Nutrition for pregnancy

This Blog is to complement my recent article in Round and About magazine, I am also delighted to be part of the team at Fit and Healthy mums and am doing my first workshop for mums wellbeing and nutrition after birth - the 4th Trimester - on Wednesday 13th March see for more details.

Why does nutrition during pregnancy matter?

A great deal of research now links a mother’s nutrition pre and post pregnancy with the health of a child throughout their lives. We now know that pregnancy is a ‘critical period’ where a mother’s nutrition status can ‘programme’ a baby’s future risk of disease as well as influence their adult weight and, importantly, their brain development too.

So what should you be eating during pregnancy?

Firstly, the Department of Health recommends that during pregnancy you follow a typical ‘well-balanced diet. This means eating a variety of foods from all of the food groups such as fruits and vegetables, wholegrain carbohydrates, protein-rich foods and some dairy foods.

But let’s get into more of the specifics during pregnancy

Focus on vegetables and fruits during pregnancy…

Fruits and vegetables are an important food group to include during pregnancy – this is because they are rich in vitamins and minerals as well as fibre, which can help with symptoms such as constipation during pregnancy. If you haven’t worried too much about getting your 5-A-Day in the past, now is the time to have a go.

Getting your 5-A-Day doesn’t have to be hard – I normally recommend focusing more on the wonder of veggies and trying to include 1-2 portions of fruit or vegetables with every meal. You can also opt for some as snacks, especially if you’re finding yourself hungry in-between meals.

“..but I’m eating for two”

Remember that you DON’T have to eat for two – this is a complete myth. You only need excess calories during the third trimester and, even then, 200 kcals extra is all that’s required – the equivalent of 1-2 slices of wholemeal bread! as the human body is incredibly clever, and during pregnancy actually increases the uptake of vitamins and minerals to compensate for your growing baby’s needs.


For the general population, if we’re eating well and living a healthy lifestyle, we don’t really need to take supplements (unless recommended by your doctor, of course!) But during pregnancy there are a few extra vitamins you need to be taking to make sure you’ve got enough to supply you and your baby. These are…

Folic acid – it is recommended to take 400mcg (micrograms) of folic acid from the moment you decide to get pregnant, right up until your 12th week of pregnancy. This is because folic acid is important for the development of your baby’s spine and to reduce the risk of something called ‘neural tube defects’. If you’ve got diabetes, or have had a previous baby born with a neural tube defect, you may need a higher dose, so talk to your doctor about this before you start trying.

It’s also recommended to eat plenty of foods that are naturally rich in folate (nature’s form of folic acid). These foods include dark green leafy vegetables such as spinach and broccoli, some fortified breakfast cereals, beans, lentils, oranges and bread (see how most of them also fit in with your 5-A-Day too..)

Vitamin D – this nutrient is very important for the growth of your baby’s bones and mothers are recommended to take 10mcg of vitamin D throughout pregnancy (as well as throughout breastfeeding).

It’s a good idea to invest in a pregnancy multivitamin when you’re pregnant. This should include adequate amounts of vitamin D and folic acid as well as other important nutrients such as iron, iodine and calcium, which all can be beneficial during pregnancy (but aren’t always necessary). If you do decide to take a pregnancy vitamin, you can start taking it when you’re trying for a baby to boost your stores and to make sure you’re getting the folic acid recommended pre-pregnancy too. You can continue to take this throughout pregnancy and breastfeeding if you wish too. Make sure you don’t take any other multivitamins at the same time, and avoid taking anything with vitamin A, as vitamin A can be toxic for baby in high doses.

Include some fish

As recommended for the general population, during pregnancy we are also recommended to eat two portions of fish, one of which should be oily to ensure you’re providing your baby with plenty of brain benefitting omega-3 fatty acids. Oily fish includes – fresh tuna, salmon, mackerel, sardines, trout and herring. Try and opt for MSC certified versions as this means they have been caught sustainably and not in the huge nets that are damaging our seas!MSc Certified fish | Fish friendly | Sustainability

However, Department of Health also warn that mothers shouldn’t consume too much in the way of oily fish – no more than 2 portions a week – as some oily fish can contain high levels or mercury, which can be poisonous. This is very unlikely and just a precaution, so don’t worry too much if you’ve eaten more than two portions in one week.

If you really dislike fish or are vegetarian, you can try and opt for a pregnancy multivitamin that comes along with a good omega-3 supplement to make sure your growing baby gets enough.

So, what else should I avoid eating during pregnancy?

  • We’ve already mentioned avoiding taking supplements containing vitamin A but it’s also important to avoid foods that contain too much vitamin A such as liver, paté and cod liver oil. You can get all the vitamin A you need from brightly coloured fruits and veg like carrots, peppers and mangos.
  • As well as not having too much in the way of oily fish, you should try to avoid eating any shark, swordfish or marlin (just in case you were planning on it!), because these can be high in mercury as well.
  • There has been a lot of controversy around the UK’s alcohol advice during pregnancy, as current policy recommends avoiding alcohol completely (especially during the first three months) however, it also recommends that if you do wish to drink, you should have no more than 1-2 units, once of twice a week.
  • It’s also recommended to limit the amount of caffeine you have during pregnancy as too much may increase the risk of miscarriage or having a low birth-weight baby. 200 milligrams (mg) of caffeine is the maximum amount recommended to have a day. To put this into context 1 mug of instant coffee contains around 100mg and a cup of tea roughly 75mg. Remember that green tea, chocolate and some fizzy/soft drinks also contain caffeine so keep an eye on how much you’re having throughout the day.
  • You also need to avoid certain cheeses during pregnancy, mainly because of certain bacteria can grow on some cheeses which may, in very rare circumstances harm your baby. Mould-ripened soft cheeses such as brie and camembert should be avoided as well as blue-veined cheeses such as Danish blue, gorgonzola and Roquefort. The NHS recommends that hard cheeses are fine to eat during pregnancy, along with some soft cheeses such as mozzarella and feta. For a more comprehensive list of cheeses you can and can’t eat during pregnancy, the NHS choices website is a fantastic resource.
  • Avoid any raw or undercooked meat, fish during pregnancy and opt for only pasteurised dairy foods. Eggs were previously advised not to be eaten under cooked or raw during pregnancy and this is still the recommendation unless the eggs are stamped with the Lion Code (red lion stamp), in which case, they are now considered safe to eat.
  • Take extra care with food hygiene especially when handling raw meat, fish and eggs.

Here are some snack ideas for pregnancy too.

During pregnancy, you may be find that you have cravings for certain foods, you’re suffering from morning sickness and finding certain foods hard to tolerate or simply that you need an extra kick of energy to get over tiredness and fatigue.

Most women don’t need any more calories when they are pregnant – not until the very last trimester when all you’ll need is around 200kcal extra – a slice or two of bread’s worth.

That’s why it’s a good idea to be smart with your food choices. And opt for some healthy snacks to help keep those energy levels up and some of those nasty pregnancy symptoms’ at bay.

If you’re suffering from morning sickness, opting for plain, energy-dense snacks such as:

  • Wholegrain crackers
  • Breadsticks
  • Rice cakes
  • Plain popcorn
  • Nuts
  • Wholegrain toast

All these can really help during pregnancy as they don’t have too much flavor, but are enough to give you a good hit of energy to perk you up. Try and opt for wholemeal options wherever possible, for a slower release of energy.

For a big energy boost, nuts are the perfect food. Nuts are easy to carry around and energy dense, but also contain a good bulk of protein, fats and fibre to give you plenty of nutrients at the same time.

It’s also fine to have peanuts during pregnancy, as long as you’re not allergic to them yourself, and, it might even help reduce the risk of peanut allergy in your baby.

Aside from the above and whether you’re suffering with any pregnancy related symptoms or not, having a list of go to healthy snacks can be a real help during pregnancy. So I’ve listed below some great, healthy and quick fix snack ideas for pregnant women.

Healthy Snacks During Pregnancy:

  1. Apple and cheese slices (try grating the cheese so it goes a little further) or nut butter
  2. Walnuts and raspberries with plain/Greek yogurt
  3. Pitta bread and vegetable fingers with hummus
  4. Mashed avocado on toast
  5. Egg and soldiers
  6. Wholegrain cereal or oats with milk and fruits
  7. Vegetable smoothie made with milk or yogurt
  8. Low sugar banana bread (pop some homemade stuff in the freezer to tap into)
  9. Dried fruits and nuts
  10. Nut butters with crackers/bagels/muffins

Other great snack ideas for Healthy Snacks During Pregnancy include:

  • All fruits and vegetables – fresh, dried, or frozen
  • Plain yogurts
  • Overnight oats
  • Wholemeal toast and marmite/PB
  • Homemade soups
  • Beans on toast
  • Oatcakes and marmite

There are plenty of other ideas for healthy snacks during pregnancy, but a point to note is that when you are ‘snacking’ during pregnancy, it should be just that – a snack and not a whole meal. This may mean that you need to be more mindful of your portion sizes, even if you are choosing healthy foods.

I really hope you find this useful.

Best wishes


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