Food and Nutrition in Pregnancy

Written by Vicki Ma (Accredited Practising Dietitian and Sports Dietitian)

What you eat during pregnancy affects your developing baby. During this time, it is important for you to have the right nutrition for you and your growing baby. Pregnancy places extra nutritional demands on your body, but this doesn’t mean you need to ‘eat for two’. It’s the quality of what you eat that’s important, not the quantity. Focus on eating nutrient rich foods containing higher amounts of protein, iron, folate, iodine and zinc. Research has shown that the food a mother eats during pregnancy can not only affect the development of her baby, but may also affect the baby’s health later in life.

Key Nutrients During Pregnancy


More protein is required during pregnancy to support your baby’s growth and changes in your own body such increased breast tissue. In general, a healthy balanced diet will provide enough protein to meet your needs during pregnancy.


Iodine is essential for normal brain development in the baby. The need for iodine increases during pregnancy (by up to 47%), but it can be difficult to get enough as most foods in Australia are fairly low in this mineral. Dairy, seafood, iodize salt and fortified bread can be valuable sources, but this may still not be enough for for pregnant women. A daily supplement which contains 150mcg of iodine is recommended during this time to ensure your baby’s demands for growth is met.


Your needs for iron increase significantly during pregnancy, particularly during the second and third trimesters when the amount of blood in your body increase and to meet the needs of your placenta and the growing baby. To avoid iron deficiency it is important to eat plenty of iron rich foods. Red meat is one of the richest sources of iron. Chicken, pork and fish contain moderate levels. Smaller amounts of iron can also be found in legumes, green leafy vegetables and iron fortified cereals. Animal sources such as red meat provides the most readily absorbed form of iron. You can consume vitamin C rich foods (e.g. tomatoes or oranges) to try and help maximise the iron absorption.


Throughout pregnancy and especially during the third trimester, your baby needs calcium to build healthy bones. Fortunately, during pregnancy you absorb calcium more efficiently from your diet, so your growing baby’s needs are met. The recommendation for calcium during pregnancy and breastfeeding are therefore the same as for non-pregnant women (1000mg per day). The best sources of calcium are dairy products such as milk, yoghurt and cheese. Salmon with edible bones, tofu and almonds are also a good source.


Folate (also known as folic acid) is essential for blood formation and cell growth. It is especially important around the time of conception and in the first trimester to prevent neural tube defects such as spina bifida. Foods that contain high amounts of folate include: green leafy vegetables, salad greens, fruit (such as strawberries), wholegrain breads and cereals, fortified breakfast cereals, legumes and nuts. It is difficult to get enough folic acid from food alone; start a daily supplement of 400 micrograms (mcg or μg) when planning a pregnancy and continue it for the first three months of your pregnancy.

Food Safety 

Listeria bacteria can contaminate food and cause listeriosis which is a flu-like infection. In pregnancy this infection can be passed on to the baby and can cause miscarriage, stillbirth or premature birth. Listeria infection is not a common problem and the risk can be reduced by following these tips:

  • Avoid refrigerated, ready to eat foods that may have been stored for long periods.
  • Ensure good hygiene and clean utensils when preparing food.
  • Thoroughly wash raw vegetables and fruit.
  • Avoid foods such as pate, cold cooked chicken and deli meats such as ham and salami unless 
reheated to high temperature e.g. on a pizza.
  • Avoid coleslaws, salads and fruit salads unless you are sure they have been freshly prepared.
  • Avoid soft cheeses (e.g. brie, camembert, ricotta, feta, blue cheese) soft serve ice-cream and 
unpasteurised dairy products. Soft cheeses in cooked dishes are safe.
  • Avoid uncooked or smoked seafood and pre-cooked prawns. Freshly cooked seafood and canned 
seafood is safe.
  • Avoid sushi and sashimi
  • Listeria is killed by thoroughly cooking food. Reheat foods to steaming hot.
Raw or uncooked (runny) eggs are risky foods. Avoid using eggs with cracked shells or foods containing raw eggs (such as mayonnaise, raw cake batter or chocolate mousse)

How Much Weight Should I Gain?

Excess weight gain during pregnancy can increase risk of complications at delivery. For women who are underweight at the time of conception, extra weight gain may be required to support the baby’s growth during pregnancy and breastfeeding after delivery.

BMI categoryPregnancy weight gain goalRate of weight gain (per week in 2nd & 3rd trimesters)
< 18.512.5 – 18kg500 – 600g
18.5 – 2511.5 – 16kg500g
25 – 307 – 11.5kg300 – 400g
30 – 355 – 9kg200 – 300g
35 – 400 – 9kg0 – 300g
>400 – 6kg0 – 200g

Source: Institute of Medicine Weight Gain Recommendations for Pregnancy, 2009 

Please note: unless a woman is underweight at conception, no more than a 2kg weight gain is recommended in the first trimester of pregnancy. Ideally, this gain should be attributable to fluid gain. 

Sample Meal Plan for Pregnancy

Meal Time  Sample Ideas 
 Breakfast ½ cup muesli with 1 cup milk or 1 cup yoghurtor2 slices of toast (whole grain) with 1 glass of milk
Morning Tea1 x apple + 4 vita-weat biscuits
LunchChicken and salad sandwich with 1 slice of cheeseorTuna with 1 cup cooked pasta + steamed vegetables
Afternoon Tea1 cup natural yoghurt with 1 cup strawberries
Dinner 150g steak (lean) with vegetables and 1  cup mashed sweet potatoorChicken and vegetable stir-fry with 1 cup cooked basmati rice
Supper / Dessert30g mixed nuts (unsalted)

Please note, this this only a sample meal plan. For more individualised and tailored nutrition advice, please get in touch with one of our expert Dietitians’ at Eat for Wellness for further guidance on how to meet the extra demands of pregnancy so you can give your baby the best start!