What to eat when you’re pregnant

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Discover the best foods for pregnant women, and what foods to avoid during pregnancy, with Woolworths Baby and Toddler Club’s guide to health and nutrition for expectant mums.

When you’re pregnant, everything you eat and drink can directly benefit, or potentially harm, your growing baby. Do you need a better reason to fuel your body with healthy, nutrient-dense foods?

Smart, fresh foods will also give your body the extra energy boost it needs to get through the next nine months of pregnancy. And remember, now is not a time to ‘eat for two’ or, conversely, to try and lose weight. To get the most nutritional bang for your buck, follow our smart, simple guide to eating during your pregnancy.

  • Eat healthy complex carbohydrates for sustained energy. This includes fruit, wholegrain cereals, breads and pasta, potatoes, beans and lentils. Aim for 4-6 serves a day. One serve is equal to 2 slices of bread or 1 cup of cooked pasta, rice or noodles.
  • Eat protein-rich foods such as chicken, fish, lean red meat, dairy, seeds and pulses. All of these will help your baby’s growth and development. Aim for 1½ serves a day. One serve is equal to 65-100gm of cooked meat or chicken (eg. ½ cup mince, 2 small chops) or 80-120g cooked fish fillet.
  • Limit saturated fats and ‘junk’ carbohydrates including biscuits, doughnuts, lollies, chips, chocolate and cake.
  • Replenish your iron levels with lots of meat, chicken, pulses, green vegies and wholegrain cereals. Pregnancy increases your need for iron, not to mention the fact that your baby draws enough iron from you to last the first five or six months after birth.
  • Fill up on vitamin C-rich foods such as raw fresh fruits and vegetables to help your body fight infection. Vitamin C acts as an antioxidant, which protects cells from damage and is essential for wound healing and tissue repair, bone and growth repair and healthy skin. It also helps your body absorb iron so try eating vitamin C-rich foods with each meal.
  • Eat plenty of folate-rich foods like green leafy vegetables such as broccoli and spinach, plus oranges, bananas, chickpeas, nuts, orange juice and folate-enriched breakfast cereals. Folate, also known as folic acid or Vitamin B9, is one of eight B vitamins and one of the few nutrients known to prevent neural tube birth defects such as spina bifida. The National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) recommends women get an extra 400mcg of folic acid every day for at least one month before, and three months after, conception. 
  • Aim for 5 to 6 serves of vegies and legumes a day and talk to your doctor about whether you need to take a supplement. One serve is equal to ½ cup of broccoli or spinach or 1 piece of medium sized fruit such as apples, bananas or oranges.
  • Omega-3s are very good for you and found in fish. Although there are certain types of seafood to avoid (raw oysters, cooked chilled prawns and some deep-sea fish due to potentially high levels of mercury), it is recommended for pregnant women to eat 2 to 3 serves of fish a week. Be careful about what type of fish you eat during pregnancy. The NSW Food Authority has a clear guideline on how to eat fish safely.
  • Iodine is essential for everyone, especially pregnant and breast-feeding women. Mild to moderate iodine deficiency during pregnancy can result in the baby having learning difficulties and affect the development of motor skills and hearing. Think about stocking up on the right type of fish, seaweed and iodised salt to get your fix.
  • Get at least 2 servings of dairy a day. When you’re pregnant, your calcium requirements increase and during the third trimester, your baby needs a large amount of calcium as they start to develop and strengthen their bones. Enjoy foods such as milk, hard cheese, yoghurt and calcium-fortified soy milk.

Be careful what you share with your baby

Certain food groups and personal habits can put your baby at risk, such as:

  • Listeria is a type of bacteria found in some foods, which can cause a rare but dangerous condition called listeriosis which has been linked to miscarriage and stillbirth. To reduce the risk of contracting listeriosis avoid eating the following foods:
  1. Pâte
  2. Oysters
  3. Raw and smoked fish
  4. Raw eggs
  5. Raw meat
  6. Sprouts
  7. Processed meats
  8. Sushi
  9. Ready-made salads
  10. Soft cheeses
  11. Soft-serve ice-cream
  • Avoid drinking any alcohol as it can lead to miscarriage, stillbirth, premature birth or foetal alcohol syndrome, which may impair growth before and after birth plus result in mental disabilities. The National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) advises the safest option is not to drink alcohol at all if you are pregnant or breastfeeding, or if you’re planning to get pregnant.
  • Stop smoking because it increases the risk of premature birth, low birth weight, respiratory problems and SIDS. There is no safe level of smoking.
  • Cut back on coffee. Small amounts of caffeine are safe during pregnancy but excessive amounts may increase the risk of miscarriage and premature birth. NSW Health recommends pregnant women limit their caffeine intake to 200mg daily (about three cups of instant coffee).

Want to know more about how your pregnancy diet can affect your baby? 

By Kayte Nunn, mum of three

The information on this site does not constitute advice and should not be relied upon in making, or refraining from making, any decision. The information on this site should not replace the expertise of qualified professionals, and if you have any concerns, you should always consult a qualified professional.

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