Prenatal & Postpartum Articles

The Importance of Nutrition When Pregnant

By Dr. Austin Abramson


Good nutrition is an important component of a healthy lifestyle and a healthy baby. The best time to review your nutritional status to make appropriate changes is prior to conception. A very important time of fetal development is during the first several weeks of pregnancy. This is the time all of the major fetal body systems are undergoing formation and rapid development. Many women may not even realize they are pregnant at this time. Therefore it is prudent to make your lifestyle and nutritional changes several months before conception occurs.


The nutritional changes that should occur prior to pregnancy must be individualized based on your medical status, weight and eating habits. Poor eating habits during pregnancy can be harmful to both the mother-to-be and the fetus. Remember what you eat is what your baby will eat.


Pregnancy is the only time in life when weight gain is not only desirable, but also encouraged. Weight gain should not be confused with being obese. There are multiple growth spurts of multiple organ systems that contribute to the normal weight gain. For instance the average placenta weights at term 1 1/2 lbs., amniotic fluid 2 lbs., breast enlargement 2 lbs., uterine mass 2 lbs., blood volume 3 lbs., fat deposit 6 lbs., and fluids 4 lbs.  Add in a normal-sized baby of 7 lbs-8 lbs., and it is easy to see that the recommended weight gain of 25-30 lbs. is very appropriate.


The extra 25-30 lbs. that are recommended translates into an additional 200-300 calories/day. This increases the average daily caloric intake from 2100 calories per day to approximately 2400-2500 calories per day. The USDA Food Guide Pyramid is the best way to approach healthy eating during pregnancy. An increase in the serving size would be sufficient to satisfy the increased caloric needs. The increased caloric intake should not be made up by fatty foods, but rather with increases in protein, dairy, grains, fruits or vegetables.


The weight gain should not be achieved rapidly, but rather a gradual weight gain over the entire pregnancy. In the first trimester it is common for pregnant women not to gain weight or even lose weight because of nausea and vomiting. This is acceptable as long as the mother-to-be is able to consume fluids. It is very easy to be become dehydrated in a short period of time during pregnancy. The weight gain that does not occur in the first trimester will be accumulated later in the pregnancy.


Eating healthy does not mean eating more, but rather eating right. Pregnancy requires more nutrients besides more calories. Food is divided into fats, protein and carbohydrates plus micronutrients. Protein is extremely important during pregnancy for organ growth. For instance, in the mother-to-be, the rapid increase in size of the uterus and breasts are protein based. All of the fetal body systems use proteins as the major building block. Good sources of protein are lean meat, fish, milk and beans. Carbohydrates are the major source of energy. Sources are grains, cereals, fruit, vegetables, and milk. Fats are necessary during pregnancy but should be limited to 30% of the total calories. Fats are important for fetal nervous system development and for some vitamin absorption. Saturated and hydrogenated fats/oils should always be avoided. Monounsaturated oils such as olive oil and canola oils are healthier. Omega-3 fatty acids such as docosahexaenoic (DHA) have been linked to higher infant IQs. Flaxseed oil is a good source of this oil.


The old adage "You Are What You Eat" changes slightly in pregnancy to "We Are What Our Mothers Ate". If you have any dietary concerns, it is always best to consult with your health care provider. Good Luck!