salad_spinach_eating_pregnancy Eating a healthy diet and staying active during your pregnancy will not only benefit your growing baby, but it can also help you look and feel better. It can even help your labor and delivery go smoother, and make it easier to get back into shape after you have your baby.

Eating Healthfully for You and Your Baby

Eating a variety of nutritious foods can go a long way in keeping you and your baby healthy while you are pregnant. In general, aim to follow the latest version of the Dietary Guidelines for Americans . The new MyPyramid website for pregnant or nursing women allows you to get a food plan based on your specific information, helping you to choose from a variety of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean protein, dairy foods, and healthful fats.

You do not need extra calories during your first trimester, but you should be getting about 300 extra calories per day during your second and third trimesters, to reach a total of about 1,900-2,500 calories a day. These extra calories should come from nutritious foods. Examples of snacks that contain about 300 calories include: one cup of nonfat fruit yogurt and a medium apple, a piece of whole wheat toast with two tablespoons of peanut butter, or one cup of whole grain cereal with ½ cup of nonfat milk and a small banana.

In addition to extra calories, you will need to increase your consumption of certain nutrients, including folate and iron . Folate is extremely important because it can prevent neural tube defects, like spina bifida . Taking folate and iron may offer additional benefits, like reducing the number of infants born with low birth weight and reducing infant mortality. Your doctor will recommend you take a prenatal supplement to ensure you are getting enough of these nutrients. You can also eat foods high in folate and iron, like fortified breads and cereals, spinach, and broccoli.

Extra calcium is also needed during pregnancy to protect your bone density and help your baby’s bones grow. You should consume the equivalent of three cups of milk per day to get the calcium you need (1 cup milk = 1 cup lowfat yogurt or 1.5 ounces lowfat cheese).

You also need to get enough iron, which helps your and your baby’s blood carry oxygen. Iron-rich foods include lean red meats, enriched grain products, eggs, leafy green vegetables, broccoli, Brussel sprouts, beans and peas, raisins, prunes, and peanuts.

There are certain things you should avoid consuming when you are pregnant, including:

  • Alcohol —There is no established safe level of alcohol during pregnancy, so avoid drinking alcoholic beverages while you are pregnant.
  • Fish that may have high levels of methylmercury —Avoid eating shark, swordfish, king mackerel, and tilefish while pregnant. These fish have high levels of methylmercury, which could harm your baby. You can safely consume up to 12 ounces of fish that is lower in methylmercury (eg, shrimp, canned light tuna, salmon, pollock, catfish). Eat no more than six ounces of canned albacore (white) tuna or tuna steaks per week. Farm-raised fish may contain elevated levels of dioxin.
  • Soft cheeses and cold lunch meats, hot dogs, and deli meats —Soft cheeses (eg, Brie, feta, Camembert, Roquefort, Mexican-style soft cheese), cold lunch meats, hot dogs, and deli meats can contain bacteria that can harm your unborn baby.
  • Raw fish, meat, or poultry —These foods can result in food poisoning that may cause harm to your baby.
  • Nonfood items —Some pregnant women crave nonfood products, such as cornstarch or clay, a condition called pica . You should avoid consuming these things and tell your doctor if you are having cravings for nonfood items.

You should also consider limiting your intake of caffeine. There is conflicting evidence about potential harms of caffeine. Caffeine has recently been reported to be, associated with an increased risk of miscarriage . However, association is not the same as causation. Most healthcare professionals believe that a cup or two of coffee per day will not harm your baby, and a recent clinical trial of over 1,200 coffee drinkers in the second half of their pregnancies found that drinking less caffeinated coffee had no effect on the size or date of delivery of their babies. Nevertheless, limiting your caffeine consumption during your entire pregnancy my be advisable, since we do not have full knowledge about the safety of caffeine.

If you are a vegetarian, are lactose intolerant, or have other dietary restrictions, consult your doctor or a dietitian, who can help you plan a well-balanced, healthful diet to fit your lifestyle and needs.