Pregnancy dietary guidelines
Even if you’ve never given much thought to your diet before, becoming pregnant will inspire you when it comes to food and nutrition. There are certain vitamins and minerals that can really make a difference to your baby’s growth and development, and steering clear of the bad stuff is important since whatever you eat and drink eventually will find its way to your baby.
Now is the perfect time to start thinking about your pregnancy diet and making wise decisions about what you eat. We've put together some helpful information on pregnancy eating, including what to eat, foods to avoid, recipes and more.
Even if you already consider yourself healthy there are some important things to keep in mind now that you are eating for two. As a basic rule, fresh is best, and getting more fruit and vegetables into your diet is one of the best ways to bump up your intake of vitamins and minerals. However, because there are some big changes going on in your life, when it comes to food there are some things to be more careful of.
What to eat during pregnancy
Always be aware of what NOT to eat during pregnancy (see below) and eat healthy, unprocessed foods, particularly lots of vegetables. Red and white meat, seafood, dairy products and cereals will also help you to meet nutritional requirements. If you’re vegetarian, ensure you’re getting enough iron and other nutrients found in meat and seafood. Some key vitamins and nutrients that are essential for you and baby include:
Vitamins A, B, C, D and E
For more on what to eat during pregnancy, see our pregnancy nutrition and foods during pregnancy information.
Foods to avoid during pregnancy
There are a few types of foods to avoid during pregnancy as they could potentially cause problems during pregnancy and throughout your child’s life:
Foods that may contain the bacterium Listeria: soft cheeses, uncooked ‘deli’ style meats, sushi and unpasteurised milk and milk products.
Foods high in mercury: raw fish and predatory fish that are high in mercury should be avoided. These include shark, swordfish and barramundi. A good alternative is salmon, which is relatively low in mercury.
Alcohol and caffeine should be avoided.
Pregnancy diet and morning sickness
Listen to your body’s signals that you want to eat or you don’t. Try to avoid eating something you dislike just because it is good for you. It is important to maintain your hydration even if you can’t tolerate too much food. Sips of water, cups of weak tea, fruit smoothies, cereal with low fat milk and even flat lemonade are good fluid options.
Keep a container of crackers and a glass of water on your bedside table. Even before your feet touch the floor in the mornings, make sure you have something in your stomach other than your digestive enzymes.
Ask your partner to cook the family meals until you feel better. This may not be until after your first trimester. The sight and smell of raw meat can simply be too much for many pregnant women, so avoid it if you need to.
Have a glass of milk and something light to eat just before you go to sleep at night.
Avoid very spicy, fatty or ultra sweet foods. Bland, easy to digest foods such as rice, pasta, noodles, sandwiches, fruit and toast are all good alternatives.
General dietary guidelines during pregnancy
Don’t skip meals or leave hours to lapse between eating. Aim for 5-6 small to moderate sized meals every day which don’t leave you feeling too full.
Eat breakfast, even if you usually don’t. It really is the most important meal of the day and will help to restore your body’s blood sugar levels to a healthy range after fasting for so many hours.
Avoid getting caught up in the “trap” of subscribing to diets which are said to eliminate toxins from your body. Unless you have problems with your liver and kidney function, you are unlikely to have any concerns. If in doubt, check with your midwife or obstetrician.
Aim to have a healthy relationship with food where you see it as fuel for your body and a means of functioning at your capacity. Take time to think about what foods are good for you and your baby rather than letting your taste-buds take over.
Don’t limit the range or variety of the foods in your pregnancy diet. Your baby will taste the flavours of the foods you eat when it swallows the amniotic fluid. This will prime their taste buds so that when they are old enough for solid food, at around 6 months of age, they will be more receptive to a greater range of tastes.
Have some form of calcium in your breakfast. Cereal drenched in milk, yoghurt, milky tea or coffee, or cheese on toast will help to correct the deficit of calcium in your bones which has been used up overnight. Bones are living tissue and like a bank account, they need regular deposits of calcium and vitamin D to stay strong.
Keep snacks and nibbles near wherever you are. In the first trimester when nausea and vomiting is common, eating something can make all the difference to how you feel.
Give in to cravings if you’re having them. As long as they’re not for inedible foods (Pica) there is often a biological reason for the cravings which pregnant women have. A craving for oranges or tomatoes for example, makes perfect sense because vitamin C is needed by the body to help absorb iron from foods.
Give up alcohol. The truth is there is no proven, safe level for pregnant women to drink and the only way to ensure you’re not having too much is to have none. Rediscover soft drinks, fresh fruit juices, soda water with a squeeze of lime or lemon juice or just plain tap water. The added fluoride will make its way to your baby’s jaw where their teeth and their enamel coating will be forming.
Don’t forget to buy iodised salt when you shop. Pregnant women need this important element for their own healthy thyroid function. Importantly, their baby needs it to boost their IQ. Seafood, iodine fortified bread, green leafy vegetables and eggs are other good sources.
Eating at buffet or salad bars can be risky. Only eat foods that you are confident have not been sitting out for too long
Read labels and become familiar with the nutritional information of the foods you eat. The general rule is that the greatest concentration of a food component is placed first on the ingredient list. Manufacturers have to itemise contents in descending order. If you have problems pronouncing a particular ingredient or don’t recognise it as a food type, chances are it is not going to be very good for you or your baby.
Pregnancy complications and diet
Sometimes pregnancy can bring about unwelcome changes within the body. Health problems such as gestational diabetes, iodine deficiency, anaemia, pre-eclampsia, high blood pressure and hyperemesis gravidarum are just a few common issues pregnant moms-to-be can experience. Occasionally what you’re eating can play a large part in feeling better and easing or managing symptoms – visit our pregnancy complications page for more information.