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Eating and nutrition

  • It’s important to eat healthy foods during pregnancy.
  • Most pregnant women need around 300 extra calories per day.
  • Take a prenatal vitamin every day.
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Eating healthy during pregnancy

A gal’s gotta eat, right? Especially a pregnant gal! But just because you have a bun in the oven doesn't mean you get a license to eat whatever you want, as much as you want. So put the ice cream down, and let’s talk about eating healthy during pregnancy.

Most pregnant women need only about 300 extra calories per day. The exact amount depends on your weight before pregnancy. If you’re underweight before pregnancy, you may need more calories. If you’re overweight before pregnancy, you may need less. Talk to your health care provider about what’s right for you. Use this sample menu (.PDF, 76KB) to plan healthy meals.

How much should you eat each day during pregnancy?

Knowing how big each of these serving sizes is can be tricky. Here are some everyday items that can help:

  • 1 cup is about the size of a baseball.
  • 1/3 cup is about as much as you can fit in your hand (a rounded or full handful).
  • ½ cup is about the size of ½ a baseball.
  • ¼ cup is about the size of a golf ball.
  • 1 tablespoon is about the size of ½ a ping pong ball.
  • 1 ounce of meat (chicken, pork, beef, fish, etc.) is about the size of two thumbs.
  • 3 ounces of meat is about the size of a deck of cards or the palm of your hand.
  • A small fruit (orange or apple) is about the size of a tennis ball. 

Is it OK to eat fish when you're pregnant?

Yes, as long as you eat the right kinds! Most fish are low in fat and high in protein and other nutrients your body needs.

You may have heard about mercury in fish. Mercury is a metal that can harm your baby. Fish get mercury from water they swim in and from eating other fish that have mercury in them. If you eat fish that have a lot of mercury in them, you can pass the metal to your baby during pregnancy. When you're pregnant, it's OK to eat fish as long as it's low in mercury. 

If you're pregnant, thinking about getting pregnant or breastfeeding, eat 8 to 12 ounces each week of fish that are low in mercury. These include: 

  • Shrimp
  • Salmon
  • Pollock
  • Catfish
  • Canned light tuna
  • Albacore (white) tuna — Don't have more than 6 ounces of this tuna in 1 week.

How can you make sure you’re making healthy meals?

Use these tips when planning your meals:

  • Eat foods from the five food groups at every meal.
  • Choose whole-grain bread and pasta, low-fat or skim milk and lean meat, like chicken, fish and pork. Eat 8 to 12 ounces of fish that are low in mercury each week.
  • Put as much color on your plate as you can, with all different kinds of fruits and vegetables. Make half of your plate fruits and vegetables.
  • Plan on eating four to six smaller meals a day instead of three bigger ones. This can help relieve heartburn and discomfort you may feel as your baby gets bigger.
  • Make sure your whole meal fits on one plate. Don’t make huge portions.
  • Drink at least six to eight glasses of water, juice or milk every day. And take your prenatal vitamin every day. This is a vitamin made just for pregnant women.

Last reviewed June 2014

See also: Take folic acid before you're pregnant, Food shopping on a budget, Handling food safely, Foods to avoid or limit during pregnancy

Foods to avoid

  • Unpasteurized milk or juice
  • Soft cheeses like feta and Brie
  • Unheated deli meats and hot dogs
  • Refrigerated, smoked seafood
  • Undercooked poultry, meat or seafood

Frequently Asked Questions

How much weight should I gain during my pregnancy?

The exact amount of weight you need to gain depends on how much you weigh before pregnancy and your Body Mass Index (BMI). Below are some guidelines, but talk to your health provider about your specific pregnancy weight gain goals.

If you began pregnancy at a healthy weight, you should gain 25 to 35 pounds over the 9 months. If you gain between 1 and about 4 ½ pounds in the first trimester, you should put on about 1 pound every week in the second and third trimesters.

If you began pregnancy underweight, you should probably gain about 28 to 40 pounds. If you gain between 1 and about 4 ½ pounds in the first trimester, try to gain slightly over a pound a week in the second and third trimesters.
If you began pregnancy overweight, you should gain only 15 to 25 pounds over the 9 months. If you gain between 1 and about 4 ½ pounds in the first trimester, you should put on slightly over ½ pound every week in the second and third trimesters. While you don't want to gain too much weight, never try to lose weight during pregnancy because that could harm your baby.

If you were obese (with a BMI over 30) at the start of your pregnancy, you should gain only 11 to 20 pounds over the 9 months. If you gain between 1 and about 4 ½ pounds in the first trimester, aim for gaining slightly under ½ pound every week in the second and third trimesters.

Is it safe to eat cold cuts when I'm pregnant?

It's not safe for pregnant women to eat deli meats (such as ham, turkey, salami and bologna) or hot dogs unless the food has been thoroughly heated and is steaming hot. These foods can cause a form of food poisoning called listeriosis and is caused by bacteria. Heating deli meats until steaming hot will kill the bacteria if it's present.

Listeriosis is especially dangerous during pregnancy. Most people don't get sick when they eat food contaminated with listeria. But healthy pregnant women are more likely than other healthy adults to get listeriosis and are more likely to become dangerously ill from it.

The flu-like symptoms of listeriosis can sometimes advance to potentially life-threatening meningitis (infection of the membranes covering the brain, with symptoms such as severe headache and stiff neck) and blood infection. Contact your health care provider if you're pregnant and you develop any of these symptoms.

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