Pregnancy and healthy eating
(Last updated October 2011)
If you are expecting a baby you need to plan a healthy diet for both yourself and your developing baby.
Ideally, it is best to start before you become pregnant but if you think you might be pregnant already – don’t worry – start following this advice as soon as you can.
You will need more of certain nutrients, such as iron, iodine and folic acid, but only a small amount of extra kilojoules – a normal weight gain over the course of the pregnancy is around 10–13kg for women who are a healthy pre-conception weight.
It is important to choose a wide variety of nutritious foods.
What to eat
Lots of well-washed fruit and vegetables, wholegrain breads and cereals
Dark green leafy vegetables are important because they naturally contain iron and folate, a B group vitamin needed for the healthy development of babies in early pregnancy, and iodine, which is very important during pregnancy and breastfeeding for the normal development of a baby’s brain and nervous system. While fortification of bread with iodine and folic acid is now mandatory, supplements are also recommended. However, naturally high levels of iodine in brown seaweed, such as kelp, mean that people can become ill if they eat large quantities of this type of seaweed. Pregnant and breastfeeding women, and children, should eat no more than one serve a week of brown seaweed.
Moderate amounts of low fat dairy foods
Dairy foods are a good source of calcium and iodine, plus protein, calcium, magnesium, folate, B1, B2, B6, B12, and vitamins A, D, and E .
Lean meat, chicken and fish
Red meat contains iron, and meat and fish contain the protein you will need. Fish also contain essential omega-3 fatty acids, but you should choose fish with low levels of mercury. Most fish types are safe to eat two to three serves per week. However, some types of fish should be limited due to their levels of naturally occurring mercury.
Dried beans, lentils and other legumes
These contain folate, potassium, iron and magnesium. They also contain beneficial fats and soluble and insoluble (dietary) fibre.
A variety of nuts and seeds
They're rich in calcium, phytoestrogens and omega-3 fatty acids.
What to avoid
Foods such as soft white cheeses, like brie and feta, pate, oysters, pre-packed salads and soft serve ice cream
These foods may contain Listeria, which are bacteria that can cause a disease called listeriosis, a fairly uncommon form of foodborne illness in Australia. The illness causes few or no symptoms in most people, but it can be very dangerous if you are pregnant, or for your unborn child or newborn baby.
The National Health and Medical Research Council recommends you don’t drink alcohol during pregnancy or while breastfeeding.
While having large amounts of caffeine does not appear to cause birth defects, it may make it more difficult to become pregnant and may increase the risk of miscarriage or having a baby with low birth weight.
For further advice please contact your health advisor, medical practitioner or your midwife.