Why it’s important to eat well when you’re pregnant
Various factors determine the outcome of a pregnancy, including the nutritional status of the mother. The foods you eat during pregnancy are your baby’s building blocks, so feed yourself wisely.

Healthy eating during pregnancy

Eating for 2 can lead to excessive weight gain during the pregnancy. But eating too little can mean decreasing the availability of essential nutrients to developing baby.

A healthy diet should include an adequate amount of energy (calories or kilojoules). Additional energy is required to support increased metabolic demands in pregnancy.

Energy requirements during pregnancy

In the first trimester there are no additional energy requirements. During the second trimester, an additional 350kcal (1400kJ) per day are required. Another 100kcal (400kJ) per day should be added to the diet in the third trimester.

Healthy weight gain during pregnancy


7kg to 11.5kg

Healthy weight

11.5kg to 16kg


12.5kg to 18kg

The risks of maternal malnutrition

It used to be thought that the baby develops at the expense of the mother’s nutrition, but we now know that a malnourished mother is affected less than her unborn baby.

Maternal malnutrition can affect the newborn’s birth weight, the risk of neural tube defects, and increase the child’s risk for developing lifestyle related diseases later on in life.

Low birth weight

A baby born with a low birth weight has an increased risk of thrifty metabolism and insulin resistance. This increases the risk of developing high blood pressure, obesity, cardiovascular disease and diabetes in adult life. This occurs because of poor development of beta cells, which manufacture insulin.

A balanced diet

To ensure adequate nutrition, follow a balanced diet including enough carbohydrates, proteins and fats, as well as vitamins and minerals.

Protein requirements increase to support the synthesis of maternal and foetal tissue.

Good sources of protein include:

  • Fish (tinned, freshly cooked or frozen)
  • Lean meat
  • Eggs (cooked well)
  • Low-fat dairy products
  • Chicken without the skin 

Important vitamins and minerals during pregnancy

Folic acid

Folic acid is vital. Your baby rapidly develops spine and nerve cells in the first few weeks of pregnancy. Inadequate amounts of folic acid at this crucial time increase the risk of a neural tube defect such as spina bifida.

Foods rich in folic acid include:

  • Spinach
  • Brussels sprouts
  • Cabbage
  • Beans
  • Lentils
  • Fortified cereals
  • Citrus fruit and juices.


Calcium is needed for the development of foetal and infant bone and teeth, and to protect your own calcium stores and skeletal bone mass.

Good sources of calcium are:

  • Low-fat milk
  • Yoghurt
  • Cheese (hard, pasteurised)
  • Almonds
  • Salmon (cooked)
  • Tinned fish
  • Dark green leafy vegetables are good sources of calcium.


Iron requirements are higher during pregnancy due to the increase in maternal blood supply. Additional iron is also needed for foetal and placental tissue. Inadequate iron intake could reduce oxygen delivery to the developing foetus and placenta.

Iron supplementation has been shown to improve birth weight. Iron supplements should not be taken with tea, coffee or milk as they interfere with absorption.

Foods rich in iron include:

  • Meat (cooked)
  • Chicken (cooked)
  • Eggs (cooked)
  • Legumes
  • Dark green leafy vegetables (rinsed properly)
  • Fortified breads and cereals

Antenatal supplements usually contain iron. If you are concerned about your iron intake, speak to your doctor.


Zinc is important for the synthesis of DNA and is required for cell division and growth.  Zinc deficiency in pregnancy can lead to congenital malformations as well as abnormal foetal brain development.

The recommended daily allowance for zinc is 11mg per day.

Foods that are rich in zinc:

  • Meat (cooked)
  • Milk
  • Whole grains
  • NB: Liver & shell fish are rich in zinc but to be avoided during pregnancy.

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