Pregnancy Diet: Eating Right During Pregnancy

Last updated 20 Mar 2018 . 1 min read

Pregnancy is a life-altering milestone in a woman’s life. During this period, your body needs added nutrition for proper growth of the baby. With a nutritious diet, not only will your baby be healthy and strong, it will also be easier for you to lose pregnancy weight after childbirth.


Nutritional requirements during pregnancy

Pregnancy is divided into three trimesters that witness specific growth milestones of the baby. With the baby’s growth, the nutritional requirements vary in each trimester. So, it is important to know the nutrients needed for each phase and eat well to ensure you are nurturing a healthy baby. You can build a nutritious pregnancy diet either yourself or in concurrence with your dietician.


What to eat during pregnancy 

A well-balanced diet during pregnancy should include fruits, vegetables, dairy foods, proteins, and whole grains. You must have three to four servings of fruit every day and can choose from fresh, frozen, canned, or dried fruits. To maintain proper intake of Vitamin C, ensure you include at least one citrus fruit such as orange, grapefruit etc in your diet. If you prefer juices, choose pure fruit juices limited to one cup a day as it is high on calorie but low on fibre content. Similarly, take three to five servings of vegetables every day, which may include broccoli, kale, spinach, carrots, sweet potatoes, pumpkin, winter squash, corn, yellow peppers, tomatoes, red peppers, and so on.

Dairy products such as milk, yogurt, cottage cheese, cheese, etc are used to get the calcium needed for the baby to grow and to keep your bones strong. If you find difficulty digesting milk due to intolerance for lactose, consider lactose-free milk, or products such as calcium-fortified soymilk.

To meet your protein requirements, you can consider lean meats, poultry, fish, and eggs. If you are a vegetarian, you can choose beans, lentils, split peas, nuts, and seeds.

Prefer whole grains over white flour to help meet your fibre needs. You must have at least six servings of grains every day, with half of them being whole grains, as they are rich in fibre. Fibre is essential for a proper bowel movement and reduces chances of constipation, hemorrhoids and other related conditions.


Diet for First Trimester

The first trimester (first six weeks) is a breeze for some, while many women feel nauseated, have difficulty swallowing anything other than water or saltines, and lose appetite early in the pregnancy. But, there are certain foods that every pregnant woman must eat during the first trimester, once nausea and other symptoms subside. A varied diet will not only help get you and your baby all the important nutrients but will also introduce your baby to the various tastes through the amniotic fluid.

During the first trimester of pregnancy folate (folic acid, vitamin B) is a vital nutrient as it reduces the risk of neural-tube defects by about 70% in the baby. It is recommended that you get 600 micrograms of this vital nutrient every day in the first trimester and 400 micrograms daily for the rest of your pregnancy. Remember folate is not that properly absorbed from foods as folic acid, so you may need folic acid supplements. Zinc requirement increases by 50 percent to 15 milligrams per day during pregnancy and its deficiency can lead to birth defects such as inadequate fetal growth and premature delivery.

First trimester - What to eat

For the first trimester you must include the following, to meet the nutritional requirements during pregnancy:

  • Spinach: For its high folic acid content. Post-conception, this helps the baby’s neural tube to fuse properly.
  • Lentils: A rich source of protein, lentils help the proper growth of tissues and muscles of the baby.
  • Beans: Again, a good source of protein, beans help your baby’s muscle growth and provide energy.
  • Citrus fruits: Not just for Vitamin C, citrus fruits such as oranges, grapefruit, lime, sweet lime are also high in folic acid, and help prevent birth defects.
  • Nuts: In the first trimester, you need 60 grams of extra protein every day. Nuts are not just yummy but also provide the required omega 3 for proper brain and neurological development of your baby before birth.
  • Cottage cheese: Full of calcium and protein, cottage cheese is excellent for muscle and bone development.
  • Asparagus: Many women are deficient in Vitamin D and can use Vitamin D rich asparagus to overcome this deficiency.
  • Eggs: Eggs provide protein, calcium and Vitamin D to help the proper formation of your baby’s bones. Omega-3 fortified eggs are good for brain development of your baby.
  • Broccoli: High in iron, broccoli is a must-have during the first trimester for the formation of your baby’s red blood cells.
  • Collard greens: Again, high in iron, collard greens are excellent for pregnant women lacking adequate iron.
  • Yoghurt: Yoghurt is an excellent source of calcium and vitamin D.
  • Chicken: The high iron content in chicken helps in the creation of red blood cells besides helping your body get enough oxygen.
  • Salmon: It is a safe fish to eat during pregnancy and is a good source of calcium and Vitamin D apart from two more important omega-3s - EPA and DHA - essential for baby’s brain and neurological development.
  • Lean Beef: As long as you eat properly cooked lean beef, it can be an excellent source of iron. Choose lean beef that has been grass-fed, is organic, and hormone-free.
  • Whole grains: They are full of fibre, B vitamins, magnesium and zinc, essential to prevent birth defects.

First trimester - Foods to avoid during pregnancy

The first trimester is the most vulnerable period of pregnancy. Therefore:

  • Avoid seafood high in mercury, undercooked meat, poultry and eggs.
  • Never eat fruits and vegetables without washing them as their skins may have traces of pesticides.
  • Avoid unpasteurized or processed foods, junk food, herbal tea, caffeine and alcohol.


Diet for Second Trimester

The second trimester marks the rapid growth of the baby, especially the bones and brain. It is during the second trimester that the baby grows fingerprints, functional nerves, full-length limbs and all the five senses. Therefore, nutrition intake becomes very important and the need for protein, calcium, vitamin D, and Omega 3 increases. Another nutrient that is important for the formation of healthy blood and skin is beta-carotene, a type of Vitamin A.

The focus in this trimester should be on energy-dense nutrients. Food rich in protein such as chicken, chickpeas, and yoghurt is needed now. Continue taking foods rich in folic acid and iron along with the prescribed prenatal vitamin and mineral supplements.

Second trimester - What to eat

  • Meat, poultry, fish, eggs, and nuts: To meet the increased protein requirement.
  • Dairy foods: Milk, yoghurt and cheese, to meet the greater need of calcium and vitamin D since your baby’s bones are now developing.
  • Fruits: Choose oranges, grapefruit, melons and berries to meet the requirements of Vitamin A and C, potassium and fibre requirements.
  • Vegetables: Deep-coloured vegetables such as spinach, carrots, tomatoes and others such as sweet potatoes, corn, peas and potatoes contain vitamins A and C, folate and minerals such as iron and magnesium. Since they are high in fibre and low in fat, they help alleviate constipation.
  • Grains and whole grains: Bread, cereals, rice and pasta provide carbohydrates for energy. In addition, they also provide proteins, vitamins, minerals, and fibre.
  • Iron-rich foods: Dry fruits, spinach, broccoli, green vegetables, porridge, chicken, lamb are all rich in iron and help produce red blood cells.
  • Omega 3 fatty acids: They are important for proper development of the baby’s brain. Fishes like salmon and mackerel are an excellent source of Omega 3 fatty acids.
  • Fluids: Drink at least 10 to 12 glasses of water every day. This will keep your body hydrated, help in lactation and avoid pregnancy-related problems such as constipation, acidity, heartburn and bladder infections.

Second trimester - Foods to avoid during pregnancy

  • Avoid papayas, especially raw or green papayas, as they have abortive properties.
  • Give up smoking and drinking as it hampers the proper growth of the baby.
  • Give a miss to caffeine, artificial sweeteners and fruit juices.


Diet for the Third trimester

The third trimester is a crucial phase of the development of your baby’s metabolism. Therefore, you must focus on nutritious food including folic acid, iron, calcium and fibre; and cut off junk altogether. Focus on the following nutrients in your third trimester:

  • Folic acid: Include natural sources of folate (folic acid) such as green vegetables, beans, citrus fruits, bread and yeast in your daily diet. Prefer eating them raw or after boiling them, as cooking for long may result in loss of natural folates.
  • Calcium: Calcium needs increase in the third trimester as your baby is rapidly growing. Include larger intake of milk, dairy products, figs, almonds and calcium supplements in your diet to meet this increased requirement.
  • Iron: In the last trimester, there is an increased need for iron as blood supply to the placenta is increased. Include iron-rich foods such as broccoli, green leafy vegetables, dates, whole-grains, raisins, potatoes and iron supplements as prescribed by your doctor.
  • Fibre: Include beans, pulses, peas, nuts, brown rice and other foods rich in fibre in your daily diet to reduce chances of constipation.  
  • Fluids: Keeping your body hydrated in the last trimester is crucial to avoid cramping and premature labour. Apart from 10-12 glasses of water, you can drink small quantities of fresh juices (100-percent fruit variety).
  • Proteins: Good sources of protein are fish, meat, peas, dairy products and eggs.
  • Vitamin C, B6 and B12: Vitamins play a key role in the healthy growth of the placenta, apart from breaking down dietary nutrients such as proteins, and for the development of the baby’s muscular system before birth. Therefore, include bananas, citrus fruits, carrot, chickpeas and wholegrain cereals in your diet.

It is true that due to the rapid growth of the baby, your energy requirements in the third trimester are far greater than in the first or second trimesters. You need extra 200 calories a day, but that does not mean you need to eat for two! 200 calories measure up to an extra chapati or an extra glass of milk every day.

Third trimester - What to eat

  • Fruits: Fresh fruits, rich in vitamin C help placenta develop properly. Vitamin C aids absorption of iron from the food to enhance immunity. Include fresh fruits such as kiwis, avocados, strawberries, banana and melon in your diet.
  • Lentils: For thiamine (vitamin B1) and fibres.
  • Vegetables: For vitamins, consider radish, tomato, lettuce and sweet corn.
  • Seeds and nuts: For thiamine, essential omega-3 fatty acids and proteins, consider sunflower seeds and dry fruits such as hazelnuts and walnuts in your breakfast.
  • Whole grains: Rich in fibre, to keep optimum energy levels and prevent constipation.
  • Salmon: For omega-3 fatty acids and DHA, that play an important role in the development of baby’s nervous system.
  • Eggs: For choline, to help cells function properly and development of the baby. It aids memory development while reducing the risk of renal and pancreatic disorders.
  • Yeast extract: Rich in folate.
  • Dairy: To meet the increased needs of calcium in the third trimester.
  • Iron-rich foods: Green vegetables, broccoli, lean beef and pork help increase the supply of blood to the placenta.

Third trimester - Foods to avoid during pregnancy

  • Avoid white bread, white rice, sweets, sodas and deep-fried food as they can increase blood glucose levels.
  • Do not eat raw or uncooked meat.
  • Avoid eating leftover food that has been left sitting out for more than two hours.
  • Do not use cheese made from unpasteurized milk as it may lead to premature delivery, miscarriage or stillbirth.
  • Avoid sushi made with raw fish, as it runs the risk of carrying harmful parasites.
  • Stay away from alcohol and caffeine or caffeinated beverages.



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