you keep your iron intake at an optimal level to prevent anemia. To ensure an adequate level of iron during pregnancy, be sure to eat iron-enriched foods on a regular basis. Animal sources of iron are absorbed best. Take your prenatal vitamin with water or juice. Include a vitamin C-rich food with an iron source such as orange juice for better absorption.


Listeriosis is an illness caused by food contaminated by harmful bacteria, and can be particularly dangerous for pregnant women and their unborn babies. It may cause flu-like symptoms. To reduce your risk of contracting listeriosis:

  • Do not eat hot dogs, luncheon meats or deli meats unless they are reheated until steaming hot.
  • Do not eat soft cheeses such as feta, Brie, Camembert, blue-veined cheeses and Mexican cheeses.
  • Do not eat refrigerated pate or meat spreads.
  • Do not eat refrigerated smoked seafood unless it is an ingredient in a cooked dish such as a casserole.
  • Do not drink raw (unpasteurized) milk or eat foods that contain it.
  • Keep your refrigerator at 40 degrees or lower, and your freezer at 0 degrees.
  • Keep your refrigerator clean and wipe up spills.

Mercury in fish

  • Fish is a good source of protein and is low in fat, but some kinds of fish can be high in mercury.
  • Avoid shark, tilefish, king mackerel and swordfish.
  • Limit white tuna to one can per week, or light tuna to two cans per week.
  • Learn more about mercury in fish and other mercury information from the New Hampshire Department of Environmental Services.

Further resources

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