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Healthy eating during pregnancy

If you’re pregnant, it’s more important than ever to have a good diet to ensure your baby can develop while you stay healthy. You don’t need to drastically alter what you eat but there are some important things to think about.

Here we give you the facts about what to eat if you're pregnant to ensure that you and your baby can thrive.

Open our infographic about the stages of pregnancy.

How your baby develops, stages of pregnancy by Bupa UK

Details

  • Is it true you need to eat for two? Is it true you need to eat for two?

    The issue

    Some women think they need to eat more when they're pregnant because they are 'eating for two'.

    The facts

    Although you may feel more hungry than usual, there's no need to ‘eat for two’.

    • You don't have any extra energy needs until the last three months of your pregnancy when you'll need an extra 200 calories a day. This is still not much – it's roughly the same as two slices of bread. 
    • If you put on too much weight, it can cause health problems such as high blood pressure. It can also increase the risk of problems for your baby, such as a development problem, which is called a congenital abnormality. 
    • It's normal to gain up to 14kg (just over 2 stones) while you’re pregnant. Most of this weight is due to your growing baby, not weight you put on through eating. 
    • If you’re overweight before you try for a baby, talk to your doctor about how this might affect your pregnancy. Your doctor may suggest that you lose some weight before you try for a baby.

    Don’t try to lose weight when you're pregnant – this could be dangerous for you and your baby.

  • What's a baby-friendly diet? What's a baby-friendly diet?

    The issue

    Once you get pregnant, what does your baby need to stay healthy and grow? Some women think they have to make drastic changes to their diet to make sure their baby gets everything it needs.

    The facts

    The most important point is to eat a healthy diet that provides you with enough energy and nutrients for your baby to grow and develop. See Related information for tips and advice. Some particular nutrients can affect your growing baby so it's important to make sure you get enough of these. Have a look at the information below for what you need to be doing.

    Folic acid

    Folic acid will help to reduce the risk of your baby having a birth defect, such as the condition spina bifida.

    • Take a 400 microgram (µg) folic acid supplement every day from when you start trying to get pregnant until you’re 12 weeks’ pregnant. If you weren’t taking folic acid before, start as soon as you find out that you’re pregnant. 
    • As well as taking folic acid supplements, eat plenty of foods that contain folate (the natural form of folic acid). Folate is in green leafy vegetables, oranges and bananas and some breakfast cereals that are fortified with folic acid (it’s added during manufacturing).

    Iron

    It’s common to develop an iron deficiency when pregnant. This is because your developing baby and placenta need iron to grow, and they take this supply of iron from your blood.

    • Eat plenty of foods that are rich in iron, such as red meat, fortified breakfast cereals, pulses and fish – particularly sardines. Although liver is iron-rich, don’t eat it while you’re pregnant. This is because it also contains lots of vitamin A, which can potentially harm your baby. 
    • Vitamin C helps your body to absorb iron, so include plenty of fruit, vegetables and fruit juices in your diet. 
    • You should be able to get all the iron you need from your diet – don’t take iron supplements unless your doctor advises you to.

    Vitamin D

    Vitamin D is important for healthy bones and your baby will need a good supply of it to grow and develop. Your body produces vitamin D when you go out in the Sun. You can also get vitamin D from some foods, such as oily fish and eggs.

    • Take 10 micrograms (µg) of vitamin D each day as a supplement to make sure you get enough. 
    • Always read the patient information leaflet that comes with your supplements and if you have any questions, ask your pharmacist or doctor for advice.

    See Related information for FAQs about vitamin D.

    Calcium

    It’s important to eat plenty of calcium-rich foods, as calcium will help your baby’s bones to develop. Examples of foods that contain lots of calcium include:

    • dairy products 
    • some green leafy vegetables, such as broccoli and cabbage 
    • fish, such as sardines (of which you eat the bones too)
  • What shouldn't I eat if I'm pregnant? What shouldn't I eat if I'm pregnant?

    The issue

    Sometimes it's hard to decipher what you can safely eat when you're pregnant and what can be potentially dangerous – and why.

    Our infographic details what's safe to eat.

    An infographic showing what's safe to eat when you're pregnant

    Click to open full size image (380 KB)

  • How healthy are you?

    Find out how healthy you are with a Bupa health assessment, and receive a personalised lifestyle action plan and health goals for a healthier, happier you.

  • Advice about special dietary needs Advice about special dietary needs

    The issue

    If you're vegetarian or eat a special diet because of a health problem such as coeliac disease, do you need to change your diet, so your baby can get the nutrients it needs?

    The facts

    There's no reason why you can't stick to your beliefs or needs so long as you eat a healthy balanced diet. Combine this with the tips below and you and your baby should get everything you need.

    • Make sure you get any nutrients you're missing from foods you're excluding, such as meat, from other foods sources that you can eat. It might take a little more research but you should be able to source them elsewhere. For example, you can get any protein you're missing in meat from soya or beans and pulses. If you're missing out iron, eat lots of green leafy vegetables like watercress, or pulses such as peas and lentils. 
    • Check food labels to see if they are fortified with any nutrients important for your baby's development, such as vitamin B12. Fortified foods can replace nutrients you might be missing out on. 
    • If you don't think you're getting the right nutrients, have a chat with your doctor about the possibility of taking supplements. Don't take them without getting advice first because some can be harmful when you're pregnant. 
    • If you have a health condition such as coeliac disease, ask your doctor about folic acid supplements. You may need to take more than other women.
  • Resources Resources

    Further information

    Sources

    • Healthy eating when you are pregnant. British Nutrition Foundation. www.nutrition.org.uk, published 4 January 2013
    • Weight management before, during and after pregnancy. National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE), July 2010. www.nice.org.uk
    • Healthy eating and vitamin supplements in pregnancy. Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists. www.rcog.org.uk, published October 2014
    • Nutrition in pregnancy. Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists. www.rcog.org.uk, published September 2010
    • Antenatal care. National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE), March 2008. www.nice.org.uk
    • Calcium. British Nutrition Foundation. www.nutrition.org.uk, accessed 6 May 2015
    • Food safety for moms-to-be: safe eats – dairy and eggs. US Food and Drug Administration (FDA). www.fda.gov, published 17 October 2014
    • Vegetarian and vegan mums-to-be. British Nutrition Foundation. www.nutrition.org.uk, published April 2015
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    Reviewed by Rachael Mayfield-Blake, Bupa Health Content Team, June 2015.

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