Updated: Jan 16
Having a healthy, balanced diet is especially important during pregnancy to make sure you are providing both you and baby with all the essential nutrients needed for good health. But many expectant mums may feel overwhelmed with information about what they should (and shouldn’t) be eating during pregnancy. To help, our dietitian Tabitha Ward RD has come up with some top tips to help you stay healthy throughout your pregnancy:
1. Don’t eat for two
For the first two trimesters of pregnancy, you don’t need any extra food than normal. It’s only in the third trimester that you may need an extra 200 calories a day extra.1 That equates to about half a sandwich. Some other 200 calorie snack ideas include two hard-boiled eggs, an apple with a tablespoon of peanut butter, hummus with veggie sticks, or a bowl of porridge topped with fruit. Focus on the quality of your diet and choose nourishing foods with plenty of nutrients rather than foods containing ‘empty calories’.
2. Maintain a healthy weight
Pregnant women with a healthy BMI have a lower risk of pregnancy complications and adverse outcomes compared to women who are overweight or underweight.2 However, weight gain in pregnancy is different for everyone and depends on your weight before pregnancy. For example, overweight women need to gain less, whereas underweight women need to gain more.3 There are no specific guidelines on how much you should gain during pregnancy in the UK, but it must be noted that pregnancy is NOT the time for losing weight or following restrictive diets as this could be harmful to your baby. If you are worried about your weight, speak to your doctor or midwife as they may be able to provide more information on diet and exercise and can make a referral to a specialist dietitian if necessary.
3. Take the right supplements
If you are eating a healthy, balanced diet, it’s likely that you will be getting most of the vitamins and minerals you need from food. But it’s still advised that you take some supplements to help you meet requirements. For pregnant women and women trying to conceive, it's recommended to take 400 micrograms of folic acid up for the first 3 months of pregnancy to help prevent neural tube defects. A vitamin D supplement of 10mg is also recommended D. Vitamin D is needed for healthy bones, teeth and muscles. We can get vitamin D from sunlight and food sources, but it’s difficult to get enough, especially during the winter months.4
*Be careful to avoid any supplements containing vitamin A as an excess of vitamin A can be harmful to your baby so make sure you check the label (this may be labelled as retinol).
4. Eat plenty of fruit and veg
Aim for a minimum of 5 portions of fruit and veg every day. This will provide you with essential vitamins and minerals needed to keep both you and your baby healthy. To find out what counts as a portion, click here. And remember, fresh, frozen, tinned and dried all counts, just try and avoid fruits canned in syrup and instead opt for those in juice. For fruit juice and smoothies, only 150ml is recommended and this will only ever count as one of your 5 a day.
5.Choose wholegrain carbs
Carbohydrates provide us with energy. And wholegrain carbohydrates provide us with additional fibre which is essential for healthy digestion and preventing constipation which affects several pregnant women.5 Wholegrain carbs include foods such as brown rice, wholemeal pasta, wholemeal bread, and other grains such as buckwheat and quinoa. When it comes to cereal, opt for whole oats and wholegrain cereals such as Weetabix. If you don’t like the taste of whole grains, try 50/50 options first or have a mix of wholegrain and white pasta then gradually up the quantity of brown until the taste becomes more familiar.
6. Make sure you get enough protein
We need protein for the growth of new tissues so it’s essential for your growing baby. Protein also keeps us feeling full so it’s great to have with each meal to keep you feeling satisfied. Protein is found in animal foods such as meat, fish, and eggs but there are also many plant-based sources such as beans, pulses, nuts, seeds and tofu. If you do eat fish, aim for 2 portions each week (1 of which should be oily) as this provides omega-3 fatty acids which are essential for your baby’s brain development. But do be mindful that you should not be having more than 2 portions of oily fish a week because it can contain toxins.6
7. Stay hydrated
Drinking plenty of fluid is key to good health. It is important during pregnancy too as extra fluid is needed to form an amniotic fluid and carry vital nutrients to the baby in the blood. Aim for approximately 6-8 glasses of fluid per day and be aware you may need more in warm weather or if you are more active. Water is the best choice, but no added sugar squash and herbal teas count too. For those suffering from morning sickness, getting enough fluid is especially important to avoid dehydration.
8. Be active
Exercise during pregnancy is both safe and healthy for you and your baby. If you exercised before pregnancy, you can continue with a similar routine. But if exercise is new to you, start slowly and gradually build up to 150 minutes a week.7 Try to add more activity to your daily routine that is realistic, and you enjoy doing. For example, going for a walk with a friend, climbing the stairs instead of taking the lift, and even gardening and cleaning! To find out more information of what to be aware of, and exercises to avoid, click here. And remember to ask your midwife about anything you are unsure about.
9. Be aware of foods to avoid
During pregnancy, there are certain foods that are best avoided for the safety of your baby. This includes certain cheeses (e.g., soft mould-ripened cheese and blue cheeses), unpasteurised milk and products (e.g., soft goats’ cheese), raw or under-cooked meats, any liver or liver containing products (including all types of pate), game meats (e.g., goose, partridge or pheasant), certain types of fish (e.g., swordfish, marlin, shark and raw shellfish), and raw or partially cooked eggs that are not British Lion.8 To find out more, click here.
10. Avoid alcohol and reduce your caffeine intake
Alcohol should be avoided completely in pregnancy as this can lead to long-term harm to your unborn baby.9 Caffeine, however, does not have to be avoided but you do have to be mindful of your consumption. It’s recommended to have no more than 200mg a day.10 That’s approximately two mugs of instant coffee. Be aware that food and medical products contain caffeine too. For example, chocolate (especially the darker varieties), and cold and flu remedies. To find out more and to calculate your caffeine intake, click here.
A word to end on…
Eating well during pregnancy doesn’t always go to plan. You might experience unpleasant symptoms such as sickness and tiredness, which means you might not always be able to eat as healthily as you’d like. Try not to be too hard on yourself and instead focus on small healthy eating goals that are achievable and realistic for you. Small steps over time can have a big impact.
Tabitha is our specialist weight management dietitian. Tabitha has written for Men's Health, and Tesco food magazine. Her passion is helping to communicate trusted, expert nutritional advice that is not only tasty but easy to implement. Please contact us to request Tabitha's expertise.