With countless pregnancy apps, online community forums, and unsolicited opinions from your friends, figuring out the best diet to adhere to before, during, and after your pregnancy can be a bit overwhelming. While everyone’s individual dietary requirements and bodily needs varies — it’s always best to consult with your doctor — this is the best advice nutritionists have to offer.
1. Take a Prenatal Vitamin Before You Even Start Trying to Become Pregnant
“It’s important for women to start taking a prenatal vitamin before they even start trying to become pregnant,” says Sarah-Jane Bedwell, R.D., host of Cooking With Sarah-Jane. “You’ll want to have plenty of the key nutrients, such as folic acid, iron, and calcium that the baby will need for healthy development — starting at conception.”
2. Don’t Make Any Massive Changes to Your Regular Diet
“Now is not the time to try a drastic diet change and become a vegan,” warns Lisa DeFazio, author of The Women’s Health Big Book of Smoothies and Soups. “Yes, a vegan diet can be healthy, but it takes knowledge and discipline to do it right. Don’t start experimenting now; your growing baby needs all the nutrition it can get right now.” It’s also normal to crave more meat when you’re pregnant (pregnant women require more iron and protein), so you may find it particularly hard to subdue such impulses for steak, chicken, and other meat.
3. Don’t Avoid Eating Nuts
Besides offering a slew of health benefits (like good-for-you omega-3s), nuts may also ward off against allergies in your newborn: “A recent study in the journal Pediatrics found that pregnant women who consume tree nuts or peanuts were less likely to have a child with a nut allergy,” say Janice Newell Bissex, R.D.N., and Liz Weiss, R.D.N., from MealMakeoverMoms.com. “In the study, the more nuts a pregnant woman ate, the more protection against a nut allergy was conferred to her child. Talk to your doctor first, but chances are you’ll get the green light to consume flavorful and nutrient-rich peanuts, walnuts, almonds, and pecans throughout your pregnancy.”
4. Load Up On Foods Rich In Folic Acid
“This nutrient is critical to the development of the baby’s brain and spinal cord. Intake of folic acid prevents Neural Tube Defects (NTD) like spinal bifida,” says Rebecca Lewis, R.D., nutritionist for Hello Fresh. Seek out foods like dark leafy greens (like spinach, kale, and swiss chard), citrus fruits, beets, and avocados, and shoot to get 400 micrograms daily.
5. Pair Iron-Rich Foods With a Fruit or Veggie
“Iron needs increase during pregnancy, and pregnant women can often become anemic. Vitamin C, which is in most fruits and veggies enhances the absorption of non-heme iron (which comes from plant-based food sources), making [women] less likely to become anemic,”say Lyssie Lakatos, R.D., and Tammy Lakatos Shames, R.D., The Nutrition Twins. “Plus, by getting a fruit or veggie with each meal, even if it contains heme-iron (animal food sources of iron), you’ll round it out with more nutrients.” A few ideas: a bean-chili with bell peppers; chicken with a marinara sauce; berries or oranges in your spinach salad.
6. You Probably Don’t Need As Many Calories As You Think
“In fact, no extra calories are required during the first trimester. Only 340 extra calories are needed in the second trimester and 450 during the third trimester, as compared to normal intake,” says Julieanna Hever, author of The Vegiterranean Diet. What’s more? “Excessive weight gain during pregnancy leads to gestational diabetes, high blood pressure, and delivery complications,” says DeFazio. If you’re constantly feeling hungry, talk to your doctor or nutritionist about the best strategies to alter your diet during pregnancy.
7. Boost Your Fiber Intake
“Consuming at least 28 grams of fiber during pregnancy may lower your risk of high blood pressure, decrease constipation, and lessen the risk of preeclampsia and gestational diabetes,” say Bissex and Weiss.
8. Be Sure to Get Enough Iodine
“This is critical to development of the baby’s brain,” shares Lewis. ” Insufficient intake of iodine during pregnancy is the world’s most preventable cause of mental retardation.” Some places to start? Cranberries, yogurt, and strawberries.
9. Eat Whole, Nutritious Foods
Not only is eating healthy important for your baby’s development, but it also floods your body with a wide variety of vitamins and minerals and helps maintain your energy levels. Reach for fresh, whole foods — think “eat the rainbow” — and don’t sweat a few slip-ups — it can be tough with morning sickness, alterations in hunger, and food aversions, says Hever.
10. Some Fish Is Unsafe, But You Don’t Have to Avoid All of It
“Two to three three-ounce servings of safe fish can provide important nutrients like iron, protein, and especially the important omega-3 fatty acids that are critical for healthy brain development. Safe fish include: tilapia, cod, salmon, crab, shrimp, sardines, canned light tuna, pollock, and catfish,” says Bedwell. “Fish that should be avoided during pregnancy (due to the high mercury content in these varieties) include: shark, swordfish, king mackerel,tilefish, and refrigerated smoked fish. And all fish should be cooked to avoid the increased risk of foodborne illness.” Always avoid sushi, sashimi, ceviche, and any other raw preparations while pregnant.
11. Eat At Regular Intervals
“It’s important to eat every two to four hours to provide a steady stream of nutrients to baby, steady energy levels to mom, and keep mom’s blood sugar levels stable,” says Bedwell. “Managing blood sugar levels can help combat feelings of fatigue and nausea.”
12. Be Patient With Postpartum Weight Loss
“It can sometimes take at least the same amount of time to lose the weight as it took to put it on,” says Hever.
13. Drinks Lots of Ginger Tea After Giving Birth
“Most people think of drinking ginger tea during pregnancy to fight nausea, but ginger is just as important post-pregnancy!” say Lakatos and Lakatos Shames.”It’s a powerful anti-inflammatory and will help the body to feel stronger and recover more quickly after birth.”
14. If You’re Breastfeeding, Don’t Start a Strict Diet
“You need the extra calories to produce quality milk,” says DeFazio, or about 500 extra calories a day to create the full amount of milk your baby will need. “Be patient, and remember that breastfeeding requires even more energy than pregnancy — but it is mutually beneficial, with the extraordinary health benefits for baby and calorie-burning bonus for moms,” says Hever.
15. Make Sure You’re Consuming Enough Postpartum Calories
“The extra caloric requirement for breastfeeding moms is between 450 to 500 calories per day. That’s even more than the recommended 450 additional calories needed during the last trimester of pregnancy,” say Bissex and Weiss. “Choose your extra calories wisely to assist with recovery, to maintain energy, and to promote optimum milk production.”