Balance is good
What to eat during pregnancy
During pregnancy, your baby relies on you for their nutritional intake. Eating a well-balanced diet will provide the wide range of nutrients they need for healthy development now, and help to set the stage for their health throughout life. Learn how to get a good balance from the different food groups, and what you can eat when pregnant if you follow a vegetarian, vegan or coeliac diet.
A healthy pregnancy diet for their healthier future
During pregnancy, the food you eat provides a constant source of nourishment for your baby.
Although their progress is often categorised by weeks, months and stages, your baby’s growth and development is a continual process. Their nutritional intake throughout your pregnancy lays the foundations for all future development, while setting the stage for their lifelong health and wellbeing.
The eatwell plate: A guide to a good balance
A healthy pregnancy diet is one that includes a variety of foods from the different food groups. You should include foods from each of the food groups below each day, and try to keep fatty or sugary foods to a minimum.
Starchy foods: Choose wholegrain varieties for a healthy intake of energy, fibre, calcium, iron and B vitamins.
Fruit and vegetables: Try to eat at least five portions a day to provide your recommended daily vitamins and minerals. Enjoy them fresh, frozen, tinned, dried or juiced in a smoothie.
Milk and dairy foods: Sources of protein and calcium. Choose lower-fat varieties for a healthy intake with fewer calories.
Non-dairy proteins: Eat meat, fish, eggs, beans and other non-dairy sources of protein every day, including two portions of oily fish per week.
Fatty or sugary foods: Cakes, biscuits, crisps and other fatty or sugary foods have little nutritional value. Try to limit your intake and choose healthier foods instead.
Should you be eating for two?
Although your pregnancy diet supports you both, there’s no need to overindulge. In fact, your recommended calorie intake is the same as pre-pregnancy until you reach your third trimester.
This is because any additional energy needed for the growth of your baby during the first and second trimesters is compensated by the typical reduction in physical activity during this time. Once you reach your third trimester, your needs increase slightly.
From 27 weeks onwards, you should eat an extra 200 calories per day, which is the equivalent to two slices of toast with butter1.
Eating more food than you need during pregnancy can lead to excessive weight gain. In turn, this can have consequences for your baby’s development and has been linked to complications such as large birth weight and an increased risk of caesarean birth7.
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A healthy pregnancy diet
Eating a well-balanced diet will provide the wide range of nutrients they need for healthy development now, and helps to set the stage for their health throughout life.
What to eat on a specialised or restricted diet when pregnant
If you usually follow a special diet, such as vegetarian, vegan or gluten-free, you may need to pay extra attention to getting the nutrients that could potentially be lacking during your pregnancy.
Your healthcare professional will be able to advise you on the specific adjustments you need to make depending on your individual circumstances. It’s important to find professional support to ensure you get the wide variety of nutrients that supports your baby’s current development and future health.
Vegetarian and vegan pregnancy diets
A vegetarian diet has certain benefits for pregnancy: it is usually high in carbohydrates, the main fuel for your baby. However, due to the absence of meat and fish, it's important to ensure that the protein and nutrients they provide are gained from other sources2.
Vitamin B12 is important throughout pregnancy but especially in the first trimester due to its role in helping the body process folic acid4. Marmite is a good non-animal source5. Vegans in particular may need a supplement to ensure adequate levels of vitamin B124.
If you have coeliac disease you should talk to your healthcare professional about any special advice on what to eat while pregnant.
Research shows that as long as your condition is well managed throughout pregnancy, coeliac disease shouldn’t have any impact on your pregnancy or your baby’s development6.
The gift of future health
1. NHS UK. New weight advice for pregnancy [Online]. 2010. Available at: www.nhs.uk/news/2010/July07/Pages/new-nice-guidelines-weight-pregnancy.aspx [Accessed May 2014]
2. Wells JCK. The thrifty phenotype as an adaptive maternal effect. Biol Rev Cam Philos Soc 2007;82(1):143-172.
3. Nutrition.org. Nutrition in pregnancy summary [Online]. 2007. Available at: http://nutrition.org.uk/attachments/204_Nutrition%20in%20pregnancy%20summary.pdf [Accessed May 2014]
4. NHS UK. Vitamins and minerals: B vitamins and folic acid [Online]. 2012. Available at: www.nhs.uk/Conditions/vitamins-minerals/Pages/Vitamin-B.aspx [Accessed May 2014]
5. NHS UK. Vegetarian and vegan mums-to-be [Online]. 2013. Available at: http://www.nhs.uk/Livewell/Vegetarianhealth/Pages/Vegandiets.aspx [Accessed May 2014]
6. NFCA. Pregnancy and celiac disease [Online]. 2009. Available at: www.celiaccentral.org/research-news/Celiac-Disease-Research/134/vobid--2030/ [Accessed May 2014]
7. NHS UK. Overweight and pregnant [Online]. 2013. Available at: www.nhs.uk/conditions/pregnancy-and-baby/pages/overweight-pregnant.aspx [Accessed: July 2014]
Last reviewed: 29th July 2014
Questions about feeding and nutrition?
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