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“You are the closest I will ever come to magic.”
― Suzanne Finnamore

Nutritional Needs of Pregnancy:
From Pre-Conception to Birth and Nursing

Becoming a parent is a big responsibility, and while it brings many joys, having a baby can be expensive. It’s not just about spending time and money – for mothers, having a baby also means making a nutritional and metabolic investment.

When a baby grows during pregnancy and infancy, the mother’s nutrients play a crucial role. In pregnancy and nursing (breastfeeding), the mom needs more nutrients to stay healthy, help the baby grow well, and produce milk to nourish the infant.

What is Nutrition?

Nutrition involves consuming food that gives your body the necessary elements to stay healthy and function properly. The essential nutrients your body requires include proteins, carbohydrates, healthy fats, vitamins, and minerals.

Importance of Nutritional Diet During Pregnancy and Nursing

Eating well before and during pregnancy is crucial for both mom and baby. The initial 500 days of a child’s life, from conception to six months post-birth, are essential. The baby relies entirely on the mother for nutrition during this period. Instead of eating more, focus on nutrient-rich foods like fruits, veggies, whole grains, nuts, seeds, and fish. This is better than relying on processed or sugary foods. A healthy diet reduces the risk of pregnancy complications. Supplements can help those with inadequate nutrition. 

For newborns, Nursing (breastfeeding) is best. It provides personalized nutrition and long-term health benefits. Lactating mothers should continue eating healthily for their well-being and their babies.


Key Components of a Healthy Lifestyle During Pregnancy and Nursing

There are the following vital components of a healthy lifestyle during pregnancy:

  • Appropriate weight gain
  • A balanced diet
  • Regular exercise
  • Proper and timely vitamin and mineral supplementation

Ideal Foods to Eat During Pregnancy

The following foods contribute to both maternal health and fetal development during pregnancy:

  • Vegetables:carrots, sweet potatoes, pumpkin, spinach, cooked greens, tomatoes, and red sweet peppers (rich in vitamin A and potassium), green leafy vegetables (magnesium)
  • Fruits:cantaloupe, honeydew, mangoes, prunes, bananas, apricots, oranges, and red or pink grapefruit (excellent sources of potassium)
  • Dairy:Low-fat yogurt, organic milk (providing calcium, potassium, and vitamins A and D)
  • Grains:ready-to-eat cereals, cooked cereals (packed with iron and folic acid)
  • Proteins: beans and peas, nuts and seeds, lean beef, lamb, pork, salmon, trout, herring, sardines, and pollock

Essential Nutritional Needs for Pregnant and Nursing Women

The essential nutrients are crucial for your and your baby’s thriving health. Pregnant women may consider taking a prenatal vitamin and mineral supplement to ensure they meet the specific nutritional needs for crucial vitamins such as folic acid, iron, calcium, etc.

Folic acid

  • Folic acid is crucial for the development of a baby’s brain and spinal cord, as well as for the production of red and white blood cells.
  • To reduce the risk of neural tube defects, women should aim for at least 400 micrograms (0.4 milligrams) of folic acid daily before conception and during early pregnancy.
  • During the second and third trimesters of pregnancy, the recommended daily intake of folic acid increases to 600 micrograms (0.6 milligrams).
  • Nursing women should ensure a daily intake of 500 micrograms (0.5 milligrams) of folic acid.
  • Dietary sources of folic acid include fortified bread and cereals, while natural folate is found in leafy green vegetables, citrus fruits, avocados, lentils, and beans.


  • Calcium is essential for strong bones, teeth, and overall bodily function.
  • Pregnant and nursing women should aim for a daily intake of 1,000 mg for maternal and fetal health.
  • Good dietary sources: low-fat dairy (milk, yogurt), calcium-fortified orange juice, and milk alternatives (soy or almond milk).
  • Leafy greens like kale and specific cereals also contribute to calcium needs during pregnancy and nursing.


  • Maintain an iron-rich diet during pregnancy and nursing to prevent iron deficiency anemia.
  • Include lean meats, poultry, and fish in your meals for a good source of dietary iron.
  • Opt for fortified cereals to boost iron intake.
  • Incorporate legumes like beans, split peas, lentils, and leafy green vegetables into your diet.
  • Consider taking a daily iron supplement to ensure sufficient iron levels and prevent fatigue and related issues.


  • Fiber aids in relieving pregnancy-related constipation.
  • Whole grains like whole-wheat bread and brown rice, along with fruits, vegetables, and legumes, are excellent sources of fiber.
  • Including these foods in the diet helps promote digestive health during pregnancy.


  • Protein is vital for a baby’s muscle, bone, and tissue development, especially in the later stages of pregnancy.
  • Pregnant women need increased protein intake but should avoid protein supplements like shakes and powders.
  • Healthy protein sources include lean meat, poultry, fish, beans, nuts, nut butter, eggs, and tofu.


  • Iodine is essential for thyroid hormone production and for growth and brain development.
  • Inadequate iodine intake during pregnancy may cause thyroid problems and developmental issues in the baby.
  • Pregnant and nursing women should use iodized salt, eat iodine-rich foods like seafood and dairy, and take a prenatal vitamin with 150 micrograms of iodide.

Healthy Fats

  • Essential for pregnancy, fats support baby growth and development.
  • Prioritize healthy fats like unsaturated fats; limit saturated and trans fats.
  • Sources include olive, canola, nuts, seeds, avocados, and fatty fish.
  • Choosing the right fats is crucial for a balanced and nourishing pregnancy diet.

Vitamin A

  • Vitamin A is essential for a baby’s heart, eyes, and immune system development.
  • Excessive intake can cause congenital disabilities; prenatal vitamins should not exceed 1,500 micrograms.
  • Avoid additional vitamin A supplements during pregnancy.
  • Dietary sources include milk, orange fruits, vegetables (cantaloupe, carrots, sweet potatoes), and dark leafy greens.

Vitamin B12

  • Vitamin B12 is essential for a baby’s red blood cells and brain development.
  • Found in animal products and fortified foods.
  • Adequate B12 intake is crucial for maternal and fetal health.

Vitamin D

  • Vitamin D supports calcium absorption for healthy bones and teeth.
  • Sunlight exposure produces vitamin D, and dietary sources include fortified milk, orange juice, egg yolks, and salmon.
  • Pregnant and nursing women should aim for 600 international units of vitamin D daily.
  • Ensuring adequate vitamin D levels is vital for maternal and infant bone health.

Healthy Weight Gain During Pregnancy

Maintaining a steady weight gain during pregnancy is normal and crucial for your well-being and your baby’s health. However, it’s equally important to avoid excessive weight gain. Too much weight gain during pregnancy can elevate the risk of health issues such as gestational diabetes and high blood pressure. Additionally, it may pose challenges in post-pregnancy weight loss. 

The recommended weight gain during pregnancy depends on your body mass index (BMI) at the beginning.

Weight Before Pregnancy

Suggested Weight Gain

Underweight (BMI < 18.5)

28–40 pounds

Normal Weight (BMI 18.5–24.9)

25–35 pounds

Overweight (BMI 25.0–29.9)

15–25 pounds

Very Overweight (BMI > 30.0)

11–20 pounds

Dietary and Caloric Recommendations

  • Add 300 extra calories daily for a healthy pregnancy.
  • Choose a balanced diet with protein, fruits, vegetables, and whole grains.
  • Minimize intake of sweets and fats.
  • A well-balanced diet helps reduce pregnancy symptoms like nausea and constipation.
  • Prioritize nutrient-dense foods for maternal and fetal well-being.

Fluid Intake During Pregnancy

  • Ensuring an adequate fluid intake is a crucial aspect of pregnancy nutrition.
  • Consume several glasses of water each day to meet hydration needs.
  • Include fluids from sources like juices and soups in your daily intake.
  • Avoid alcohol during pregnancy.

Following these fluid intake recommendations supports maternal well-being and proper fetal development.

Foods to Avoid During Pregnancy

Avoid the following foods during pregnancy:

  • Void unpasteurized milk and related products.
  • Heat hot dogs and luncheon meats until steaming before eating.
  • Say no to raw or undercooked seafood, eggs, and meat, including raw fish sushi.
  • Skip refrigerated pâté, meat spreads, and smoked seafood during pregnancy.

Tips for Healthy Nutritional Diet During Pregnancy and Nursing

  • Consume a diverse range of foods.
  • Prioritize high-fiber options like fruits, vegetables, dry beans, whole-grain breads, and cereals.
  • Engage in moderate, regular exercise.
  • Stay well-hydrated, aiming for about 3,000 milliliters per day during pregnancy and an additional 700 milliliters while nursing.
  • Opt for 3–5 meals and snacks daily.
  • Consider an extra 300–500 calories per day for energy needs during pregnancy or nursing.
  • Tailor the recommended weight gain during pregnancy to the individual’s pre-pregnancy weight.
  • While nursing, avoid strict weight loss diets; losing 2–4 pounds monthly won’t impact milk supply, but exceeding 4–5 pounds monthly after the initial month is not recommended.

The Takeaway

The journey of parenthood is a transformative experience, demanding careful attention to both the physical and nutritional aspects of the mother’s well-being. Proper nutrition is pivotal in ensuring the mother’s and baby’s health and development, especially during pregnancy and nursing. By focusing on a well-balanced diet rich in essential nutrients such as proteins, carbohydrates, healthy fats, vitamins, and minerals, mothers can provide the optimal foundation for their baby’s growth. Nursing (breastfeeding) is highly encouraged, as it offers personalized nutrition and long-term health benefits for both the mother and the baby.


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