Nutrition for pregnancy

Pregnancy is a demanding time for the body, however you will only need a little more energy (kilojoules) each day than what was needed before pregnancy.  It is normal and healthy to gain weight during pregnancy, but the amount that is healthy for you will depend on your weight before falling pregnant.

The following nutrient needs increase during pregnancy:

So good nutrition during pregnancy is more about the quality of food eaten than the quantity.

Choosing a wide variety of foods from each food group will help to meet the extra demands, however it may be necessary to eat more:

  • Lean meat, chicken, fish and non-meat alternatives (such as dried beans, lentils, tofu and eggs (ensure cooked))
  • Nuts and seeds
  • Reduced-fat milk, cheese and yoghurt
  • Green leafy vegetables.

It is also recommended that a folate supplement be taken before conception and for the first three months of pregnancy to help reduce the risk of neural tube defects such as spina bifida.

The Australian Guide to Healthy Eating provides more details for eating when you are pregnant or breastfeeding and provides a guide to the number of serves to include from each food group.

Food Safety in Pregnancy

During pregnancy, a woman’s immune system is lowered, so it is more difficult to fight off infection. Pregnant women have a higher risk of developing a food borne illness caused by listeria, campylobacter and salmonella. Pregnant women are also at risk of developing toxoplasmosis. Infection with these ‘bugs’ can be dangerous to the health of your baby. Therefore, mothers need to be more cautious about their food choices to keep their baby safe.

Tips to avoid food-borne illness during pregnancy:

  • Reduce the risk of listeria infection by eating foods that have been freshly cooked or prepared
    • Avoid:
      • Buffets, salad bars and sandwich bars
      • Meats that are raw or undercooked, cold deli meats, packaged/ready-to-eat meats including cooked cold ready-to-eat (unless reheated until steaming hot)
      • Pre-packaged or pre-prepared fruits and vegetables
      • Chilled seafood e.g. raw oysters, sashimi, sushi and cooked, chilled prawns or smoked salmon
      • Soft cheeses like brie, camembert, feta and ricotta
      • Unpasteurised milk products and juices
      • Refrigerated paté, meat spreads or smoked seafood
      • Raw or undercooked eggs.
  • Rinse fresh fruits and vegetables in running water before preparing
  • Avoid raw sprouts
  • Follow safe food handling practices including washing hands, food preparation surfaces and utensils thoroughly.

Mercury and fish

Pregnant and breastfeeding women are encouraged to continue eating fish and seafood (keeping in mind the tips above) as they are a great source of omega 3 fatty acids and protein. However, large, deep-sea fish can contain high levels of mercury. The mercury from these fish may affect the developing nervous system of unborn babies and infants.

To reduce the risk of birth defects, pregnant women should limit their intake of fish high in mercury:

  • Shark (flake), broadbill, marlin and swordfish should only be eaten once per fortnight with no other fish during that fortnight
  • Orange roughy (sea perch) and catfish should be eaten no more than once per week, with no other fish that week
  • Two to three serves per week of any other fish not mentioned above may be eaten safely.

An Accredited Practising Dietitian (APD) can provide nutrition and dietary advice to help meet the extra demands of pregnancy safely to help give your baby the best start.