Prenatal Nutrition Basics

What you eat is important at every stage in your life and it is especially true during pregnancy. During pregnancy, a fetus can only be nourished through its mother’s body and it is for this reason that expectant women need to ensure that their babies have access to all the nutrients they need to develop properly. In addition to adding healthy, nutrient-dense foods to the diet, it is also essential to cut out foods that could have a harmful effect on the baby’s development. By following these basic guidelines, a pregnant woman can easily provide her unborn child with a safe environment in which to grow.

Increase Your Veggies and Fruit
Most of us are not getting nearly as many vegetables and fruits from our meals as we need. We should be consuming between 7-10 servings per day, whereas many of us are consuming 4 or less. Vegetables and fruits provide you with many of the vital vitamins and minerals you need to help build a healthy baby, such as beta-carotene, B-vitamins, Vitamin C and E, potassium, and calcium. They also contain ample supplies of fiber which help with regularity and the removal of some of the toxic substances that make their way into the body.

Try the following simple techniques to add more servings into your day. Add berries to cereals and plain yogurt for breakfast. Snack on other fruits such as grapes or an apple with almond butter. For lunch, include tomatoes, cucumbers and celery with sandwiches. An afternoon snack could contain carrots and hummus. Dinner should include at least one type of cooked vegetable and one salad.

Read more about healthy snacking

Ensure Good Protein Sources
Protein needs to increase by up to 50% during pregnancy. Women need to be conscious that they are consuming ample amounts of protein throughout all 3 trimesters. During pregnancy, women are creating another human body within their own and protein is fundamental to the healthy building of their baby’s structure. A helpful rule of thumb is to try and consume 1 gram of protein per kilogram of body weight (a kilogram is weight in pounds divided by 2.2).

Try varying up protein sources so that your choices include organic poultry and eggs, legumes, nuts and seeds, organic dairy and moderate amounts of small and wild fish. Organic red meats can be added occasionally for variety’s sake and iron intake. If getting adequate amounts proves to be an issue, you can try supplementing the diet with a good quality whey protein shake. Just ensure it is free of artificial sweeteners and large amounts of sugar.

Go Organic
It may not be possible to go 100% organic for reasons of cost or availability. However, making an effort to get as many organic foods into your diet is a smart investment of both energy and money as it will help to decrease the amount of pesticides you and your baby are exposed to. Many pesticides have been shown to be problematic for fetuses and children as some act to suppress the immune system while others are prone to damage intellectual faculties 1&2.

If you have to prioritize your organic purchases, it is best to start with animal products (meat, poultry, eggs, and dairy) first as pesticides and hormones tend to concentrate themselves in the fat of animal tissue. By choosing organic, you will also be minimizing your exposure to antibiotics which are routinely added to animal products.

Go Brown
To make the most of all of your grain choices, choose only whole grains as options for your meals. By choosing whole grains, you will be accessing over 20 nutrients that are stripped out of white, refined grains like white bread, white pasta and white rice. Whole grains will also contain fiber which is essential for healthy bowel function. Refined grains do not offer your body anything in terms of nutritional value. In fact, they challenge your health by constantly unbalancing blood sugar levels and using up stores of your nutrients that are required for their digestion.

Read more about stabilizing blood sugar with herbs and spices

Get Your Omega 3’s
Omega 3’s are your Essential Fatty Acids (EFA), which are actually just that – essential – for good maternal health and proper development of a baby’s brain and immune system. Many of us in North America are not getting enough EFAs through our diet and supplementation is often necessary. Good food sources include hemp seeds and oil, flax seed oil, walnuts and walnut oil, small fish such as sardines and anchovies, wild salmon and mackerel (occasionally), organic tofu and kidney beans.

Avoid Trans Fats
Trans fats are dangerous fats that are created by hydrogenating (adding hydrogen) to regular oils. This is done to prolong shelf-life and to stabilize flavor. Trans fats can be dangerous for pregnant women and their babies since trans fats have been shown to cross the placenta and enter a fetus’s body. A recent study by Dr. Charles J. Glueck, of the Jewish Hospital Cholesterol Center in Cincinnati, Ohio, and his colleagues found a higher percentage of fetal loss in women who consumed high amounts of trans fats.

Trans fats also interfere with Omega 3 utilization and can negate any positive effect these EFAs might have had in terms of supporting brain and nervous system development. Trans fats are found in most processed food including baked goods, crackers, chips, chocolate, protein bars, and peanut butter. Read labels and if you see the words hydrogenated, partially hydrogenated or shortening, stay away.

Read more about the trans fats label loophole

For newly pregnant women, prenatal health recommendations can be overwhelming. There are so many do’s and don’ts laid out by all the experts that it can often feel as though one has to change every aspect of their life to have a healthy baby. By following the prenatal nutrition basics listed above, you can at least start the journey of growing a healthy baby with confidence.


Image: brennaval 



1. Bilrha, H, Roy, R, Moreau, B, BellesIsles, M, Dewailly, E, and Ayotte, P. In vitro activation of cord blood mononuclear cells and cytokine production in a remote coastal population exposed to organochlorines and methyl mercury. Environmental Health Perspectives 2003; 111(16): 1952-1957.

2. Jacobson, JL and Jacobson, SW. Intellectual impairment in children exposed to polychlorinated biphenyls in utero. New England Journal of Medicine 1996; 335 (11): 783-9.

By Lilian Presti| June 04, 2014
Categories:  Nest
Keywords:  Natural Prenatal

About the Author

Lilian Presti

Lilian Presti

Lilian is a registered holistic nutritionist who has worked in the nutrition and corporate wellness fields for the over a decade. She teaches pediatric nutrition, delivers corporate and public nutrition seminars, runs a weight-loss program, does one-on-one nutritional counseling and writes on nutrition and wellness topics. Since having her son Noa, Lilian has taken a keen interest in educating mom’s to be and new parents about proper nutrition during these special periods. Lilian has been featured in Elle Magazine, Flare, Today’s Bride and The Weekly Scoop, MSN/Sympatico’s Weight Loss Challenge and appeared on City TV.

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