Nutrition in pregnancy

Your health and nutrition play a key role in the development of your baby. And Pam Stone advises good pregnancy and birth has its foundations in the months before you conceive.

Do you need to eat for two?

Well, no not exactly. However, pregnancy is the most nutritionally demanding period in a womanís life and hence the recommended dietary intake of most vitamins and minerals is greater at that time.

Optimal nutrition is necessary to support the major physical and hormonal changes that occur throughout pregnancy including the growth of the placenta, an increase in blood volume, an increase in cardiac output, preparation for breastfeeding and alterations to lung, kidney, urinary and reproductive functions.

  • Almost 100% of pregnant women donít get all the nutrients their babies need.
  • 79% of pregnant and breastfeeding women donít get their RDI (recommended daily intake) of calcium
  • 96% of pregnant and breastfeeding women donít get their RDI of zinc
  • 97% of pregnant and breastfeeding women donít get their RDI of folate
  • 100% of pregnant and breastfeeding women donít get their RDI of iron
  • DHA levels in breast milk have fallen around 35% over the past decade

Other essential nutrients often lacking in the diets of pregnant women include vitamins B, C and E, antioxidants, magnesium and iodine.


Eat most: whole grains including breads, cereals, rice, pasta; fruit and vegetables

Eat moderately: protein-rich foods including fish, chicken, legumes, nuts, seeds, eggs, dairy products and meat

Eat occasionally: monounsaturated fats such as olive or canola oil

Limit: sugar, salt, tea, butter, and polyunsaturated fats such as sunflower or safflower oil

Avoid: coffee and other caffeine-containing products, alcohol, and cigarettes

Energy requirements

After the first trimester, energy requirements increase on average by about 600 kilojoules per day. Making nutritious choices should ensure a desired weight outcome. Although a variety of factors may influence weight gain in pregnancy, a gain of 0.7 Ė 1.3kg during the first 3 months and 2kg per month in the 2nd and 3rd trimesters is considered average.

Key nutrients

Folic acid (Folate)

Neural tube defects like spina bifida affect one in every five hundred pregnancies in Australia. But mounting evidence suggests that the risks can be reduced by as much as 70% with the help of the B group vitamin, folate.
The National Health and Medical Research Council recommends that all women planning a pregnancy should take at least 400mcg of folate daily one month before conception. This should continue through the first three months of the pregnancy.

Essential Fatty Acids

Over the past five years the scientific world has recognised the vital and unique role of a particular nutrient in the structure and function of the brain, the retina and the nervous system of the human infant. This essential nutrient is docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), an essential fatty acid. DHA can be found in fresh oily fish such as salmon or in the form of a fish oil supplement.
The infant brain continues to grow and develop rapidly for the first year after birth: when DHA is added to the diet it may make an important contribution to improving overall health and wellbeing later in life. Among the conditions aided by adequate levels of DHA are dyslexia and attention deficit disorder.


Calcium is essential for development of bones and teeth. Supplementation is necessary during pregnancy and lactation to compensate for maternal bone demineralisation Ė up to 7% of calcium stored in the motherís bones can be lost to the foetus. This continues after birth, with up to 700mg of calcium secreted daily during lactation. This can have important consequences for the mother. An American study showed that women who receive calcium supplements during pregnancy had half the incidence of post-natal blues as those who did not.


Regular exercise such as walking, swimming, or yoga will encourage fitness, strength and flexibility. This will not only enhance wellbeing in pregnancy, but will also be of great benefit during labour.

Nutrition and Breastfeeding

An additional 2500 kilojoules per day is required to produce energy during lactation. Maintain healthy eating habits as recommended for pregnancy to ensure optimal nutrition. Consume two litres of water each day and pay special attention to calcium needs to ensure adequate milk production. Herbal teas which encourage lactation include fennel and fenugreek.


Pregnancy is a time when women are generally advised by their doctor on what to ingest and are advised to concentrate on getting their nutrient intake through diet. Mothers-to-be are typically very cautious of medication and supplements and tend to be avid readers of labels and ingredient lists.

My general advice is to omit herbs during pregnancy, with the exception of herbs such as ginger and raspberry leaf when they occur in supplements specifically formulated for pregnancy.

Blackmores Pregnancy and Breastfeeding Formula has been created with these issues in mind, and is ideal for use a supplement prior to conception, throughout pregnancy and while breastfeeding. It contains a range of vitamins and minerals at levels suitable for mother and child, and typically at RDI levels.

For more information register with Blackmores and 'ask a naturopath' at or call the Advisory line 1800 803 760 to talk with a Blackmores naturopath.