08/12/2011 - Articles

Food and Nutrition for Pregnant Women

By: The Swiss Association for Nutrition (SAN)

pregnant nutrition

Food & Nutrition During Pregnancy: Why It's Important to Eat Well When You're Pregnant

Nutrition during pregnancy is important. Pregnant women's food has an affect on the pregnancy, on the fetal development and also on the health of the mother and child.
The foods a pregnant woman eat are the main source of the nutrients for the baby. But what foods should pregnant women eat? What foods a pregnant woman should avoid?
It is important for pregnant women to understand what kind of food is best for them and their baby.

Here are the Swiss Association for Nutrition's recommendations for correct nutrition for pregnant women. If followed, they will fully protect the health of the mother and provide optimal growth and development of her unborn baby.

A pregnant woman's nutrition directly influences the course of the pregnancy and normal fetal development, and also the long-term health of the mother and child. In the first half of pregnancy, nutrition requirements mainly concern quality, while in the second half, quantity is also an issue, to ensure fetal growth. Proper nutritional habits should already be established at the start of this second life - if possible even before conception.

What's in this article?

Energy and nutritional requirements for pregnant women
What sort of food a pregnant women should eat?
Tips for relief of pregnancy-related discomfort
Food for pregnant women
          Oils and Fats during Pregnancy
          Fruits for Pregnant Women
          Alcoholic and Nonalcoholic Drinks

Energy and nutritional requirements

The pregnant mother's body is subject to greater demands to ensure fetal development as well as the growth, health and functioning of the uterus, placenta and amniotic fluid. A daily increase of 150 calories in food consumption is recommended at the start of pregnancy, which will eventually reach an extra 250 calories a day by the end of pregnancy. This entails a "double-shot" in the form of a daily glass of milk during the first trimester and an additional piece of fruit or slice of bread during the final six months. While weight gain is normal, the mother-to-be should not let herself starting "eating for two" (or more). The average weight gained is between 9 and 12 kg (20 to 26 lbs), although there is a natural variation between individuals. With overweight women, it may be less, while thinner women may gain more.

An additional intake of 10 g (1/3 ounce) of protein a day during the entire pregnancy is recommended to build up, maintain, and regenerate body tissue in both the fetus and mother. This daily ration of 70 g (2½ oz) of protein is guaranteed with our current nutritional recommendations. Glucose, the basic stuff of carbohydrates, is the main source of energy drawn on by the fetus. A daily intake of carbohydrates in the form of bread, pasta, or fruit is needed for a problem-free pregnancy. Fats with essential fatty acids are critical for the development and functioning of the baby's nervous system.

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What sort of food a pregnant women should eat?

Minerals and vitamins are essential during pregnancy

The increased demand for minerals and vitamins during pregnancy can be satisfied by an adequate, varied, and balanced diet. Attention should be paid to folic acid, calcium, and iron in particular, since these are often deficient.

More Calcium
A substantial transfer of calcium occurs between the mother and the fetus throughout pregnancy, allowing the baby's bone and teeth formation. In the first six months, the mother stores up calcium in her own bones. When its skeletal growth reaches its peak in the last three months, the fetus draws on the mother's store. This is when the consumption of high calcium-containing foods such as milk and milk products must be increased, since a calcium deficiency will damage the mother's teeth and make her bones brittle.

More Iron
The demand for iron, essential for blood formation, is also increased during pregnancy because the mother's blood volume increases, and the fetal red blood cells have to be developed. Iron is available in meat, fish, egg yolk, whole-grain products, and vegetables. Iron of plant origin is not as well assimilated as iron of animal origin. However, if you ingest vitamin C from raw food during the same meal, iron is more easily absorbed.

More folic acid
This vitamin promotes the development of the fetal central nervous system and prevents developmental defects of the neural tube ( spina bifida ). Folic acid is contained in vegetables, wheat germ, tropical fruits, and in eggs. However, routine nutrition does not always supply enough folic acid (vitamin B9) to meet the requirements of a pregnant woman. Additional folic acid intake is necessary in the months before pregnancy and during the first trimester.

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Tips for relief of pregnancy-related discomfort

Nausea and vomiting
These symptoms are common, especially at the beginning of pregnancy.

  • Plan light and more frequent meals.
  • Do not eat solid and liquid foods at the same time. Drinks should be taken a half-hour before or after the meal.
  • Avoid fatty foods, fried foods, sauces, and hot spices.
  • Have breakfast 15 minutes before getting up to offset morning sickness.

This symptom often occurs toward the end of pregnancy. It is caused by the pressure of the baby against the mother's stomach.

  • Eat light and more frequent meals.
  • Eat in the evening, at least 2 hours before going to bed.
  • Avoid fatty foods, coffee and cola drinks.


  • Avoid foods with a fermentative effect, such as cabbage, leeks, garlic, onions, and legumes.
  • Drink tap water or non-carbonated mineral water.
  • Eat slowly and in peace and quiet.

Intestinal movement is slowed during pregnancy, and this may result in, or worsen, digestive disorders.

  • Drink at least 1.5 liters (3¼ pints) of fluids per day (water, herbal tea, fruit juice, milk).
  • Eat fiber-rich food: whole-grain bread, vegetables, fruit, legumes.
  • Drink a glass of cold water when you get up in the morning, and eat dried fruits (prunes).

This swelling of the legs, arms, and sometimes the face are due to water retention.
Do not go without salt except in special cases.

  • Drink 1.5 liters (3¼ pints) daily

Food cravings for Pregnant Women

  • Maintain a regular schedule of meals.
  • Take small snacks between meals consisting of fruit, milk, yogurt, bread with cottage cheese, or whey.

Food Poisoning/g-i infections: toxoplasmosis, listeriosis
Some infections have serious effects on the embryo, but they can be prevented by observing the rules of hygiene.

  • Always carefully peel and wash raw vegetables, fruit, and herbs (parsley, basil).
  • Always wash your hands carefully before cooking, eating, after you have handled raw meat, or have touched sand or soil.
  • Eat only well-cooked meat. Avoid tartar steak, fried sausage, meat fondue, rare steak, carpaccio.
  • Avoid cats and their litter, as toxoplasmosis pathogens propagate in the cats' intestines.
  • Do not eat uncooked fish, meat, milk, and eggs.
  • Do not eat cheese rind.

Consumption of alcohol during pregnancy should be avoided if possible, as it affects the physical and mental development of the fetus. The risk of injury is particularly high in the early months.

Caffeine is found in coffee, black tea, cola drinks, energy drinks, and cocoa (chocolate) as well as other foods. It has a stimulating effect and therefore speeds up the heart rate. Caffeine in the blood of a pregnant woman affects the heartbeat of the baby, which almost doubles. Pregnant women may take two cups of coffee or four cups of tea a day without endangering the fetus.

With each inhalation from a cigarette, nicotine enters the mother's circulatory system and also that of the fetus through the placenta. The blood vessels contract and the oxygen supply of the fetus is compromised. For this reason, tobacco is contraindicated during pregnancy (and this includes secondhand smoke).

Eat three meals daily plus small snacks. Don't skip breakfast.
Consume 3 or 4 portions of milk products daily.
Avoid weight-loss diets.
Avoid alcohol and tobacco, take coffee in moderation.

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Food recommendations for pregnant women

Many factors affect our eating behavior: individual needs and wants, health status, social environment, selection of available foods, advertising, etc. The following recommendations ( a sort of Nutrition Guide for Pregnant Women) ensure (in the form of a balanced diet) an adequate supply of energy, and nutritional and protective elements, and therefore represent healthy nutrition. The listed amounts and portions are averages; it is no possible to follow them exactly day by day.
Words in italics are especially important for the mother-to-be.

Oils and Fats during Pregnancy:
Daily consumption: 2 teaspoons (10 g) nutritious vegetable oil such as sunflower oil, thistle oil, corn oil, unprocessed olive or canola oil, e.g., for salad dressings.
Daily consumption: at most 2 teaspoons (10 g) grease or cooking oil, such as peanut oil, or olive oil for hot meal preparation.
Daily consumption: at most 2 teaspoons (10 g) spread, i.e., butter or margarine.
Daily maximum: one meal heavy in fat such as deep fried or breaded foods, cheese dishes, fried potato cakes, bratwurst or hot dogs, cold cuts, dishes with sauces, shortcake or pastry dough, cake, pies, chocolate, etc.

Use them in moderation - most sweets contain hidden fat. At most eat 1 small portion of sweet snacks daily (e.g. 1 chocolate bar, 1 piece of cake or a pastry, an ice cream).

Meat, Fish, Eggs, Legumes:
2 - 4 times per week: 1 portion meat (1 portion = 80-120 g, or 3-4 oz). More is unnecessary, less is permitted. At most, one meal of cured meats such as ham, sausage or bacon in place of meat.
At most, one meal per month of offal, such as kidney, tripe, or brains (1 portion = 80-120 g, or 3-4 oz).

Avoid liver:
1-2 portions fish per week (1 portion = 100-120 g, or 3½ -4 oz).
2-3 eggs per week, including those used in baked goods, soufflés, or cream sauces.

They should be cooked to avoid food poisoning:
Per week: 1-2 portions legumes and derivates e.g., lentils, chickpeas, beans (1 portion = 40-60 g, or 1½ -2 oz, dry weight), tofu (1 portion = 100-120 g, or 3½ -4 oz)

Milk and Milk products:
Per day: 3-4 portions of milk products (1 portion = 0.2 liter or ½ pint of milk, or 1 cup of yogurt, or 30 g= 1 oz hard cheese or 60 g = 2 oz soft cheese).

Grain Products and Potatoes:
Daily consumption: eat 3-4 portions of starchy foods such as bread, potatoes, rice, cereals or pastas, preferably whole-grain products. The portion size depends on the frequency and amount of physical activity practiced.

Fruits for Pregnant Women:
Per day: 2-3 portions of fruit, raw if at all possible (1 portion = 1 apple, 1 banana, 3 plums or a bowl of berries).

Vegetables for Pregnant Women:
Per day: 2-3 portions of vegetables, one of which should be raw, e.g., as a dip vegetable or a mixed salad (1 portion = 100 g = 3½ oz raw vegetables, or 150-200 g = 5-7 oz cooked vegetables, 50 g = 1¾ oz green salad or 100 g = 3½ oz mixed salad).

Alcoholic and Nonalcoholic Drinks:
Drink at least 1.5 liters (3¼ pints) of liquid per day, preferably unsweetened nonalcoholic drinks.
Replace fluids in the case of vomiting, diarrhea, or heavy perspiration.
Alcohol: for her own benefit and that of her unborn child, the pregnant mother should avoid alcohol consumption, as it is assimilated by the fetus.

By following these recommendations for correct nutrition for pregnant women, you'll ensure the health and proper development of your baby.

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Schweizerische Vereinigung für Ernährung / The Swiss Association for Nutrition (SAN). Merkblätter zur Ernährung, Vol. II. Main Editor: Herr Hansjörg Ryser, Bern 

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Created on: 09/22/2003
Reviewed on: 08/12/2011

Your rating: None Average: 4.3 (117 votes)
Anonymous wrote 1 year 40 weeks ago

This is an excellent article. Thanks to the author

Anonymous wrote 1 year 41 weeks ago

This is just all just general knowledge pregnant or not pregnant!!! Ignorence is bliss....

Anonymous wrote 1 year 41 weeks ago

You cannot even spell 'ignorance', my friend.

The knowledge in this article is general, but the application is specific. It is also common knowledge to take cover when being shot at in order to avoid injury, but your ability to do it properly and consistently becomes a lot more important when you are, for example, a soldier (who is much more likely to get shot at than a normal person, and by more skilled shooters, too).

In the same way, everyone should always perfectly healthy, but that isn't always the case.

If you undergo a week of bad nutrition normally? You merely erode your body's health and reserves, and perhaps endure some discomfort; a week without proper intake of nutrients can be made up for with few if any adverse effects.

If you don't get proper nutrition for a week while pregnant? A developing child has much smaller reserves and more sensitive needs than an adult, and experiencing prolonged deficiencies of any number of nutrients can result in developmental problems, miscarriages, and general ill health in the resulting infant.

You need to take a good look at yourself, and gain some perspective.

Anonymous wrote 1 year 40 weeks ago

Hey,dont rebuk 1 # on his/her commet or spellng,that is what he thinks just like u or another.nutrition is a wide thing you cant have the whole of it!

Anonymous wrote 1 year 41 weeks ago

Well said!! Hear hear!

Anonymous wrote 1 year 41 weeks ago

Don't slate it, it's a good starting point!! How rude!

Anonymous wrote 1 year 41 weeks ago

Studying hospitality this is v helpful for a nutrition assignment! Concise and to-the-point, well done and thanks to the author!

Anonymous wrote 1 year 41 weeks ago

this is very handy, thankyou

Anonymous wrote 1 year 42 weeks ago


Anonymous wrote 1 year 42 weeks ago

Its nice to have an article which has a good peice of information regarding pregnancy

Anonymous wrote 1 year 43 weeks ago

Thanks to Health & Age
- Sri

Anonymous wrote 1 year 43 weeks ago

The information is really useful for all pregnant women.

Anonymous wrote 1 year 43 weeks ago

it's so hard to become pregnant, sometimes i dont know what to do whenever i really feel bad.. what will i do?
every few hours i need to pee, and then after that i want to vomit, i want to take out all that i have eaten..

Anonymous wrote 1 year 43 weeks ago

this usually happens in the beggining of pregnancy an symptoms persist for about 3-4 months. You didn't mention what term are you in but from second trimester onwards you'll start feeling better as most women do!

Anonymous wrote 1 year 46 weeks ago

I am in the early stages of my pregnacy and I feel really tired what should I be eating or doing to give myself more energy?

Anonymous wrote 1 year 47 weeks ago

gaaah does anyone know where i can find just a list of singular foods and why that particular food is suitable or unsuitable D: im failinggggg

Anonymous wrote 1 year 49 weeks ago

This information was precise and to the point. gave me a better idea of what and how to eat. We tend to over compensate during pregnancy because its what we've been told by parents and grandparents. This helps alot. Thanks to the author.

Anonymous wrote 1 year 51 weeks ago

i wanna know that orange is suitable for a pregnant lady

Anonymous wrote 1 year 47 weeks ago

Yeahh it is

Anonymous wrote 2 years 5 days ago

this information is very useful. I have writen down some of them for my note making sheet. thanks to the author very much!

Anonymous wrote 2 years 1 week ago

i think this actrical is really good as it gives mothers the right information about their diet and how to look after themself and their unborn baby.

Anonymous wrote 2 years 5 weeks ago

Thnks to my fiance I know what's better for our baby

Anonymous wrote 2 years 1 week ago

how was that then?

Anonymous wrote 2 years 12 weeks ago

i am doing a project for my child development GCSE and i am looking for a email address where i can ask some one a few questions could you plaease help me on the main nutrients
thank you

Anonymous wrote 2 years 18 weeks ago

healthy foods for pregnant women include proteins and dairy products. Calcium is an important food for pregnant women. We can't cover all aspect of healthy food for pregnant mother but of all the foods, calcium is probably the most healthy foods for pregnant women.

Anonymous wrote 2 years 21 weeks ago

Tangerine and orange are some of the best fruits for pregnant women

Anonymous wrote 2 years 21 weeks ago

What are some foods pregnant women should avoid and why?

Anonymous wrote 1 year 39 weeks ago

Also avoid spicy foods and fried foods.

June Chen, MD wrote 2 years 21 weeks ago

In general, pregnant women should avoid raw/undercooked meat, fish with high mercury content, raw eggs, alcohol, and caffeine. The American Pregnancy Association offers an excellent article on foods to avoid during pregnancy, including the reasons why. To see this article, visit http://www.americanpregnancy.org/pregnancyhealth/foodstoavoid.html.

Anonymous wrote 2 years 25 weeks ago

Excellent article, it's not a surprise that calcium is an important food for pregnant women. Of all the healthy foods for pregnant women, this is certainly the one that gets the most media attention.