Nutritional Needs During Pregnancy and Breastfeeding

HYG-5573
Family and Consumer Sciences
Date: 
02/25/2015
Original author: Jaime Foster, Extension Associate, Human Nutrition
Revised by: Irene Hatsu, Ohio State University Extension

Pregnancy and breastfeeding are the most nutritionally demanding times of a woman's life. The body needs enough nutrients every day to maintain its needs and also to support the growth of a baby. All of the nourishment the developing baby needs comes from mom, either through the foods she eats or the supplements she takes. Pregnant and breastfeeding women need more nutrients than other women. It is important to consume balanced meals that have a variety of foods, including fruits and vegetables, whole grains, lean protein and low-fat dairy products. MyPlate has recommendations for pregnant and breastfeeding women at choosemyplate.gov/pregnancy-breastfeeding/pregnancy-nutritional-needs.html.

The recommendations help moms choose healthy and nutrient-dense foods to meet their needs and those of their unborn child. Nutrient-dense foods are packed with more nutrients for the calories than other foods that are mostly calories with few nutrients. Personal daily needs will vary depending on the mother's weight before pregnancy, activity level and if mom is expecting or has delivered multiple babies. In addition, pregnant women may need to take a prenatal vitamin and mineral supplement to ensure adequate intake of specific vitamins such as folic acid, iron and calcium.

Folate is essential because it reduces the risk of a baby being born with spinal cord birth defects. It is important to consume 400 micrograms per day of folic acid before pregnancy, and 600 micrograms per day during pregnancy. Breastfeeding women need 500 micrograms per day. Foods such as broccoli, dark green vegetables and oranges are high in folic acid.

Iron is needed to prevent iron-deficiency-related anemia. Pregnant women need about 27 milligrams per day. The need for iron declines after birth, but women who are breastfeeding still require about 10 milligrams per day. Fortified cereals, green leafy vegetables, beans and lean meat are good sources of iron.

Calcium is needed by your baby for strong bones and a healthy heart, muscle system and nervous system. If calcium is not supplied by the mother's diet, calcium is taken from the mother's bones for the baby. Pregnant and breastfeeding women 19 years and older need around 1,000 milligrams per day, and women under 19 years of age need 1,300 milligrams per day.

A good diet takes planning. Pregnant women should make sure they eat a variety of foods from each food group. This will provide enough calories for adequate weight gain.

Weight Before Pregnancy Suggested Weight Gain
Underweight (BMI < 18.5) 28–40 pounds
Normal Weight (BMI 18.5–24.9) 25–35 pounds
Overweight (BMI 25.0–29.9) 15–25 pounds
Very Overweight (BMI > 30.0) 11–20 pounds

Besides nutrition, there are lifestyle choices that can also affect the health of both the mother and the baby. It is important for pregnant women to do all of the following: ensure that the foods they consume are safe; incorporate physical activity into their daily lives; and avoid consuming alcohol.

Tips for Healthy Eating During Pregnancy and Breastfeeding

  • Eat a variety of foods.
  • Choose foods higher in fiber such as fruits, vegetables, dry beans, whole-grain breads and cereals, and other whole-grain products.
  • Exercise in moderation, on a regular basis (ask your doctor).
  • Drink plenty of fluids (approximately 3,000 milliliters per day or 12 eight-ounce glasses for pregnant women, and approximately 700 milliliters more for breastfeeding women).
  • Eat 35 meals and snacks per day.
  • Pregnancy and breastfeeding increase the need for calories and most nutrients. Most women who are pregnant or breastfeeding (and are a healthy weight) might need an additional 300500 calories per day to provide the extra energy the body needs. Three hundred calories is equal to a regular snack, such as half of a peanut butter and jelly sandwich and a glass of 1% milk.
  • The amount of suggested weight gain during pregnancy depends upon weight before pregnancy. Check with a doctor to find the amount that is right for you.
  • While nursing, avoid restrictive weight loss diets. Losing 24 pounds a month will not affect your milk supply, but losing more than 45 pounds a month after the first month is not recommended.

General Meal Plans

Below are general meal plans based on MyPlate. Your needs might vary from this plan. You can create your own meal plan at choosemyplate.gov/supertracker-tools/daily-food-plans/moms.html.

Pregnant Women
Food Group 1st Trimester 2nd and 3rd Trimesters What Counts as 1 Cup or Ounce?
Vegetables 2.5 cups 3 cups 1 cup raw or cooked vegetables or 100% juice
2 cups raw, leafy vegetables
Fruits 2 cups 2 cups 1 cup fruit or 100% juice
½ cup dried fruit
Grains 6 ounces 8 ounces 1 slice bread
1 ounce read-to-eat cereal
½ cup cooked pasta, rice or cereal
Dairy 3 cups 3 cups 1 cup milk
8 ounces yogurt
1.5 ounces natural cheese
2 ounces processed cheese
Protein 5.5 ounces 6.5 ounces 1 ounce lean meat, poultry or seafood
¼ cup cooked beans
½ ounce nuts or 1 egg
1 tablespoon peanut butter
Breastfeeding Moms
Food Group Breastfeeding Only Breastfeeding Plus Formula What Counts as 1 Cup or Ounce?
Vegetables 3 cups 2.5 cups 1 cup raw or cooked vegetables or 100% juice
2 cups raw, leafy vegetables
Fruits 2 cups 2 cups 1 cup fruit or 100% juice
½ cup dried fruit
Grains 8 ounces 6 ounces 1 slice bread
1 ounce read-to-eat cereal
½ cup cooked pasta, rice or cereal
Dairy 3 cups 3 cups 1 cup milk
8 ounces yogurt
1.5 ounces natural cheese
2 ounces processed cheese
Protein 6.5 ounces 5.5 ounces 1 ounce lean meat, poultry or seafood
¼ cup cooked beans
½ ounce nuts or 1 egg
1 tablespoon peanut butter

References

Institute of Medicine, Food and Nutrition Board. Dietary Reference Intakes for Thiamin, Riboflavin, Niacin, Vitamin B6, Folate, Vitamin B12, Panthotenic Acid, Biotin, and Choline. Washington, DC: National Academy Press, 1998.

Institute of Medicine, Food and Nutrition Board. Dietary Reference Intakes for Vitamin A, Vitamin K, Boron, Chromium, Copper, Iodine, Iron, Manganese, Molybdenum, Nickel, Silicon, Vanadium, and Zinc. Washington, DC: National Academy Press, 2001.

Institute of Medicine, Food and Nutrition Board. Dietary Reference Intakes for Vitamin D, and calcium. Washington, DC: National Academy Press, 2011.

Procter, S. B., and C. G. Campbell. "Position of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics: Nutrition and Lifestyle for a Healthy Pregnancy Outcome." Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics 114, no. 7 (2014): 1099–1103.

U.S. Department of Agriculture. Tips for Breastfeeding Moms. (2014). Accessed at nal.usda.gov/wicworks/Topics/BreastfeedingFactSheet.pdf

U.S. Department of Agriculture. Tips for Pregnant Moms. (2014). Accessed at nal.usda.gov/wicworks/Topics/PregnancyFactSheet.pdf.

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