Nutrition During Pregnancy

nutrition during pregnancyEating nutritious foods during pregnancy is good for your health and helps make sure your baby grows strong and healthy, too.

Nutrition During Pregnancy

Feeding your baby begins nine months before she is born. The food you eat will also affect the way you feel and how much weight you gain.

Healthy Eating Tips

Eat a variety of foods. Try to eat a balanced diet of fruit, vegetables, grains, protein foods and dairy each day. Learn more at

Drink plenty of liquids. Your body needs a lot of fluid (about 6-8 glasses a day) when you are pregnant. Drink plenty of water and low-fat milk. Limit or avoid fluids which add extra calories but limited nutrients i.e. sweet tea, juice, soda, lemonade, flavored coffee and energy drinks.

Eat meals or snacks on a regular basis. Avoid going longer than 3-4 hours during the day without eating something. This will help maintain steady blood sugar levels and prevent overeating.

Eat protein at each meal (such as milk, cheese, yogurt, meat, fish and beans). Protein rich foods help build your baby’s muscles and tissues and keep your body strong. If you are under 18, or were underweight prior to pregnancy, you need to eat more protein.

Choose healthier options when eating out. First limit how often you eat out and if that is not possible, stay away from fried or breaded items, keep sauces on the side and drink water.

Choose healthy snacks. Fresh fruits, veggies, nuts, nonfat yogurt and other low-fat dairy foods.

Increase your daily fiber intake. Choose whole grain breads and cereals, beans, fruits and vegetables. This can help you feel full and reduce other pregnancy complications like constipation.

Plan meals and snacks ahead of time. This saves time and money and helps you make healthy choices more often.

Do not diet. Pregnancy is no time for dieting! Healthy eating is good but no restrictive eating of strict carbohydrate diets. When you diet, your baby diets too. Diet pills contain many harmful drugs.

Take prenatal vitamins. In addition to eating a healthy diet, you need to take prenatal vitamins. These pills contain the necessary amounts of vitamins and minerals you need each day to maintain a healthy pregnancy. Your doctor can prescribe these pills so that your health insurance will cover a portion of the cost or you can purchase them over-the-counter from a store.

For women who cannot cover the cost of their prenatal vitamins, TOP Food stores provide free prenatal vitamins to anyone who has a prescription. No insurance plan is required. For more information, check your local phone book for the TOP Food store nearest you.

Ask your doctor about medications and supplements. If you are interested in taking ANY herbs, supplements or medicines during your pregnancy or while you are breastfeeding, talk to your health care provider before starting a new one. Your health care provider will choose the safest medicines for you.

Foods to Avoid and/or Limit During Pregnancy

There are some foods and other substances that can be harmful to both you and your baby during pregnancy.

Alcohol: Wine, wine coolers, beer, drinks like hard lemonade and other malt liquor beverages, shots and mixed drinks can harm your baby’s brain and body development. If you use alcohol during pregnancy, you may put your baby at risk for Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS), which can cause mental and physical disabilities. Read more about alcohol, drugs, and tobacco during your pregnancy.

Non-food items: Laundry starch, chalk, clay or other non-food items can be harmful to you and your baby. If you crave these items, tell your health care provider immediately.

Raw foods: Undercooked meats, fish, poultry, shellfish and eggs may have bacteria or parasites that can make your baby very ill, even if you don’t feel sick. Check to make sure all processed and pre-packaged food items are pre-cooked before assuming they are.

Caffeine: Caffeine is a stimulant that passes to the baby and may affect growth. Caffeine is found in tea, coffee, chocolate, many soft drinks and over-the-counter medicines. It is best to have drinks without caffeine. However, if you choose drinks with caffeine, it is better to limit your caffeine to less than 200 milligrams per day, for example 1-2 cups of coffee.

Unpasteurized Dairy: Raw milk and many soft cheeses from parts of the world such as Mexico and Europe are unpasteurized. Unpasteurized products can be dangerous to your baby. Avoid eating soft cheeses such as brie, feta cheese, queso blanco and queso fresco. Only drink milk or eat cheese that says it is pasteurized on the label.

Cold Deli meat: Sometimes they have bacteria which can cause miscarriage. You can eat deli meat if you heat it up so that it is steaming. Try microwaving or heating on the stove top.

Junk foods: Soda pop, cookies, donuts, potato chips and french fries are okay sometimes, but don’t let them take the place of healthy foods!

Some Seafood: Fish is good for you and your baby but some kinds of fish have too much mercury. Mercury can harm your unborn baby’s growing brain. Avoid eating swordfish, shark, king mackerel and tile fish. It is okay to eat up to 6 ounces of canned tuna a week but make sure to choose light tuna.

You don’t have to avoid all fish consumption while pregnant. The Washington State Department of Health has a Healthy Fish Guide that you can carry with you while you shop and dine. The Healthy Fish Guide will help you choose wisely when eating fish.

Additional Resources

Healthy Weight Gain during Pregnancy Fact-sheet. The fact-sheet is also available in Spanish and Russian.