Let’s face it: Whether you like it or not, you will gain some weight during pregnancy. Your baby’s health depends on it. But with proper nutrition, you can control some of that weight gain and provide your body with essential nutrients necessary for the health of you and your growing baby.
Here’s a guide to managing your nutritional needs during pregnancy.
A certain amount of weight gain is normal during pregnancy, but the amount depends on your pre-pregnancy body mass index. (To find yours, try this BMI calculator.)
- If your BMI is less than 18.5 (underweight), you should gain about 28 to 40 pounds.
- If your BMI is 18.5 to 24.9 (normal), you should gain about 25 to 35 pounds (37 to 54 pounds if carrying twins).
- If your BMI is 25 to 29.9 (overweight), you should gain about 15 to 25 pounds (31 to 50 pounds if carrying twins).
- If your BMI is more than 30 (obese), you should gain about 11 to 20 pounds (25 to 42 pounds if carrying twins).
The average woman needs about 2,200 calories a day and 2,500 during pregnancy (3,500 if you’re carrying twins). If you were a normal weight before pregnancy, you need only 300 extra calories per day — the amount in a bowl of cereal with fruit and low-fat milk or a whole-wheat bagel with cream cheese — to fuel your baby’s development. If you were overweight before pregnancy, you may need less than 300 extra calories.
Although every diet should include proteins, carbohydrates, vitamins, minerals and fat, the dietary reference intakes for some nutrients — including iron, folic acid and calcium — are higher for pregnant women. To get these extra nutrients, prenatal vitamins are usually recommended in addition to a well-rounded diet.
Folic acid, a B vitamin also known as folate, reduces the risk of neural tube defects, such as spina bifida and anencephaly, which occur when the spinal cord coverings don’t close completely during prenatal development. You should take 400 micrograms of folic acid daily during the first 12 weeks of pregnancy. Good sources include beans, peas and lentils; leafy green vegetables, such as spinach, collard greens, lettuce and broccoli; fruits, such as lemons, bananas and melons; and fortified breads, cereals, pastas and juices.
Iron is used by your body to make the extra blood that you and your baby need during pregnancy. Pregnant women need 27 milligrams of iron a day. Good sources are lean beef and pork, dried fruits, beans, sardines and leafy green vegetables.
Calcium is a mineral used to build your baby’s bones and teeth. You should get 1,000 milligrams of calcium each day. If you don’t get enough, the calcium needed for the baby’s development is taken from your bones. Great sources include dairy products; dark, leafy greens; fortified cereals, breads and juices; almonds and sesame seeds.
B vitamins, including B1, B2 and B6, supply energy for your baby’s development, promote good vision and help build the placenta and other tissues in your body. Great sources include liver, pork, milk, poultry, bananas, beans, whole-grain cereals and breads.
Vitamin C is important for a healthy immune system and for building strong bones and muscles. Pregnant women should get at least 85 milligrams of vitamin C each day. You can find vitamin C in citrus fruits and juices, strawberries, broccoli and tomatoes.
Vitamin D helps build your baby’s bones and teeth. You need about 200 international units of vitamin D daily — the amount in a few glasses of vitamin D-fortified milk. Fish liver oils and fatty fish, such as salmon, are good sources of vitamin D. Sunlight is another source, but be sure to wear sunscreen.
Choline is important for your baby’s brain development and can help prevent some common birth defects. Pregnant women need 450 milligrams of choline each day. Good sources include chicken, beef, eggs, milk and peanuts.
Omega-3 fatty acids, “the good fats,” can help lower blood pressure, reduce the risk of heart disease, boost the immune system and decrease the symptoms of depression. Good sources are fatty fish (salmon, tuna, lake trout and sardines), flaxseed (seeds or oil), canola oil, broccoli, cantaloupe, kidney beans, spinach, cauliflower and walnuts.