A pile of vegetables, including carrots, tomatoes, zucchini, and yellow bell peppers.

Dos and Don’ts of Eating When Pregnant

The best part about being pregnant is when people say "You’re pregnant! Eat whatever you want!"

It’s true a little weight gain isn’t necessarily a bad thing during pregnancy, and you’re probably going to have some major cravings for foods you’d never normally eat. But eating well while you’re expecting is important. And well doesn’t always mean "in bulk." A healthy diet is not only going to make sure your baby gets the nutrition it needs to develop normally, but it’s also going to keep you healthier, too. Here’s a look at what to eat, how to eat it, and what to avoid while you’re pregnant.

What To Eat

A balanced diet is even more important once you start sustaining more than just your own life. Every woman needs to eat a daily variety from the USDA's MyPlate nutrition guide, but developing babies need more of certain vitamins and nutrients than a grown woman might. For example, while you might generally opt for wheat bread, white bread is a great source of folic acid, essential in early development and for preventing congenital issues like spina bifida.

Ideally, a pregnant woman should aim to consume:

  • 6-11 servings of whole grains (rice, bread, tortillas, or pasta)
  • 2-4 servings of fruit
  • 4 servings of vegetables (the more colors the better)
  • 3 servings of protein (lean meat, eggs, peanut butter, or nuts)
  • 4 servings of dairy products (milk, Greek yogurt, cheese)

It seems like a lot, even when you’re pregnant. Eleven servings of whole grains—crazy, right? But all that fiber is great for your baby, and it is especially great for preventing constipation that often plagues mothers during pregnancies. Also, remember that many foods can count double—for example, Greek yogurt is a great source of protein and calcium. You can mix some berries into a cup of it to get dairy, protein, and fruit servings in a single dish.

How To Eat

Even though you are technically eating for two and a developing fetus grows tremendously, you do not need to double your dietary intake. In fact, experts recommend only increasing your caloric intake by about 300 calories a day. To put that into perspective, a piece of whole wheat bread only has about 70 calories, and a large, plain baked potato has about 280. You’re essentially keeping the same diet, but adding a snack or extra side dish at dinner.

That said, both morning sickness in the first trimester and the weight of a growing baby on your abdomen in the later months can really mess with your appetite. Some moms find it difficult to eat three full meals a day. It can be hard to get a solid breakfast into your stomach when you feel like you’re going to hurl. Bigger meals (especially at night before you’re ready to lie down) can make heartburn much, much worse. Using extra energy means you get hungry more often than normal. To remedy these problems, opt for smaller meals more frequently throughout the day. Three smaller meals, enhanced by a healthy snack in between, is also an option.

What to Avoid

It’s equally important to remember what foods you need to keep off your plate. It can be so frustrating to want nothing more than a giant plate of sushi while knowing it’s forbidden. In reality, sushi featuring cooked fish or seafood is totally okay—in moderation. Certain kinds of fish tend to have high levels of mercury, and those need to be eaten sparingly, if at all. You also need to avoid under- or uncooked meats, eggs, and seafood because of the increased risk of certain bacteria. Unfortunately, even some cooked meats (specifically smoked seafood, certain sausages, and lunch meats) are off limits, as they can carry listeria. Just make sure your turkey is steaming before you throw it on a sandwich.

Other foods on the "no list" include:

  • Soft Cheeses
  • Unpasteurized Milk
  • Meat Spreads and Pâtés
  • Alcohol
  • Unwashed Produce

Keep products containing caffeine and sugar to a minimum. Caffeine can be problematic for your baby (plus it's a diuretic), so limit intake to about 200 milligrams a day. Sugar isn’t necessarily bad, but gestational diabetes can be a real problem. Don’t go nuts on ice cream and candy bars. It seems like a big list for a long time, but nine months go by in the blink of an eye!

Last Updated: August 30, 2017