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Prenatal Nutrition

Growing a tiny human is hard work. The body goes through so many changes in a relatively short amount of time, and nutrition plays such a huge role in supporting a healthy pregnancy. Because of all of these changes, your body needs extra of some nutrients to support the development of baby, and keep you movin' and groovin' throughout pregnancy.

While this may seem overwhelming, many of these nutrients can be found in the same foods, which means it may take only a few small changes to meet the daily requirements. As always, food is a great place to start, but you may need to supplement individual nutrients depending on your dietary needs. That's where a Registered Dietitian and your Physician can work with you to determine an appropriate game plan to meet your needs.

So where do you start?


While the whole "eating for two" thing is pretty misguided, it is true that you will need to increase your calories during pregnancy. During your first trimester, calories don't need to be increased from your pre-pregnancy intake, which could be a relief if you're suffering from nausea. During your second and third trimester you need an extra 340 and 450 calories, respectively. Though keep in mind these numbers are only applicable if you've been eating enough energy pre-pregnancy to meet your own body's needs.

This can seem overwhelming at first, but try to focus on frequent, small meals throughout the day. Not only will this help with getting in those extra calories, but it can also help reduce any nausea, vomiting or acid reflux you may be experiencing.

The following guidelines for weight gain during pregnancy are based off of pre-pregnancy BMI:






These numbers may seem scary and high, but please remember that this recommended weight gain supports your growing baby, the placenta, amniotic fluid, expanded blood volume (an increase of about 50%), uterus and breast growth, and extra fluid.


Iron is found in hemoglobin, a protein that makes up red blood cells. Since your body is supplying blood and oxygen to baby, your blood volume increases almost 50% during pregnancy. In order to support this increase in blood volume, iron requirements increase to 27mg/day during pregnancy. There are two sources of iron: heme and non-heme. Heme iron is more readily absorbed, and is only found in red meat, poultry, fish and seafood. Non-heme iron is found in legumes, dark, leafy greens, dark chocolate and fortified grains.

While food sources can be a great source of iron, there are some compounds that can inhibit or enhance iron absorption. Phytates, found in legumes, grains, nuts and seeds, can inhibit iron absorption. Soaking, cooking, germinating or fermenting may help degrade these phytates inhibiting iron absorption. Calcium may also intake inhibit iron absorption, which is why many prenatal vitamins that are higher in iron have lower amounts of calcium.

On the other hand, Vitamin C enhances the absorption of iron. Try incorporating Vitamin-C rich foods (such as citrus fruits, bell peppers, strawberries, tomatoes and sweet potato) with your iron sources.


Folate is necessary for cell growth and metabolism, and helps to prevent neural tube defects during development. The daily recommended folate intake for pregnancy is 600mcg/day. Folate can be found in dark, leafy greens like spinach, fortified cereals and bread, and legumes such as kidney beans, black-eyed peas and chickpeas.

Synthetic folate, known as folic acid and found in fortified foods and prenatal vitamins, is better absorbed than the folate found naturally in foods. This is one reason why prenatal vitamins are recommended.

Vitamin D

The daily recommended intake during pregnancy is 600IU per day. Vitamin D is vital to immune function, which is important during pregnancy as both you and your developing baby are more susceptible to illness. Vitamin D is also important for cell division and bone health. Fatty fish, fish oil, fortified milk, fortified juices, fortified cereals and egg yolks are all good sources of Vitamin D.

Plant-based diets may require supplementation, but always consult your doctor first.


The need for calcium increases during the 3rd trimester, when baby’s bones are developing. If you aren’t consuming enough calcium to support both you and baby, calcium will be leeched from your bones in order to build baby’s.

Since the body cannot make calcium on its own, it has to be consumed. The RDA for calcium during pregnancy is 1000mg/day, and can be found in dairy products, fortified orange juice, cereals, tofu and edamame.

Vitamin B12

Vitamin B12 is involved in the metabolism of all macronutrients (fat, carbohydrate and protein), aids in DNA synthesis, and helps prevent neural tube defects.

The RDA for B12 during pregnancy is 2.6mcg/day, and can be found in animal products such as fish, meat, eggs and milk, as well as fortified cereals, and nutritional yeast. If you’re plant-based, you may need to supplement, but always consult your doctor.


Zinc is a mineral involved in immune function and is needed to make DNA. The RDA for pregnancy is 11mg per day, and can be found in meat, fortified cereals, legumes, whole grains and nuts.

Calcium, phytates and iron may inhibit the absorption of zinc, so supplementation may be necessary.


You’ve probably heard loads about the health benefits of Omega-3 fatty acids. In terms of pregnancy, Omega-3s are important for baby’s visual and cognitive development, can lower the risk or preeclampsia and prevent preterm labor.

The recommended daily amount of Omega-3s for pregnancy is 200mg per day, and they can be found in fatty fish (tuna, salmon), flaxseed, hemp seeds, chia seeds, walnuts, canola oil, fortified products, DHA enriched eggs and edamame.

While fish are a great source of Omega-3s, and it is recommended to consume 8-12oz of fish per week, you have to be careful when it comes to larger fish like swordfish, king mackerel and albacore tuna. The larger the fish, the higher the mercury content, which can be toxic. Seek out the smaller options, and if you’re a tuna lover look for Skipjack tuna rather than Albacore.


Choline is not often talked about, but is important for gene expression, spinal cord formation and early brain development in baby. The RDA for pregnancy is 450mg per day, and it can be found in beef, eggs, kidney beans, Brussels sprouts broccoli, soybeans, nuts, seeds and milk.

Choline is not often added in prenatal vitamins, so you may need to look for a separate choline supplement in order to meet these requirements.

Overall, pregnant women require more nutrients than the average woman. Talking with your doctor and a registered dietitian can be a great option to work through how to meet these requirements in a way that works best for you.

xo, Kristin


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