Eating well during pregnancy
It is very important to eat well before and during pregnancy.
What to eat while pregnant
Eat a variety of foods from each of the five food groups every day to get the nutrition you and your baby need:
- vegetables - try to eat different types
- lean meats and meat alternatives (like eggs or legumes)
- grain foods like bread, pasta, and rice
- dairy foods or dairy alternatives that have added calcium (100 mg per 100 ml).
Most people need about eight cups of fluid a day. When you are pregnant you need more, especially in very hot weather. Learn more about pregnancy during extreme heat.
Healthy weight gain during pregnancy
Healthy weight gain is important. If you do not gain enough weight, you may be at risk of premature birth. If you are overweight or gain too much weight during pregnancy, you have a higher risk of:
- high blood pressure
- gestational diabetes
- caesarean birth
- difficulty losing weight after the birth.
Vitamins and supplements during pregnancy
- It is important to have between 2.5 and 3.5 serves of calcium rich food every day.
- This will help your baby grow strong bones and teeth.
- The best sources of calcium are dairy foods (e.g. milk, yoghurt, cheese) or dairy alternatives (e.g. soy milk) with added calcium (at least 100mg calcium per 100mL of milk).
- If you don’t eat these foods, you may need a calcium supplement.
Folate (or folic acid)
- Folate is needed for the growth and development of your baby in the first few months of pregnancy. This is when a baby's brain and spine are forming.
- A good source of folate can be found in green leafy vegetables such as broccoli, spinach and asparagus, legumes such as chickpeas, beans and lentils, most store-bought breads, fortified fruit and vegetables juices, and fortified breakfast cereal where folic acid has been added. .
- If you are planning a pregnancy, you need to take a folic acid supplement to reduce the risk of your baby having a neural tube defect such as spina bifida.
Take a folate supplement of 500 micrograms of folic acid per day for the first three months of pregnancy for the general population.
If you are planning a pregnancy, start a folate supplement at least one month before becoming pregnant.
- Vitamin D helps your body absorb calcium from food to provide you with healthy bones and muscles.
- Your body will produce vitamin D when your skin is exposed to the UV light in sunlight.
- The amount of vitamin D your body makes depends on skin type, exposure time, amount of skin exposed, UV levels, lifestyle and health.
- It is good to spend time in the sun. Sensible sun protection (sunscreen, hat and glasses) does not put you at risk of vitamin D deficiency.
- You may have a higher risk for vitamin D deficiency if you have dark skin, cover most of your body with clothing and spend most of your time indoors.
- Oily fish, eggs, margarines and some milk products contain a small amount of vitamin D. This makes it hard to get enough from food alone.
- Iodine is an important nutrient for the healthy growth and brain development of your baby.
- During pregnancy and while breastfeeding more iodine is needed than usual.
- Iodine is found in foods like most store-bought bread, cows milk, dairy yoghurt and seafood (such as flathead, tuna, salmon, including tinned varieties). See Eating fish during pregnancy for important information on mercury and food safety.
- It is hard to get enough iodine from food alone.
- If you are planning a pregnancy, pregnant or breastfeeding, take an iodine supplement with 150 micrograms of iodine every day.
- If you have a pre-existing thyroid condition, are lactose intolerant, or have coeliac disease, talk to your doctor, midwife or pharmacist before taking an iodine supplement. You may need a different amount of iodine.
- Find out more at the National Health Medical Research Council website or Food Standards Australia website
- Iron is needed to form red blood cells for you and your baby.
- It helps carry oxygen in your blood and is needed for your baby to grow.
- During pregnancy your iron requirements are increased.
- A lack of iron can often leave you anaemic, tired and less able to fight off infection.
- Good sources of iron include lean red meats, chicken and fish, eggs, legumes, green leafy vegetables, tofu, nuts and seeds, and breakfast cereals with added iron. See Eating fish during pregnancy for important information on mercury and food safety.
- Citrus fruits and other foods high in vitamin C will help the iron from your food to be well absorbed.
- Your iron levels may be tested in your pregnancy especially if your haemoglobin is low.
- It is safe to take iron supplements during pregnancy and breastfeeding.
- If you need iron supplements, talk to your midwife or doctor to discuss the best supplements for you.
Food safety and hygiene
- If you are infected with CMV, you can pass the virus to your baby during pregnancy.
- Most babies born with CMV infection will be fine, however some may develop health problems.
- CMV is transmitted through urine and saliva.
- If you’re pregnant, the best way to protect your baby from CMV is to protect yourself.
- Wash your hands often with soap and water, especially after changing a nappy, feeding, wiping a child’s nose or mouth, and touching their toys, pacifier, or other objects.
- Don’t share food, drinks, eating utensils, or a toothbrush with a child.
- Do not put a child’s pacifier in your mouth.
- Use soap and water or a disinfectant to clean toys, countertops and other surfaces that may have a child’s saliva or urine on them.
- Avoid contact with saliva when kissing or snuggling.
- For more information on cytomegalovirus, visit the CMV website
- Listeria is a bacteria that can cause a serious illness called listeriosis in some people.
- It can cause miscarriage, premature labour, babies being significantly unwell at birth and stillbirths.
- Some foods are more prone to contamination.
- Listeriosis can be treated with antibiotics, but prevention is best.
- For further information on listeria, refer to the Australian Government’s Food Standards website.
To reduce the risk of listeria:
- thoroughly wash your hands, cooking utensils and chopping boards
- make sure hot foods are served hot (above 60 degrees)
- make sure cold foods are served cold (below 5 degrees) at home and when eating out
- cook all meat, chicken, fish and eggs thoroughly
- avoid high-risk foods such as:
- cold deli meats, cold cooked ready-to-eat chicken, pre-prepared or pre-packaged salads, including fruit salad, chilled seafood such as oysters, sushi, smoked seafood and cooked ready-to-eat prawns, soft or semi-soft cheeses such as brie, Camembert, ricotta, blue or feta, raw eggs or egg products (like mayonnaise), under cooked meat or poultry, refrigerated pate or meat spreads, soft serve ice cream and unpasteurised (raw) dairy foods.
- wash raw vegetables and fruit well before eating.
- eat only freshly cooked food and well-washed freshly prepared fruit and vegetables
- leftovers can be eaten if refrigerated promptly and kept no longer than a day
- reheat food until it is steaming hot
- do not eat food if there is any doubt about its hygienic preparation or storage
- Do not use food past their ‘use by’ date.
You can be infected with toxoplasmosis through:
- contact with faeces of infected animals (commonly cats)
- eating undercooked or raw meat
- consuming unpasteurised milk and contaminated vegetables.
If you are infected with toxoplasmosis, it can reach your baby through your placenta and make them very sick. To reduce the risk of toxoplasmosis:
- wash hands well after gardening or handling pets
- wash salad and vegetables well
- cook meat well
- wear gloves when disposing of cat litter, avoid contact with animal faeces where possible.
Eating fish during pregnancy
Mercury can effect the nervous system of unborn babies. It is found naturally in the environment. Most mercury we eat comes from fish. Fish contain different amounts of mercury. How much fish you can safely eat when pregnant depends on the type of fish. When you are pregnant choose either:
- flake (shark), swordfish or marlin - 150 gram serve once a fortnight
- orange roughy or catfish - 150 gram serve once a week
- other fish or seafood - 150 gram serve two or three times a week.