Eating well for now and what’s to come

During pregnancy, nutrition needs increase for many vitamins and minerals including the B group Vitamins (which means folate), Vitamin C, zinc, iron, iodine and selenium. Other nutrients such as essential omega-3 fats, a variety of fibre types including prebiotics fibres to keep the gut bacteria healthy, polyphenols from plant foods, and so on remain important. So, a healthy diet is super important, and you can find a really helpful pregnancy nutrition guide based on the Australian Dietary Guidelines here and shown in Table 1. A pregnancy multivitamin and mineral supplement will help you get a top up of some of the really important pregnancy nutrients, so be sure to chat to your dietitian or healthcare professional about choosing the right pregnancy nutrient supplement for you.

Table 1 – Pregnancy nutrition guide
Food group Serves required during pregnancy Examples of one standard serve
Vegetables and legumes/beans 5
  • ½ cup cooked vegetables
  • ½ cup cooked or canned beans, peas or lentils
  • 1 cup green leafy or raw salad vegetables
  • ½ cup sweet corn
  • ½ medium potato or other starchy vegetables
  • 1 medium tomato
Fruit 2
  • 1 medium fruit, such as apple, banana, orange
  • 2 small fruit pieces, such as apricots, kiwi fruit or plums
  • 1 cup diced or canned fruit (no added sugar) Or only occasionally 125ml (½ cup) fruit juice (no added sugar)
  • 30g dried fruit (such as 4 apricot halves, 1 ½ tablespoons sultanas)
Grain (cereal) foods, mostly wholegrain and/or high-fibre varieties 8
  • 1 slice bread, ½ medium roll or flat bread (40 g)
  • ½ cup cooked rice, pasta, noodles, barley, buckwheat, semolina, polenta, burghul or quinoa
  • ½ cup cooked porridge, 2/3 cup wheat cereal flakes, ¼ cup muesli
  • 3 crispbreads
  • 1 crumpet, small English muffin or scone
Lean meats and poultry, fish, eggs, tofu, nuts and seeds and legumes/beans 3.5
  • 65 g cooked lean meats, such as beef, lamb, veal, pork, goat or kangaroo (90–100 g raw)
  • 80 g cooked lean poultry, such as chicken, turkey (100 g raw)
  • 100 g cooked fish fillet (115 g raw) or one small can of fish
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 cup cooked or canned legumes/beans*, such as lentils, chickpeas or split peas
  • 170 g tofu
  • 30 g nuts or seeds, nut/seed paste
Milk, yoghurt, cheese and/or alternatives, mostly reduced fat 2.5
  • 1 cup (250 mL) fresh, UHT long life, reconstituted powdered milk or buttermilk
  • ½ cup (120 mL) evaporated milk
  • 2 slices (40 g) hard cheese, such as cheddar
  • ¾ cup (200 g) yoghurt
  • 1 cup (250 mL) soy, rice or other cereal drink, with at least 100 mg of added calcium per 100 mL

*Canned foods should preferably be with no added salt

Folate, iodine and iron during pregnancy

Getting enough folate, iodine, iron and other key nutrients during pregnancy is important. For more information on the importance of folate, see our pre-pregnancy page here and for more on iodine, see our iodine page here. As a reminder, a pregnancy multivitamin and mineral supplement is needed and should contain around 400 micrograms (μg) folate and 150 μg iodine. Remember, women with pre-existing thyroid conditions should seek advice from their medical practitioner before taking an iodine supplement.

A woman’s needs for iron also increase during pregnancy, especially during the second and third trimesters as the baby’s growth rate speeds up and getting enough from foods rich in iron like fish, lean red meat, poultry and legumes may be difficult. If this sounds like you, it’s worthwhile chatting to your dietitian or healthcare professional, to make sure that you have a pregnancy supplement that provides you with enough of the iron and these other key nutrients that you will need, because they are important to you but also to the development of your little one. If you need to find a dietitian, go to the Dietitians Association of Australia website.

Weight gain during pregnancy

Even though you have your little one growing and developing in the womb, your energy needs increase only a little during pregnancy. So, try not to over eat during pregnancy, as it might lead to excess weight gain and increase the risk of gestational diabetes. Instead of thinking that you need to eat lots more, try flipping your thinking and focus on making improved, nutrition rich choices. Eating a variety of nutrient-rich foods from the required food groups (Table 1) as small, frequent meals will help you do this.

The right amount of weight gain during pregnancy will depend on your pre-pregnancy weight. If you carried a little extra weight before you became pregnant, then you’ll need to be careful to gain less weight than someone who started within their healthy weight range and if you were underweight when you fell pregnant, you may need to gain a little more. For recommendations on total weight gain and the rate of weight gain during pregnancy, take a look at this Australian Government website.

As a general guide, weight gain between 11.5 and 16 kg is considered normal for women of a healthy weight. For overweight women, pregnancy is not the time to start dieting or trying to lose weight, as dieting and food restriction may mean that your baby doesn’t get the nutrients she or he needs for their development. Instead, look to gain less weight during pregnancy. If you are concerned about weight gain during pregnancy, simply avoid eating too many discretionary foods, like sweets, chocolates and ice-cream and eat more foods from Table 1 and according to the Australian Dietary Guidelines during pregnancy. Underweight women may need to gain a little more weight during their pregnancy (between 12.5 and 18 kg).

If you are having difficulty, you should seek the advice of an Accredited Practising Dietitian. Regular dietitian advice has been shown to improve outcomes on nutrition goals and weight management during and post pregnancy.

Article provided by:

Dr Jaci Barrett and Dr Sonja Kukuljan
Accredited Practising Dietitians