What to Eat (...and Not to Eat) When Pregnant

The doctors and midwives at North Florida's All About Women discuss safe and healthy eating during pregnancy.

It may be hard to believe you really have a baby inside until you get a good ultrasound picture, but if you're pregnant, you're body is already working on helping your baby grow into the little person you'll soon meet.

Over the course of your pregnancy, you have the chance to help nourish both your own body and that of your baby's. One of the first steps of eating well is to know exactly how much more you need to eat during pregnancy, and it isn't much.

Most women only need an extra 450 calories at the end of their pregnancy. But eating well doesn't have to be a big ordeal, you may just need to tweak your food choices a little to avoid potentially dangerous foods for your baby, and to make the food you eat count for as much as it can by incorporating nutritious add-ons.

Clean Up Your Eating Habits

You probably know that when you're pregnant it's time to cut out some vices, particularly smoking and alcohol. But there are also some foods you should avoid or eat cautiously during pregnancy. According to the government's food safety website, you should steer clear of the following:

  • Soft Cheeses. Cheeses such as feta, Brie and queso fresco are all made from unpasteurized milk and have the possibility of containing listeria, which can cause miscarriage. Make sure any cheese you eat has a "made with pasteurized milk" label.

  • Raw and undercooked fish. That means no sushi.

  • Products with uncooked eggs. Raw eggs may contain salmonella. Avoid eating raw cookie dough and cake batters, sunny side up eggs, as well as homemade mayonnaise and ice cream.

Be careful with these foods:

  • Lunch meats, hot dogs, and cold cuts. These meats may contain Listeria so if you eat them, be sure to heat them to 165°, even if precooked.

  • Fish: Many fish have high mercury counts. You can eat up to 12 ounces of low-mercury fish a week.

  • Caffeine: while you don't have to cut it out completely, try to limit caffeine intake to 200 mg a day, according to the March of Dimes.

In addition to removing or limiting these potentially harmful foods from your diet, you should also try to replace foods that are high in calories and low in nutrition. Focus particularly on highly refined carbohydrates and snack foods that are high in fat.

Switch out a doughnut for a whole-wheat English muffin with fruit spread, or a bag of potato chips for some air popped popcorn. While it's not always ton of fun, making alternative food choices can ensure you and your baby are getting the needed nutrition, and that you won't be riddled with extra weight to loose after the baby comes.

Make What You Eat Count

Once you've cleared out all the foods you can't and shouldn't eat, it's time to add on foods that you should be eating during pregnancy to help ensure high quality nutrition. While every woman should take a prenatal vitamin at the recommendation of their pregnancy doctor or nurse midwife, expecting mothers still need to be taking their nutrition seriously.

The best way to get the extra calories you'll need during pregnancy is too make what you eat count. Here are a few examples:

  • When having a bowl of cereal, add some fruit to the mix.
  • Use peanut butter to replace butter on your toast.
  • Add toasted nuts and cheese to your salad.
  • Add greens to your sandwiches.

You can pack in a whole lot of nutrition and calories just by amending what you regularly eat.

Pregnancy Nutrient Needs

While you're pregnant, there are some nutrients that your body uses a lot of, and thus you should pay special attention to make sure you're getting enough of the following:

  • Iron: Your need for iron doubles while pregnant. If you're not getting enough iron, you'll become anemic. Signs of anemia include tiredness and depression. Lean red meat, poultry, and fish are all good sources of iron.

  • Folate: This B-vitamin helps protect your baby from neural tube defects and brain and spinal cord abnormalities. Dark leafy greens, dried beans, and citrus fruits are all good sources of folate, as are fortified cereals.

  • Calcium: If you don't provide enough calcium to your body during pregnancy, your body will provide the calcium for your baby from your bones. Calcium is essential for your baby's strong bones and teeth, as well as your own circulatory, muscular, and nervous systems. Dairy products are the richest sources of calcium - aim for at least four or more servings a day.

  • Protein: Protein is particularly important in the 2nd and 3rd trimesters for helping your baby grow. Aim for about 71 grams a day from lean meat, fish, eggs, dried beans, tofu, and nuts.

Additionally, make sure you're eating a diet high in fiber since pregnant women are prone to constipation, especially as the baby gets bigger. And be sure to stay well hydrated - it might help you ward off pesky Braxton-Hicks contractions later in pregnancy.

When it comes to making sure you're making the best choices during pregnancy, you're not alone. The compassionate pregnancy doctors and midwives at north Florida's All About Women are here to help you all the way from preconception checkups to healthy deliveries. Call our Gainesville or Lake City office today to schedule an appointment.