Here are the answers to some frequently-asked questions on healthy eating during pregnancy.
How much weight should I gain?
During your pregnancy you should aim to gain about 25 lbs to 35 lbs (11.4 kg to 15.9 kg), although this might vary depending on your pre-pregnancy weight and whether you are carrying twins or multiples.
Most women typically gain between 3 lbs and 4 lbs (1.4 kg to 1.8 kg) during the first trimester. You should gain weight slowly but steadily during the last half of your pregnancy. A good rate of weight gain after the first trimester is approximately 1 lb (0.45 kg) each week.
How many extra calories do I need each day?
First trimester: Most women usually don't need to increase their usual daily intake of calories (i.e., 1,800 to 2,000 calories), unless they need to compensate for starting a pregnancy underweight.
Second and third trimesters: You will need an extra 200 to 300 calories each day. But that doesn't mean feeling uncomfortably full. For example, just one piece of toast and a banana can supply those extra calories.
Women who start out under- or overweight, women who are very physically active, and women with certain medical conditions should talk to their doctor about specific caloric needs.
What types of foods should I eat?
Choose a variety of different foods from each of the four food groups of Eating Well with Canada's Food Guide. Eat regularly and enjoy nutritious snacks – aim for 3 meals and 3 snacks daily. These should include:
- milk products: 3 to 4 servings (1,200 mg of calcium daily)
- grain products: 5 to 12 servings
- fruits and vegetables: 5 to 10 servings
- meat and alternatives: 2 to 3 servings (60 g to 75 g of protein daily)
Which vitamin or mineral supplements might I need?
Consult your doctor or dietitian to find out if you need to take a vitamin or mineral supplement during pregnancy. Your doctor can help you choose an appropriate supplement that contains suitable amounts of vitamins and minerals.
Here are some common supplements used during pregnancy:
- folic acid: Most women need at least 0.4 mg per day (some women, such as those with diabetes and epilepsy, need more – check with your doctor), starting at least 3 months before you plan to conceive and continuing throughout the pregnancy.
- iron: In the later stages of pregnancy, you require more iron to help produce healthy red blood cells for you and your growing baby. Most doctors recommend that pregnant women take a daily iron supplement of 30 mg to 60 mg of elemental (ferrous) iron in addition to any other prenatal vitamins.
- calcium: Women with diets lacking in calcium may need a calcium supplement.
Which foods and drinks should I avoid?
- saccharin or cyclamates (artificial sweeteners)
- swordfish, marlin, and shark
- raw or undercooked shellfish (e.g., oysters, mussels, prawns, crab)
- unpasteurized milk and cheese
- raw vegetable sprouts (e.g., alfalfa, clover, radish) and unpasteurized juices
- raw or undercooked meats, poultry, or eggs
- meat patés
- liver products because of the risk of listeria
- ready-to-eat meats such as deli meats, patés, and hot dogs
- ready-to-eat dressed salads (e.g., potato salad or coleslaw)
- packaged salads
Which foods and drinks should I eat only in moderation?
- caffeine: limit yourself to a maximum of 300 mg per day (one cup of coffee contains about 150 mg of caffeine, one cup of strong black tea contains about 100 mg of caffeine, and one 355 mL can of cola contains 36 mg to 46 mg of caffeine)
- some artificial sweeteners: aspartame, sucralose, and acesulfame-potassium should only be used in moderation
- tuna or salmon: consume no more than 2 medium-sized cans of salmon or light tuna, 1 medium-sized can of albacore tuna, or one fresh tuna steak per week
Can I eat a vegetarian or vegan diet while pregnant?
Vegetarians: Pregnant women who are vegetarian can still enjoy a carefully planned vegetarian diet, provided they take extra care to get enough protein, iron, zinc, and vitamin B12. The Vegetarian Food Guide published by the Dietitians of Canada suggests that pregnant women consume the following amount of these foods daily:
- vitamin B12-rich foods: 4 servings
- beans, nuts, and seeds: 7 servings
- calcium-rich foods: 8 servings
Vegans: Vegan diets can be low in calories, iron, zinc, vitamin B12, B6, calcium, and vitamin D. If you are vegan, talk to your doctor or a dietitian about ensuring you get enough essential nutrients during pregnancy.