Pregnancy Nutrition – The Most Important Things You Need To Know

Pregnancy Nutrition - The Most Important Things You Need To Know

You don’t need to be an expert to know good nutrition during pregnancy is very important to the health of both mother and baby.

But what experts now know is what we eat during pregnancy can impact three generations – meaning your diet can impact the health of your grandchildren. Isn’t that totally mindblowing to consider?!

Find out more in our article about how what you eat during pregnancy can impact future generations.

In addition, our diet before conception, as well as during pregnancy, can be a significant factor for being diagnosed with gestational diabetes (no it’s not the placenta’s fault – if it was, every pregnant woman would get it!).

Insulin resistance builds up ovee time, while showing no or little symptoms. So it may already be occuring prior to pregnancy. Then the added demands of pregnancy can be enough to tip your body over the edge.

Once diagnosed with gestational diabetes, you’re more likely to have interventions (including induction and c-section) and if not controlled, your baby is at risk of serious complications – even death. As far as mama goes, once diagnosed with gestational diabetes, you’re also more likely to be diagnosed with type 2 diabetes after the birth.

I’m not writing this to scare you, but to explain the many ways nutrition is important during pregnancy. So much so, it can dictate the outcome of your birth – as well as you and your baby’s future health.

Armed with the information I am about to share, you’ll be able to take control of your health and prevent many problems and even diseases, now and in the future.

 Nutritional Needs

A woman’s reproductive role requires special nutritional needs – pregnancy is the most nutritionally demanding period of a woman’s life. Optimal nutrition is necessary to support:

  • Growth of the placenta
  • An increase in blood volume
  • An increase in cardiac output
  • An increase in fluid levels
  • Hormonal changes
  • Changes to breast tissue in preparation for breastfeeding
  • Alterations to lung, kidney, urinary and reproductive functions.

Healthy Eating During The Pre-Conception Period Is Ideal

Optimal nutrition starts before conception – a good example is the B group vitamin folate.

This vitamin is required for the normal development of the nervous system, particularly the closure of the neural tube which occurs during the first 6 weeks of pregnancy.

Women may not know they are pregnant for up to 4 weeks, so ensuring adequate nutrient intake of folate around the time of conception is essential. For this reason, the National Health and Medical Research Council recommends that all women planning a pregnancy should consume at least 400 mcg of folate daily for one month prior to planned conception (women at higher risk may be advised to take more).

Supplementation should continue throughout the first trimester. If the neural tube fails to properly close, birth defects such as spina bifida may result – these defects affect one in five hundred pregnancies in Australia.

With the exception of sodium and potassium the recommended dietary intake (RDI) of all essential vitamins and minerals is higher during pregnancy (and breastfeeding).

Data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics however reveal that women are not ingesting the RDI level.

For example, 96% have less than the RDI for zinc, and almost 97% fail to consume sufficient folate.

An astonishing 100% of pregnant women do not consume sufficient iron, while 60% are deficient in magnesium and 79% do not receive sufficient calcium from the diet.

Calcium needs for mother and baby double during pregnancy; calcium is vital for the development of bones and teeth, and some studies show that calcium supplementation may actually prevent post-natal depression.

Essential fatty acids (EFAs) in the diet also affect development of the foetus. One of the most important EFAs is called docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), which is found in fish (and also in breastmilk). Some studies show that the amount of DHA in breast milk has fallen by around 35% over the last 10 years due to changes in diet. DHA has a biological role in the structure and function of the brain, retina and nervous system.

The brain of the developing baby grows rapidly during the last trimester and is dependent upon the mother’s intake of DHA. Clinical studies have shown that increasing the mother’s intake of DHA through supplementation with fish oil (oil from fish such as tuna is high in DHA) results in higher blood levels of DHA in the newborn. The brain continues to grow and develop rapidly for the first year and an adequate supply of DHA is necessary over this period.

Iron Is Very Important

Demands for iron increase significantly during pregnancy, particularly during the second and third trimesters.

Iron is essential for the production of healthy red blood cells to carry oxygen to all tissues in the body, including the placenta.

If left untreated, low iron levels may develop into iron deficiency anaemia, which is a condition where there are insufficient healthy red blood cells to supply enough oxygen to bodily tissues.
This can leave you with fatigue, weakness, poor appetite and a rapid heart rate. It’s the last thing you want to deal with on top of the usual pregnancy fatigue, and can leave you feeling anxious and or depressed too. Iron deficiency is truly best prevented rather than treated.

Meat sources of iron contain the haem form of iron, which is well absorbed in the body. Vegetarians are at greater risk of iron deficiency in pregnancy than meat eaters.

Vitamin C increases the absorption of the non-haem iron found in vegetable sources. Biomedica made an iron formula called BioHeme, which contains both a readily absorbable form of iron, as well as ascorbic acid (vitamin C) to help you absorb it.

If you’re a tea drinker, be aware that tea can make iron levels worse, as it decreases the absorption of iron. Avoid drinking tea (black or green) around meal times and make sure you supplement with iron.

Dietary Advice

Dietary modifications of both parents should ideally be addressed at least four months prior to conception and maternal diet maintained throughout pregnancy and the breastfeeding period.

Eat most: Protein rich foods (they will help to keep you full and blood sugar levels stable), fish, lean meats, nuts, seeds, eggs, seafood, healthy oils, good fats (butter, ghee, avocado) leafy greens, vegetables of a range of colours, filtered water (drink most in the morning, less in the afternoon/evening).

Oils to use: Olive oil is best used cold (on salads etc) and for cooking, oils which have a higher smoke point are healthier, for example extra virgin coconut oil, macadamia oil or peanut oil.

Eat moderately: Fruits, spices, fresh herbs, cheeses, dairy (full cream only, keep an eye on sugar content – 4 grams is one teaspoon).

Eat occasionally: Starchy carbohydrates (e.g. potato or rice, best eaten cold), dried fruits, saturated fats, and high GI fruits (e.g. banana).

Limit: Salt (opt for himalyan salt if you must), chocolate, caffeine.

Avoid: Processed grains of any kind, high GI foods (wheat grains, refined foods), well done meats and BBQ meats, sugars, low fat dairy, diet drinks and diet products, artificial sweeteners, soy products, canola oil, trans fats, palm oil, vegetable oils, deep fried foods, preservatives, artificial colours, drugs, cigarettes, alcohol.

Start The Day With A Healthy Breakfast

For many people, breakfast can be a really difficult meal to break out of bad eating habits. If you find it hard to make dietary changes, start small with one meal per day.

Breakfast is particularly important, because what you eat for breakfast regulates your blood sugar levels for the rest of the day.

The great news is, there are loads of healthy AND delicious foods you can eat for breakfast – and in no time, you wont want to eat any other way!

Try some of the suggestions in our article 13 Healthy Breakfast Ideas.


Exercise also helps with insulin resistance, and helpsWalking, swimming and yoga are all easy and gentle forms of exercise which will enhance your fitness, strength and flexibility.

Not only will you benefit during pregnancy, but during your labour too.

Aim for at least 30 minutes of walking each day. If you’re just starting out or 30 minutes sounds like a lot, commit to a 10 minute walk (that’s just five minutes one way then five minutes back!) and build up as you start to feel better about going for a walk.

Aa always, get your doctor’s okay before starting a new form of exercise.


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  1. I can’t believe the huge number of foods listed under “Avoid,” yet alcohol is considered something to just “Limit.” Alcohol consumption during pregnancy is the leading known cause of birth defects, and should definitely be avoided.

    1. Hey Kim! Thanks for the feedback. This article was originally published when we started in 2003 and was compliments of Blackmores. We made a couple of changes, but the whole thing is in the process of being re-written as there is important information to be included and removed 🙂

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