Any expectant mother will want first and foremost to optimize her health and that of her growing baby. Proper nutrition is a major key to that effort.
The amount of additional calorie intake that pregnant women need, may be a surprise. Only about 300 extra calories per day is recommended by experts. Much more than that can lead to excess weight gain, which is not healthy for mom or baby. An extra tuna fish sandwich or bagel with low-fat cream cheese can do the trick. Avoid the urge to indulge cravings.
Some of those calories should come from protein, about 60 grams total per day or about 10 grams per day more than non-pregnant women. Fish, chicken and lean meats are a good source, as are dried beans, nuts and cheese. About 1 1/2 ounces of meat contains 10 grams of protein.
A woman’s calcium requirement goes up during pregnancy, as well. Non-pregnant women get only about 75% of the recommended amount anyway, so increasing it is a good idea for all. Milk, yogurt and cheese are common and healthy sources. Non-fat types can help keep caloric intake under control while still providing the needed calcium amount. Green leafy vegetables are another healthy way to get what you need.
Vitamin and mineral consumption should increase during pregnancy, but within moderation.
Vitamin D helps absorb calcium, so a daily supplement can be a good idea. As the blood volume increases with the advance of pregnancy, additional iron is needed. The daily recommended amount of iron doubles for pregnant women from 15 mg/day to 30 mg/day.
Red meat is a good source of iron, though fish and poultry are too. Many enriched cereals supply extra iron (and other needed vitamins), as do some breads. Eggs are good for a number of reasons, but they are not the best sources for iron. Increasing Vitamin C intake helps improve their efficiency.
Folic acid helps fetal development, but the amounts for pregnant women have sometimes been overstated. Some research suggests that excessive amounts can increase the risk of spina bifida and other neural defects. A regular, daily multivitamin with 600 micrograms per pill is recommended, about 200 micrograms more than the normal daily amount. Dark green leafy vegetables are a good source of natural folates, as are citrus fruits, peanuts and whole grains.
Vegetarian diets can supply all the needed nutrients, but obtaining them in the right form can be more difficult. Vegetarians will need to more closely monitor nutrient levels, but this is commonly a part of a vegetarian lifestyle already.
Naturally, any pregnant woman should consult her physician early on about dietary changes. He or she will need an accurate estimate of current diet and can supply science-based advice about proper nutrition. There are more myths and junk science surrounding diet than any other area. Get objective information for your health and that of your growing baby.