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What to eat (and avoid) while pregnant

What should be on the menu while pregnant?


Your body goes through some significant changes during pregnancy, so adding more nutrients to your diet can help boost your energy levels and support your baby’s development. Taking care of yourself by eating food rich in nutrients will also help put you in a better position to tackle the demands of parenthood.

Healthy food and drink choices

First up, let’s dispel the myth that you need to ‘eat for two’ during pregnancy – this is simply not true. Remember, during the first trimester (the first 12 weeks) your baby only grows to about the size of an apricot!

However, when you reach your second and third trimester, you may need extra food for your baby’s growth. This could mean adding a bit more vegetables, lean protein and wholegrains to your diet each day – for example, a serve of baked beans on toast, some vegetable sticks or a small bowl of wholegrain pasta with a vegetable, meat or bean sauce.

Focus on the five food groups

One of the best ways to maintain your health during pregnancy is to make sure most of your diet is made up of foods from the five food groups. Here are some ways to hit recommended daily targets in each group:

Vegetables and legumes

5 serves per day

One serve could be:

  • ½ cup of cooked green or orange vegetables (eg broccoli, spinach, carrots or pumpkin)

  • 1 cup of leafy or raw salad vegetables, or

  • ½ a medium potato or sweet potato.

Fruit

2 serves per day

One serve could be:

  • 1 medium banana, apple, orange or pear

  • 2 small kiwifruit, apricots or plum, or

  • 1 cup of canned fruits (with no added sugar).

Grain foods (mostly wholegrain or high fibre varieties)

8 to 8.5 serves per day

One serve could be:

  • 1 piece of bread

  • ½ a roll or flat bread

  • ½ cup of cooked rice or pasta

  • ¼ cup of muesli

  • ½ cup cooked porridge, or

  • 1 small English muffin or scone.

Lean meats and poultry, fish, eggs, tofu, nuts and seeds, legumes and beans

3.5 serves per day

One serve could be:

  • 65g of cooked (or 90g to 100g raw) lean meat, such as beef, lamb, veal, kangaroo or pork

  • 80g of cooked (or 100g raw) chicken or turkey

  • 2 large eggs

  • 1 cup of cooked or canned legumes or beans

  • 30 grams of nuts, or

  • 170g of tofu

Milk, yoghurt, cheese (and/or their alternatives), mostly reduced fat

2.5 to 3.5 serves per day

One serve could be:

  • 1 cup of milk (fresh, UHT long life, powered milk or buttermilk)

  • ¾ cup of yoghurt

  • 1 cup of soy, rice or other cereal drink with at least 100mg of added calcium per 100ml or

  • 2 slices of cheese, or 40g of hard cheese, such as cheddar

Tip: Make sure you wash fresh fruit and vegetables before eating. Ensure meats and dairy are kept refrigerated. Heat ready meals (particularly those containing poultry) all the way through.

And don’t forget to drink plenty of water to help you stay hydrated. Did you know that most town and city water in Australia contains fluoride, which helps your growing baby's teeth to develop strong enamel.

Foods and drinks to limit

You can still enjoy your favourite sweet or savoury snacks and drinks but you should only have them occasionally.

1. Discretionary or "junk" foods

These foods are typically high in saturated fats and added sugars and offer little nutritional value. Consuming too many can put you at risk of health problems and leave you short of the nutrients you and your developing baby need.

Discretionary foods typically include cakes, biscuits, sweet muffins, chocolate, potato chips, hot chips and many takeaway fried foods.

2. Sugary drinks

Fizzy or soft drinks, energy and flavoured drinks, juices and cordials are high in sugar and are one of the main sources of excess sugar in our diets.

3. Caffeinated drinks

It’s recommended you limit caffeine during pregnancy to about one to two cups of coffee, or four cups of tea, each day. Energy drinks containing guarana (a caffeine substance) are not recommended in pregnancy.

Food and drinks to avoid

Some foods and drink should be totally avoided during pregnancy because they contain ingredients that are harmful to you and your developing baby.

1. Alcohol

This is not recommended at all during pregnancy. Alcohol can harm your developing baby and there is no safe level of alcohol during pregnancy.

2. Foods at risk of bacteria

Some foods have higher risk of carrying bacteria – such as listeria and salmonella – that can make you very sick and even put you at risk of a miscarriage.

  • Foods that may contain listeria: Soft cheeses (brie, camembert, ricotta, feta and blue cheese), sandwich meats, packaged salads, pâté, smoked salmon, uncooked seafood, precooked prawns and sushi.

  • Foods that could carry salmonella: Raw eggs and bean sprouts.

3. Fish that contains high levels of mercury

Mercury can affect your baby’s brain and nervous system development.

  • Don’t have

     

    (150g) per fortnight of shark/flake, marlin, broadbill or swordfish (and no other fish that fortnight)

OR

  • Don’t have more than one serve (150g) per week of orange roughy (deep sea perch) or catfish (and no other fish that week).

What about vitamin supplements?

While you can get most of the nutrients you and your baby need by eating a range of food from the five food groups, it’s recommended you take folate (folic acid) and iodine supplements during pregnancy. Both are available over the counter at pharmacies.

Folic acid supplement:

Folic acid helps to reduce the risk of your baby having a neural tube defect (NTD) such as spina bifida.  It’s recommended you take it for the two months before you become pregnant and for the first three months of your pregnancy.

Iodine supplement

A diet low in iodine can put your baby at risk of learning difficulties and may affect their physical development and hearing.

Before taking any vitamin or supplement during your pregnancy, it’s best to check with your doctor or pharmacist.

nib Nurture

nib has partnered with trusted Australian pregnancy experts Nourish Baby to create a guide that covers everything you need to know so you can enjoy a happy, healthy pregnancy and beyond. 

The nib Nurture Pregnancy eLearning bundle brings you a comprehensive 3-course bundle which will help you develop the knowledge and skills you need to enjoy a healthy pregnancy, positive labour and birth, and feeding success.