Nutrition for pregnancy

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Nutrition for pregnancy

Getting ready for your baby

As with many of the really special events in our lives, having a baby means lots of change and excitement. During the pregnancy your baby depends on you for the nutrition it gets so it is very important to eat well and safely. Nutrition for pregnancyEven before you are pregnant preparations should begin to get your body in good condition. A healthy pregnancy will be a happy pregnancy and taking good care of yourself is the key.

Eat well

If you normally eat well and enjoy a wide variety of foods you will probably have to make only a few changes to your diet. If your diet isn’t as good as it could be, now is a good time to make some changes - both you and your baby will benefit. During pregnancy eating for two is not necessary. Your baby will grow rapidly during the last three months and you may need to eat a little more then, an extra glass of milk and a slice of bread each day should be enough. If you feel nauseated (morning sickness), try to eat small meals more often. Toast or dry biscuits, with perhaps a little jam, may be better tolerated than more fatty foods.

Be happy with your weight

If you plan to have a baby but are unhappy with your weight, give yourself time to work on this before you become pregnant. Trying to manage weight changes once you are pregnant is much more difficult and is not good for the baby. Women are sometimes unnecessarily concerned about their weight, so, if you are already pregnant just relax about it until your baby is born. Your doctor and nutritionist will advise you.

Folic acid is important

Ideally, this vitamin should be taken in supplement form for at least three months before you become pregnant. If you are already pregnant, folic acid should continue to be taken until the twelfth week. Until recently, the importance of folic acid was not understood. We now know that it helps to prevent babies from developing disorders called neural tube defects. Your doctor will tell you how much to take.

Iron important for you and baby

When you are pregnant you need more iron than usual. This is particularly important if you have ever had anaemia (low blood iron). The best way to be sure of getting enough is to take iron-rich foods regularly. The most readily available iron is found in meat (e.g. beef, lamb, pork), fish (e.g. mackerel, haddock, sardines) or chicken. Iron from vegetables, cereals, pulses (peas, beans, lentils) and eggs is less well absorbed, but, Vitamin C helps you to absorb iron from these foods if taken at the same meal. Citrus fruits such as oranges, fresh fruit juices and green vegetables contain Vitamin C. Tea prevents iron from being effectively absorbed so make it weak and try not to drink tea with meals.

Calcium makes strong bones

Calcium requirements increase when you are pregnant. Dairy produce, (milk, cheese and yoghurt) and sardines or tinned salmon are good calcium-rich foods. Five portions of these foods should be taken daily during pregnancy and for the duration of breast feeding. Vitamin D helps you to absorb calcium. Vitamin D can be made in the body through the action of gentle sunlight on the skin and is found in oily fish and fortified milk or margarine.

Take some exercise

Being fit means being healthy, feeling better and enjoying life more. If you normally play a sport it is often fine to keep it up. Check with your doctor about what is right for you. Walking and swimming are wonderful ways to relax and can be continued until your baby is born. Rest is also important so if you feel tired try to find a few minutes to put your feet up.

Babies don't like smoke

Stopping is not easy if you are a smoker, but babies hate smoke and if you smoke so does your baby. Cigarettes emit dangerous chemicals which go from your blood to your baby. They stop your baby from growing well and make it harder for him/her to be healthy.

Vegetarian or vegan mums-to-be

A vegetarian diet can be very healthy and provide all the nutrition you need, but it does require careful thought. During pregnancy, women need additional iron from their diet and as the foods which provide the best iron are meat, chicken and fish, vegetarians may need to take an iron supplement. This should be discussed with your doctor.

Calcium is important for bones. In Ireland we usually get calcium from milk, cheese and yoghurt, so vegans may need to take a calcium supplement.

Foods to avoid or limit

It is important to avoid foods which may make you or your baby sick. To reduce the risk that you will become ill, all food should be fresh, clean, hygienically prepared and stored carefully. Avoid foods which may have been left sitting for any length of time. Cook meat, chicken, fish and eggs very well. Foods made with uncooked eggs (e.g. home-made mayonnaise, mousse) should not be eaten. Cheeses made with unpasteurised milk (usually soft or blue veined) should be avoided; choose regular cheddar or another hard cheese instead.

Some fish may contain mercury and should be avoided. Shark, swordfish and marlin are rarely eaten but should be avoided. Tuna is much more likely to be eaten and may be a source of mercury so it is advised that you limit your intake of canned tuna to 2 medium sized (140g or 5oz) cans per week or one portion of fresh tuna a week.

High intakes of Vitamin A can be harmful to your baby so it is advisable to avoid unprescribed supplements, such as cod liver oil. As liver is high in Vitamin A it should be avoided during pregnancy, as should meat products made from liver such as paté.

Caffeine is found in coffee, tea and cola type soft drinks. Too much caffeine may not be good for your baby, especially in the early stages so choosing decaffeinated versions of these drinks is a good idea. Limit your intake of the caffeinated versions.

Peanuts and pregnancy

If there is a family history of allergy, avoiding peanuts during pregnancy and during breastfeeding may reduce your baby’s chances of developing peanut allergy.

Good foods for mums-to-be


Use the wide range of breads which are now available to add variety to your meals and snacks. Cereal with fruit and milk makes a good breakfast.


Try them baked, boiled or steamed, rather than as chips. A good topping for savoury pies.


Use at your main meal or make a rice or pasta salad with fish, eggs or cheese for a light meal.


Eat twice a day. Take a small portion as part of your light meal and a more substantial helping for dinner. Good for iron and zinc.


Protein foods which may be used by vegetarians. See note on vegetarian eating.


Calcium-rich foods which contain protein and vitamins. Eat about five portions of these foods daily.


Very important. Full of vitamins. Use as a snack between meals or for dessert. Vegetables (cooked or as a salad) should be included in both lunch and dinner. Do not over-cook as some vitamins are destroyed by cooking.

Visit your doctor and attend ante-natal classes

This webpage provides general information about the nutritional issues which are important during pregnancy.  To check out your special needs it is important to talk to your doctor and attend ante-natal clases.  Here you will learn lots more about having your baby.  Your doctor or local health clinic will be able to tell you where and when the most convenient classes are available.