Pregnancy Nutrition for Baby’s Best Growth & Development

So, you are pregnant and eating a little bit more these days. Good balanced nutrition during pregnancy is important—you’re fueling your baby’s development and growth.

You can follow most diets during pregnancy, including kosher, vegan, vegetarian, gluten-free and so forth, if you’re getting key pregnancy nutrients your baby needs. Talk to your pregnancy care provider and ask that they advise you in your diet as some pregnancies may require certain dietary restrictions dependent upon your own personal health status.

Weight Gain in Pregnancy

You’re expected to gain weight in pregnancy—even if you begin pregnancy with a few extra pounds on your body. Depending on your own personal health metrics, ask your pregnancy care provider how much weight gain they would advise across the full 40 weeks of pregnancy.

Now is not the time to start or continue a diet; trying to lose weight or dieting during pregnancy is not recommended as your growing baby needs all the nutrients it can get from your daily intake. Sure, you can occasionally indulge your cravings but remember that what you eat, baby eats as well so it’s important to be mindful of foods that particularly aid in your baby’s growth.

Foods & Nutrients that Fuel Baby’s Growth

Folic Acid is an essential vitamin that can help reduce the risk of birth defects such as spinal bifida and anencephaly, both of which affect the baby’s developing spine and brain. This important B vitamin helps baby’s skin, hair, and nails develop and is key to creating new cells. If you’re trying to get pregnant, experts advise to begin taking folic acid before you conceive your baby.

Foods that are high in folic acid include broccoli, spinach, brussels sprouts, garbanzo beans, and lentils. Folic acid is also found in many baked goods, such as breakfast cereals, pastas and breads. The CDC recommends women get at least 400 micrograms of folic acid per day during your reproductive years. Eating fortified foods and taking a supplemental vitamin will help you achieve this recommendation. If you’re overweight or obese ask your pregnancy care provider if they would advise a larger dose of folic acid.

Whole grains are super baby-friendly as they provide fiber to support your digestion. Constipation is common during pregnancy; Consuming foods rich in fiber along with drinking plenty of water will help normalize your bowel movements. Foods high in fiber include whole grain breads, oats, barley, brown rice, and quinoa. Whole grains help you feel more satisfied and fuller while eating, and feeling full will help you avoid empty or excess calories.

Iron is a mineral that increases hemoglobin, an essential protein in red blood cells that carries oxygen. During pregnancy your blood volume increases and so does your demand for hemoglobin for baby. If you have history of anemia prior to pregnancy, ask your pregnancy care provider, whether that’s your obstetrician or midwife, if you need to take an iron supplement.

If you are asked to take iron supplements during pregnancy, increase your fiber, water, or calcium intake to decrease the risks of constipation that comes with taking these supplements. Foods high in iron include tomatoes, spinach, green peas, dried apricots, kidney beans, fortified cereal, and oysters.

Protein found in lean meats is another important food for your pregnancy nutrition. Not all proteins are meats, and with an increased vegetarian/vegan lifestyle increasing in popularity, proteins are no longer locked in to one category. Proteins are made up of amino acids that help fuel cells, and build muscles, nails and hair. Foods high in protein include peanut or almond butters, black beans, guava fruit, fish, chicken, beef, dairy products, pistachios, hemp seeds, chia, and flax seeds, to name a few.

When Nausea Strikes

If you are experiencing nausea, make sure to eat small bites of foods throughout the day and stop before you get that queasy feeling—avoid foods that make you feel squeamish. You may try them again later in pregnancy, as desired. Sometimes eating a whole meal at one time can be too much and other times you might want a second helping, so it’s important to give yourself grace as you explore the amounts of food you can handle.

You might find that during pregnancy you will crave certain foods more than others and this is a normal phenomenon. Explore and have fun with available options to eat during this time. Having enough calories to sustain you and your growing baby is very important while being intentional in what you choose to eat.

This along with complex carbohydrates help with energy while maintaining balanced meals. During your pregnancy your energy may seem low at times and it’s important to rest when the feeling sets in. These pregnancy-plate tips will help you ensure you’re getting the best nutrition to your growing baby and for your own healthy pregnancy, mom:

  • Emphasize proteins, high-fiber foods.
  • Get your nutrition from food, and take a prenatal vitamin as a daily supplement; begin taking a prenatal while you’re trying to conceive a baby.
  • Graze throughout the day; 4 to 6 small meals rather than 3 bigger meals will help minimize heartburn and indigestion.
  • Get more of your calories before mid-afternoon to avoid heartburn at night.
  • Eat at least two “healthy” fish meals a week for the Omega-3s and DHA needed for your baby’s brain development.
  • Take a DHA supplement meant for pregnant women as a back-up.
  • Drink lots of water to prevent fatigue and dehydration.
  • Alcohol is entirely out in pregnancy; experts have mixed opinions about alcohol-free beers as they still contain up to 1% alcohol.
  • If you’re expecting twins or multiples talk with your healthcare provider about your unique nutritional needs during your pregnancy.
Along with mindful nutrition to boost your baby’s growth, remember to stay hydrated in all months of the year. Dehydration in pregnant moms is very common; your baby also benefits from the water you drink.

During pregnancy you may need more water than the average person, strive for 8 to 10 glasses. Water helps flush out waste and toxins, and aids your digestion. Around 300 extra calories per day is the recommendation calorie increase in pregnancy and during breastfeeding after baby’s birth.

Lakisa Ballard, MSN, RN, C-EFM, RNC-

Lakisa Ballard, MSN, RN, C-EFM, RNC-OB, is a nurse clinical practice specialist in labor and delivery at a hospital in greater Washington, DC.

The information contained on this article should not be used as a substitute for the medical care and advice of your health care professional.