Eating Well for Pregnancy

Eating Well for Pregnancy

Are you pregnant or planning a pregnancy? Eating well during pregnancy is important for both you and your growing baby. But, did you know what you eat before becoming pregnant plays a role too.

Top tips for a healthy pregnancy:

1. Take an iodine and folate supplement each day

Iodine and folate are important for the healthy growth and development of your baby. Extra iodine and folate are needed for a healthy baby. It is hard to get enough iodine and folate from food alone during pregnancy. It is recommended pregnant women, or women planning a pregnancy:

  • Take an iodine supplement of 150 micrograms each day before you become pregnant. Continue to take this supplement daily during pregnancy and while breastfeeding. Read more about iodine advice for pregnancy.
  • Take a folic acid supplement of 500 micrograms each day for at least one month before becoming pregnant. Continue to take this supplement for the first three months of pregnancy. Read more about folate and pregnancy.

Talk to your doctor before taking any other supplements or formulas.

2. Be food safe

It is important to take extra care with food choices, preparation and storage during pregnancy. This is more important in hot weather. If you become unwell (eg. vomiting or diarrhoea) after eating food, get medical help straight away.

Tips to lower your food safety risk:

  • don’t use foods past their ‘use by’ date
  • put leftovers in the fridge as soon as possible and use within 24 hours or freeze
  • re-heat food until it is steaming hot.

Foods not to eat:

  • cold deli meats
  • soft or semi soft cheeses such as brie, camembert, blue, fetta and ricotta
  • pre-prepared or pre-packaged salads, including fruit salad
  • raw seafood such as oysters, sushi, smoked seafood and cooked ready to eat prawns
  • soft serve ice cream

Read more information about foods to avoid to lower your risk of food poisoning.

3. Don’t go overboard on fish

Eating too much mercury when pregnant can harm your unborn baby. Mercury is found naturally in our environment.  Most of the mercury we eat comes from fish. Different fish contain different amounts of mercury. The good news is you can continue to enjoy eating fish while pregnant, choose either:

  • flake (shark), swordfish or marlin – 150 gram serve once a fortnight
  • orange roughy (deep sea perch) or catfish – 150 gram serve once a week
  • other fish or seafood (including canned fish) – 150 gram serve two to three times a week.

4. Choose iron rich foods every day

Iron helps your body carry oxygen around in the blood, which gives you the energy you need to be active. Extra iron is needed during pregnancy. Iron is important for the healthy growth and brain development of your baby.

There are two types of iron:

  • ‘Haem iron’ – found in animal foods and absorbed best by the body. Good sources include red meat, pork, chicken and fish.
  • ‘Non-haem iron’ – found in plant foods and harder for the body to absorb*. Good sources include legumes (beans and lentils), tofu, green leafy vegetables, breakfast cereals with added iron, nuts and seeds.

*Vitamin C helps the body absorb iron more easily. Foods high in vitamin C include citrus fruits, tomatoes, capsicum, broccoli and berries. Including a variety of iron rich foods at meals can also help with the absorption of iron.

If you follow a vegetarian or vegan style of eating, talk to your doctor or midwife about getting your iron levels checked. You may need a supplement.

5. Drink water

Most people need to drink about eight cups of fluid each day. When pregnant, you need to drink even more, especially in very hot weather. Read more about keeping cool while pregnant.

6. Eat a variety of foods every day

This means choosing foods from the five food groups every day, including:

  • vegetables
  • lean meats and meat alternatives (eg eggs, legumes, tofu)
  • grain foods mostly wholegrain (eg bread, pasta, rice)
  • fruit
  • dairy foods or dairy alternatives with added calcium (100 mg per 100 ml).

Planning a pregnancy and being pregnant can be a good motivator to think about what you are eating. It may also help you plan meals to include more nutrient rich choices.

Tips for coping with some of the discomforts of pregnancy

It is common to feel nauseas and unwell, particularly in the early stages of pregnancy.  Sometimes this can affect how well you eat. Thankfully this usually passes but here are some tips to help you manage during this time:

  • try smaller more frequent meals
  • stay upright after eating
  • drink water (or other fluids) between meals.

If you are finding it hard to eat well, talk to your midwife or doctor.